South Korea has been called ‘Chaohsien‘ or morning freshness since the Han dynasty for its spellbinding natural beauty of picturesque high mountains, clear waters and its splendid tranquility, particularly in the morning.
A beguiling mix of the ancient and the futuristic, the commercial and the spiritual, warp-speed urban action and serene rural isolation, South Korea is a nation on the rise. January and February 2012 is time for the Grand Korea Sale with over21, 000 shops participating.
If you are planning a trip to South Korea, the top ten places to visit and things to do are:
1. Seoul, gateway to Korea
A dizzying metropolis with a population over 10 million, Seoul is one of the 21st Century’s undisputed urban powerhouses. Few capitals match Seoul’s dynamic blend of the ancient and the modern, ‘Yin, Yang’. Skyscrapers tower over historic palaces and temples, whilst Seoul N Tower stands imperious atop Mount Namsan and is the first visible landmark welcoming you to the city, and offers stunning panoramic views across the city. Seoul is also home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Retail therapy is best at the massive Dongdaemun Market, made up of 26 shopping malls stretching over ten blocks. And delve into Seoul’s nightlife at the Hongdae district, South Korea’s party central – take your pick from literally hundreds of bars, restaurants, boutiques and nightclubs.
2. Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul
Gyeongbokgung is the royal home of the Joseon dynasty, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Seoul and features distinctive curved roofs, pillars and colorful tiling. Ceremoniously attended by uniformed guards in unflinching solemnity, the palace is a perfect example of traditional Korean architecture. Located at the heart of Seoul’s government district, it retains an air of regal pomp even centuries after the downfall of its original inhabitants.
3. Sing out at a noraebang
Noraebang which translates as ‘song room’ or karaoke is a national obsession. Noraebangs can be found all over South Korea, and is a must visit to enjoy and even develop your own repertoire of favorite songs.
4. Jeju-do Island
Jeju-do is a combination of waterfalls; unspoilt beaches and dramatic volcanic landscape. Highlights include the impressive Geomunoreum lava-tube cave; Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ilchulbong) is a dramatic volcanic crater which rises majestically from the ocean and watching the famous ‘Haenyeo’ women dive to the ocean floor without any breathing equipment to gather sea food.
5. Gyeongju: the museum without walls
Gyeongju, capital of ancient kingdom of Silla is beautifully well-preserved, and has many architectural and historical treasures, including three UNESCO World Heritage sites: Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple, and Gyeongju Historic Areas. The Gyeongju National Museum houses over 16,000 artifacts.
6. Get Spiritual
Escape modern life and cleanse both body and soul at a Korean temple, in blissfully secluded mountainous retreats populated by Buddhist monks. It is a unique opportunity to learn and experience Korean Buddhist culture. Visitors live exactly as the monks do, taking part in spiritual training methods such as Zen meditation and Buddhist rites. A temple stay will be an experience that will stay with you for life – and you never know, it may even change the way you look at the world.
7. Seoraksan National Park
Named after Seoraksan Mountain, this must-visit national park is a dramatic wilderness. This UNESCO biosphere reserve features the spectacular peaks of the Taebaek mountain range and a rich variety of flora and fauna, and is one of Korea’s most popular tourist attractions. With many stunning hiking and walking trails, Seoraksan offers a perfect chance to experience Korea’s unspoilt natural beauty and is a photographer’s paradise.
8. Authentic Korea: Busan
A busy port city known for its distinctive local dialect and rugged character, Busan is the place to go to get to know a more authentic side of Korea. It is the country’s second most populous city and is full of hidden charms: the famously fresh local seafood (live squid is a local delicacy!), a buzzing nightlife, historic temples, and an idyllic surrounding coastline.
9. Dadohae Haesang National Marine Park
Korea’s southern coastline is sprinkled with around 1,700 islands which form the Dadohae Haesang National Marine Park. Hongdo and Heuksando are popular islands to explore. Cruise around the remote rocky outcrops that make up the rest of the area’s dizzying cluster of islands.
10. Try the Cuisine
It’s not just Kimchi, the fermented spicy cabbage conceived in Korea around the 7th century and the national dish. Be it Bulgogi, Korean barbecue or rice cakes, Korea’s appetizing and healthy cuisine has gained praise and admiration from foodies across the globe.
Korea is safe, spectacular and one of the most dynamic and colorful countries in the world, with something for everybody, an all-inclusive getaway of shopping, touring and entertainment.