Sight-Seeing In South Korea
This East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean peninsula, borders the East Sea and the Yellow Sea and also shares one of the most heavily militarised borders with North Korea. South Korea is well-known for its colourful countryside dotted with cherry trees, centuries-old Buddhist temples and high-tech cities. Since the 21st century South Korea has been renowned for its globally influential pop culture, particularly in music (K-Pop), TV dramas and cinema - a phenomenon referred to as the Korean Wave. South Korea supports religious freedom, Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity all the main formal religions. Confucianism is a political and social philosophy that pervades Korean culture. The colours of the flag of South Korea represent peace and purity, and the circle in the flags centre symbolises the balance in the universe.
Before visiting South Korea there are a few things you should know. Firstly, it is insulting for Koreans to be touched by someone with whom they are unfamiliar with; bowing is the traditional way to greet. Prolonged eye contact can also be inferred as a challenge and impolite. Additionally, you should always remove your shoes before entering a Korean home. Tetraphobia is a superstition that is extremely common in South Korea and other East Asian countries. It is the practice of avoiding instances of the number four. Therefore, using the floor number or room number four is always skipped in hospitals and other public buildings.
Seoul & Gangnam
The creative capital of South Korea, Seoul, is a giant metropolis where modern skyscrapers, pop culture and high-tech subways meet Buddhist temples, palaces and street markets. Seoul is definitely one of the most modern cities on the planet and brings in a whopping ten million tourists each year. Over half of Koreas population live in Seoul, making it Asia’s most liveable city and one of the largest and progressive cities. Notable attractions include the futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a convention hall with curving architecture and a rooftop park, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Jogyesa Temple and Seoul Tower. There are many hotels and restaurants to pick from and to sound like a local when taking photographs, instead of saying ‘cheese!’, say ‘kimchi!’.
Known as one of the richest districts in South Korea, Gangnam is Seoul’s upscale, modern centre, home to many shopping malls where you will find Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Versace and other designer stores. Gangnam means ‘south of the river’, as it is literally south of the Han River, one of the country’s biggest bodies of water which flows through Seoul. I am sure we have all heard PSY’s song ‘Gangnam Style’, once the most popular song in the world. Right outside of Gangnam station exit 5 there is a tribute to the song, where tourists and locals can get on stage and record themselves dancing and singing toit. There is plenty to do and see in this historically rich and fast-developing district.
The 5 Palaces of Seoul
In Seoul, there are five grand palaces: Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Deoksugung, Changgyeongung and Gyeonghuigung Palace. These landmarks make up the main traditional sightseeing spots in the South Korean capital. Although the sites mostly date back to the 1300s-1500s, the majority of the buildings are reconstructions, as the original structures were destroyed by the Japanese invasion in the 16th century. Visiting all five palaces would probably be overkill for most visitors, especially if you’re only in Korea for a short time, so I would recommend visiting at least one or two. The Gyeongbokgung Palace, originally built in 1395 is the best one to visit. Its name means ‘palace greatly blessed by heaven’, because of its fortuitous high-up placement between the mountains of Bugaksan and Namsan. On your visit you will also find The National Palace Museum of Korea and The National Folk Museum here. The second favourite palace is Changdeokgung and its secret garden, built in 1405. Unlike other palaces, its layout is designed to harmonise with nature rather than sticking to a set structure. Since 1997 it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and its secret garden, Hurron, is easily one of the most beautiful places in South Korea. You can get walking tours for all of the palaces and you can even get in for free if you wear a Hanbok – traditional Korean clothing.
The South Korean island of Jeju is known for its golden beach resorts, vast volcanic landscape and intriguing cake-like lava tubes. If you wish to find out more about this amazing place and South Korea, complete GG Treasure Hunts online South Korea wanderlust treasure hunt! One of the prime attractions on the island is Hallasan mountain, a shield volcano. It is the tallest mountain in South Korea and is surrounded by a designated national park – The Hallasan National Park. There are four trails to pick from if you choose to hike up the mountain, which approximately takes two and a half hours. The hike is extremely worth it, as the views from the edge of the volcano are jaw-dropping! Additionally, created by a massive eruption two million years ago, Jeju is home to the Manjanggul Cave. It is the largest lava tube in Asia and the 12th longest in the world. The tubes were formed when molten lava below earth’s surface begins to slow and solidify, forming long, tunnel-like caves. This incredible lava tube is a marvellous feat of nature and the cave trails should be on your Jeju itinerary. The ceilings and walls are perfectly rounded and gigantic, filled with stalactites and are of great scientific value and heritage. A perfect outdoor activity to take in a 360-degree view of the island is to go paragliding!
The Korean War
For centuries before 1945, Korea had been a unified political entity. Korea was under the control of Japanese colonialism for 35 years, until during WWII Japan surrendered and the Soviet Union and the United States decided to split Korea into two nations. North and South Korea have now been divided for more than seventy years due to them being an unexpected casualty of the Cold War between the two rival superpowers. In 1950 the Korean War began between the two nations, after North Korea invaded South Korea following clashes along the border and insurrections in the south. The war officially ended on the 27th of July 1953 in an armistice and at least two and a half million individuals lost their lives. In between North and South Korea lies The Demilitarised Zone (The DMZ). It is a strip of land running across the Korean peninsula, serving as a buffer zone. The DMZ is 160miles long and approximately 2.5miles wide. The areas North and South of the DMZ are heavily fortified and both sides maintain large contingents of troops there. Over the years there have been occasional incidents and minor skirmishes, but no significant conflicts between the two nations.
South Korean Specialties
South Korean cooking has evolved through centuries of traditions, social and political change. The cuisine is mainly based on rice, vegetables and meat. Food and dining are a significant part of Korean culture as they are used to build relationships and are traditionally used in ceremonies such as weddings, birthdays and to honour ancestors. Kimchi is the national dish and is eaten with most meals. It is one of the oldest and probably the most essential dish in Korean cuisine. Kimchi is made from a variety of vegetables which are then fermented, making them spicy and sour. Another delicious, healthy and nutritious meal is Bibimbap, a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul or kimchi and gochujang, soy sauce, doenjang and egg. Bulgogi, a juicy, savoury dish of grilled marinated beef, is one of the most popular South Korean meat dishes and I can’t wait to try it! Often grilled with garlic and sliced onions, the meat is then wrapped in lettuce and is traditionally eaten with ssamjang, a thick red spicy paste. Whilst you’re in South Korea you might as well try Soju, a clear vodka-like beverage that is generally 18-25% alcohol, which is its national drink.