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South Korea


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A place primarily for Mid-Venturers and Centric-Venturers

Did You Know … ?

  • Kim is the surname for about one in five Koreans.
  • Koreans invented moveable metal type printing in the 13th century, before Johannes Gutenberg was born.
  • Korea’s Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) is believed to have lasted for the longest uninterrupted period of any royal family.
  • Busan’s Shinsegae Centum City is the world’s largest department store.
  • The Goryeo dynasty gave Korea its name.

South of the DMZ

The Korean Peninsula has a long history as fascinating as any of the oldest Asian civilizations, but that background has been overshadowed by the events of recent memory: The country was split in two in the 1940s and, soon after, embroiled in war between north and south (1950-1953), producing one of the world’s odder tourist attractions, the DMZ.

But it is the whole of the area’s long background that makes South Korea a more attractive destination than those who concern themselves only with current political matters may realize. In the last 2,000 years, Korea has seen six royal dynasties controlling parts or all of the country. The Silla dynasty united Korea in the seventh century. For a thousand years (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.) the Silla capital was in Gyeongju (former spelling: Kyongju). Today, that city, with its more than 200 royal tombs, historic temples and other Silla structures, is rightly called a museum without walls.

Other dynasties left royal tombs in their capitals, too, and the last of the royals, the Joseon dynasty (1392 to 1910), left palaces that tourists may visit in Seoul.

Modern Korean life embodies traditions that originated during the times of those long-gone royals. Tourists witness religious events and may even overnight at a Buddhist temple. They see folk dance and music performances, attend festivals with widely varied themes and eat typical Korean foods. Host cities appeal to this interest in traditional practices by preserving or creating villages to show typical hanok houses of the Joseon period, sometimes with on-site artisans demonstrating traditional crafts.

However, a visit to Korea can take on quite a different hue. For one thing, South Korea is quite popular with shoppers. Also, mountains extend along the length of the eastern side of the peninsula, providing terrain for skiing and other winter sports. Rivers and coastal areas are suited for water sports. The nation is well supplied with natural hot springs and their associated spa facilities.

And Jeju (previously, Cheju), with its mild climate and location south of the peninsula, is best known as a resort destination although it has a preserved folk village and other touristic attractions, too.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Take up windsurfing. Chungjuho Lake (Chungcheongbuk province in the country’s center) and Asanman Bay on the west coast are for beginners, but if you are expert, go to Haeundae Beach at Busan (formerly, Pusan).
  • Eat kimchi, which is fermented cabbage flavored with seafood or spices. Pursue the matter further and attend the Gwangju Kimchi Festival in October, and make kimchi yourself.
  • Plan for messy fun at the July Boryeong Mud Festival at Daecheon Beach on the west coast of Korea. Jump into the mud wrestling or onto the mud slide, then relax with a mud massage. Make your own mud soap to take home.
  • Overnight at a Buddhist temple and participate in Buddhist life. The tourist office lists more than a dozen Buddhist temples around the country where you have this option. The program typically begins with an early morning ceremony to clear the mind, Zen medication, a tea ceremony, a vegetarian monk’s meal and possibly some physical labor such as sweeping floors. Other sessions, such as woodblock printing and Zen dancing, can be arranged, too.
  • Sign up for a tour to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the border between North and South Korea and see where North and South Koreans meet for talks.
  • Go rafting and choose your river based on your skills. The choices range from the Donggang River in Yeongwol (in Gangwon province in northeastern South Korea) for beginners to the Naerincheon Stream in Inje (also Gangwon province) for the most advanced.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Make your own pottery, or paint ready-made pottery, at any of several facilities in and around Icheon and Yeoju with programs to accommodate visitor aspirations along these lines. Or, attend the Gangjin Celadon Cultural Festival in July and participate in a celadon do-it-yourself project.
  • Dip into one of several natural hot springs found scattered around the country. Or choose specialty spa treatments, such as green tea spa baths followed by green tea food.
  • Overnight in a hanok, a traditional Korean house, in Andong, Jeonju or Seoul.
  • Sample traditional Korean liquors and wines. For example, soju is comparable to vodka, but made from sweet potatoes. Wines, on the other hand, are made from apricots, pears, raspberries and other fruits, or with flowers. Maybe you should travel with pain killers.
  • Go bird-watching at the Seosan Reclamation Lakes and Cheonsuman Bay in the west central part of South Korea. The bird population peaks at about 300,000 waterfowl in November. Bring a camera, too.
  • Focus some sightseeing on the country’s long history, by looking at royal tombs. The tombs are found in several cities — Buyeo for the Baekje dynasty; Gyeongju for the Silla dynasty and for the richest collection, and in the Seoul vicinity, for the Joseon dynasty’s 40 tombs.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take a whale watching cruise on the coast of Ulsan on the southeast coast of Korea.
  • In several towns and cities, you can visit villages to see collections of hanok, meaning traditionally built homes. These usually feature tiled roofs, but poorer homes have straw roofs. Some villages were created for tourists and preservation of a culture by relocating old houses, but not all setups involved moving the old houses.
  • Buy leather, clothes, souvenirs and more in Seoul’s popular Itaewon district, which offers you about 2,000 shops to choose from. Also, shop in Busan’s huge Shinsegae Centum City department store.
  • See a performance of traditional Korean folk dance and music. Several theaters and other venues, such as folk villages, regularly stage such entertainment.
  • In winter, put on skis. In this mountainous country, there are plenty of resorts to choose from. The Yong Pyong Resort hosted the 1999 Winter Asian Games. The Phoenix Park Ski World is described as a European-style ski complex.
  • Play golf. Also, attend a tea ceremony.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Korea Tourism Organization at and choose your language.