Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and it is also the largest city in the country. Officially known as the “Seoul Special City,” it has a population of 10 million. Seoul is among the top ten cities in the Global Cities Index of 2010.
The city has a highly advanced technological infrastructure. Seoul’s Digital Media City is the first complex in the world for information technology and multimedia applications. The whole city is connected to a 100Mb broadband network, which will be upgraded to 1Gb by 2012.
However, Seoul is not all technology. Seoul is also the cultural center of South Korea, with the city being home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, Hwaseong Fortress, Changdeokgung, and Jongmyo Shrine.
Seoul is a truly beautiful city that anyone would love to get lost in. It’s both complex and simple, combining the country’s past and future into a city of the present.
The Five Royal Palaces
Seoul has many historical landmarks, five of which are the Royal Palaces. The Five Royal Palaces of South Korea were built by the Joseon Dynasty – the dynasty of the founders of the country. The palaces are named Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung and Gyeonghuigung. All of them are located in the Jongno-gu and Jung-gu districts.
The Changdeokgung Palace was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997 because the palace is an outstanding example of the palace architecture and garden design of the Far East. On the other hand, Gyeongbokgung, the main palace, is still being restored to its original form. All five palaces are perfect pictures of the Joseon period architecture.
The five palaces serve as a reminder of the glorious past of South Korea, providing inspiration to their people to continue to strive for great things for the country.
Gyeongju is the country’s ancient capital. Considered as one of the world’s ten most important ancient cultural cities, Gyeongju is a must-see when you visit South Korea.
In its modern state, the city has shops and markets that have countless relics of the Gyeongju’s 2000-year history. The city is home to humongous tombs and burial mounds from the fifth century, a stone observatory from the seventh century, and Anapji’s royal pleasure gardens, designed in 674 AD.
Other parts of the city are populated by elegant pagodas and wooden Buddhist temples. There are also several trails in Gyeongju that you can take to reach the sacred mountain of Nam-san, which occupies most of the southern part of the city.
Gyeongju offers a unique glimpse into South Korea’s past, allowing you to appreciate even more how far South Korea has progressed through the years while, at the same time, retaining the grandeur attributed to the country since the olden times.
The Korean Folk Village
The Korean Folk Village is a day’s trip away from Seoul, but the journey is well worth it if you want to see Korea in its glorious past era.
The Korean Folk Village is a living museum that occupies 243 acres of natural land in Yongin-si in Gyeonggi Province. It is a reconstruction of a typical 19th century Korean village, with 260 traditional houses from the late Jeongson Dynasty.
The village is complete with traditional Korean restaurants, a traditional Korean market, and various craft workshops. The residents of the village actually live and work there – they are not just actors wearing costumes.
The village also has a folk museum and an art museum, along with traditional dance performances. It even has an amusement park with rides and other recreational activities for the whole family.
Jeju-do, or Jeju Island, is located in the southern part of South Korea. Also known as the Island of the Gods, Jeju-do is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
The island’s many volcanic rock formations, frequent rainfall, and temperate climate resemble the Hawaiian Islands of the United States.
Traditions that have disappeared from the mainland have been preserved in the island.
Aside from its famous beaches, Jeju-do offers lots more for visitors: hiking to the summit of South Korea’s highest volcano, Halla-san; treks through a 7-km lava-tube cave; and taking in the glorious sights of majestic waterfalls. Jeju-do is also home to mysterious statues like those found in the Easter Islands.
Local honeymooners have frequented this site for years because of its beauty and elegance. Tourists hoping for a simpler and calmer version of South Korea will not go wrong in visiting Jeju Island.
Ulleungdo, or the Island of Ulleung, is a tiny volcanic outcrop that can be accessed by ferry from Samcheck. The island is a piece of untouched, natural beauty. There are just a handful of roads in the whole island, so exploring the island would best be done by foot.
It would take two whole days to trek around the whole island, and this trek would expose you to a rugged but naturally beautiful landscape filled with flora and fauna. There are several temples in the island, along with forested ridges and waterfalls. A 2000-year-old juniper tree is the most famous resident of Ulleungdo, and it is regularly visited by flocks of locals and tourists.
A trip and trek through Ulleungdo is a refreshing getaway for nature lovers. The virtually untouched state of the island makes it one of the most genuine places of beauty in all of South Korea.
The DMZ, or the demilitarized zone, is the closest that you can get to North Korea without putting yourself in immediate danger. It is a buffer zone between the two countries, where you can look into the distance to see the heavily-guarded North Korean guard posts.
Visiting the DMZ requires proper attire from the visitors – that means no jeans, miniskirts, and T-shirts, and men are also required to have proper haircuts. The land between the DMZ has become host to a variety of wildlife, ironically blending the beauty of nature with a place that’s filled with political and military tension.
The DMZ will give you the feel of the relationship between North and South Korea – an insight into the emotions that played a key role in the formation of two cultures that many regard as both divided and united at the same time.
The Haeinsa Temple, located on Mount Kaya, is considered to be one the most important historical sites in the country. This is because Haeinsa Temple is home to the Tripitaka Koreana, the most complete Buddhist text collection, which was engraved on roughly 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248.
The buildings of Janggyeong Pangeon were created to house the woodblocks. Erected in the 15th century, these buildings themselves are considered as exceptional works of art in the field of architecture. These buildings exhibit an amazing mastery of the conservation techniques needed to preserve the Tripitaka Koreana woodblocks.
Locals and tourists visit the temple not only to marvel at its prestige and history but also to revere the Buddhist teachings that have shaped the culture of the South Korean people. A visit to the Haeinsa Temple is a peek into the formation of South Korea as we know it today.
Busan Haeundae Beach
Busan is a seaport surrounded by several beaches, the most famous of which is the Haeundae Beach, a 1.5 kilometer strip of beach that is one of the country’s favorite vacation spots.
The Busan Haeundae Beach is a beautiful beach that holds its popularity in both summer and winter. In summer, the beach is teeming with activity such as yachting and other water sports, along with the usual nighttime activities in bars and clubs. In winter, the beach is a great place to take a walk as you make some time for yourself, with seagulls flying overhead and the water gently lapping on the beach’s edges.
The beauty of Busan Haeundae Beach is a great representation of the country: beauty that lasts through all seasons. It is a vacation spot worth visiting at any time of the year.
Damyang County is located in southwestern South Korea, nestled in between two huge mountains. The town of Damyang is relatively ordinary, but what attracts visitors to this place is the 25-acre bamboo forest that is well-known for its lushness and natural beauty.
It is best to visit Damyang in the summer, when everyone is trying to escape from the heat. The cool, fresh air that you can experience in Damyang is a welcome alternative to the hot winds in the city. Winter is not a bad time to visit as well, as the snow falling on the bamboo create a unique winter wonderland.
Families can enjoy picnics under the shade of the bamboo trees, and couples can take walks in the bamboo forest. Bamboo is everywhere – even in the food! Don’t be surprised if you find yourselves enjoying plates of bamboo stew, bamboo soup, and even bamboo noodles.
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