Until ‘Gangnam Style’ came along, South Korea was a little known travel destination, best known for the ultra-modern vibrant capital city Seoul and a rich cultural heritage that has remained despite the sheer speed of modernisation. A well as traditional pagodas, temples and tombs there are stunning natural landscapes of mountains, forests, national parks, islands and lakes.
In fact The Republic of Korea has just been voted as Asia’s Leading Sport Tourism Destination at the 2012 World Travel Awards and with world class sports facilities throughout the country it’s easy to see why. Travellers can try their hand at water rafting, bungee jumping, yachting, hiking, golf, climbing, skiing, tobogganing, skating, swimming, cycling, wind surfing and so much more!
If you haven’t yet succumbed to the global dominance that is Psy and his infectious Gangnam Style song, check out the video and popular dance on YouTube – which to date has had over 723 million views!
Experience world class sports and facilities
South Korea is set to become a world leader in terms of sports facilities and sporting events. During 2013 the country will host 3 major international sporting events, including the Special Olympics Winter Games (29 January to 5 February 2013) in PyeongChang, the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games held at Incheon (29 June to 6 July 2013) and the World Rowing Championships (25 August to 1 September 2013) The 2013 Special Olympics will showcase world-class competitive World Winter Games such as speed skating, alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and figure skating. Hiking is especially enjoyable here with several mountains over 800 m (3,000 ft) such as Mount Bukhan which is closest to Seoul, Mount Gwanak, Mount Samseong and Mount Inwang.
Baseball, figure skating, football, golf, speed skating, and taekwondo are just a few of the popular sports visitors will find on their visit to South Korea. Football gained popularity when South Korea reached the World Cup Semi-Finals in 2002. Badminton, table tennis, and bowling are also quite popular with the locals and facilities can be found wildly available for tourists and locals alike. Golf, on the other hand, is growing in popularity and can be much more expensive than Japan or the United States, but their top courses are worth the trip since many of the world’s top golfers originate from Korea. Get ready to see a LOT more from South Korea in the coming months as sport takes the forefront.
Soak up the culture and history in Seoul; where ancient meets modern
Seoul is both incredibly modern and technologically advanced yet retains authentic Asian culture and customs too such as street food stalls, Buddhist temples and ancient architecture. In fact you could say that the capital city and financial hub of Easy Asia is a city of stark contrasts. Consider visiting all of the varied districts of Seoul for sightseeing, nightlife, fine dining and accommodation. The city is sprawling though so hire a local guide to advise you on the best areas to visit and when.
The stunning ancient palaces are one of Seoul’s main draws with no less than five palaces that served Korean royalty over the ages. Visit the Joseon Dynasty-era Palace of Gyeongbok-gung, the Changgyeong-gung summer palace and the absolutely stunning UNESCI listed Changdeok-gung Palace. Dotted around Seoul are many green parklands and gardens which often contain fountains, monuments and leisure activities such as the Boramae Park, Yangjae Citizen’s Forest and Yongsan Park. Explore the local culture at some of the many shrines and temples such as Jongmyo Shrine, the most popular temple in the city, Bongeun Temple and the Inwang Temple atop a 336m hill. There are also zoos, amusement parks and performing arts facilities to be found in Seoul. One thing is for sure; you will not be bored in this city that appears to never sleep.
With a population of over 21 million people, Seoul is the heart of South Korean culture that marries a delightfully fascinating blend of ancient and modern traditions, art, culture, and endless dining experiences. The serene Buddhist atmosphere carries on through the beautiful and tranquil temples that grace her lush landscape. The extraordinary architecture and skyscrapers frame Seoul’s skyline, contrasting with the delicate lines of older cultural heritage giving any tourist unforgettable views.
Designated in 1970 as the 5th national park in South Korea, the Seoraksan National Park in the Gangwon region is one of the most memorable places to visit. With the fantastic cliffs, striking seasonal colours, large fountains, hiking trails, deep valleys, rare plants and animals, and ancient cultural artifacts and historical points are just a few of the natural wonders found at Seoraksan national park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The jagged peaks rising out of deep pine and elm forests filled with musk deer and crystal clear streams and ponds filled with fish and otter make up just a few of the over 2,000 species of flora and fauna in this strikingly gorgeous vale. The mild summers, colorful autumns, and snow-dusted winters of Seoraksan attracts naturalists all year round drawn to the superb hiking and rambling opportunities which are signposted in both English and Korean. Experienced hikers can tackle Daecheongbong at 1708m which will take a good 12-14 hours on a round trip adventure. Also stop by at the Sinheungsa Temple near the entrance which contains a giant Buddha statue.
Discover the bustling port city of Busan
Located in the south-eastern region in the province of South Gyeongsang is Busan which is South Korea’s second largest city and is certainly the largest seaport in South Korea. Busan is renowned for its hot springs, reserves and film festivals. It is a destination for those seeking an easy-going local destination with less of a tourist oriented venue than Seoul, but with many of the same offerings. From beaches to shopping, and blissful tea houses to spicy local cuisine, Busan is the place to go for seafood lovers to relax and enjoy a bit of eastern culture. Must sees include the urban Beomeosa Temple, the ornate Yponggunsa Temple and the serene Yongdusan Park. Explore the fascinating Busan Modern history Museum, the Busan Museum and chill out at the Taejongdae Park. Travellers should also make time to visit the Chungryeolsa (Shrine, Dongbaek Island (Dongbaekseom) and Haeundae Beach. In Busan there is the Nakdong River Estuary Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the Geumjeong Fortress, Seokbulsa temple and the Jangsan Mountain which is perfect for hikers and walkers. In fact Busan has Korea’s biggest beach and also Korea’s longest river.
Located in Jeju Province, an island of South Korea, the less than 200,000 population of Seogwipo makes this coastal destination an unusual visit. Wander along columnar basalt cliffs and beaches or lounge in lavish hotel grounds the next. Seogwipo offers treasures for all who want adventure with awe-inspiring caves, water falls, cliffs, beaches, and local flora to stroll through and hike. Get around by bike, bus, or taxi, but don’t forget to step out and admire the views. Must sees include the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, Cheonjeyeon Waterfall, Jeongbang Waterfall, Jusangjeolli beach, World ‘Eros’ Museum, Jeju Water World, and submarine tours. There are also tourist destinations, including museums and aquariums.
Relax and unwind on romantic Jeju Island
Beautiful Jeju Island is often billed as South Korea’s luxury and honeymoon island, founded upon a volcano. The island sits majestically in the south of country in the Korea Strait. The island offers superb scenery suffused with wild flowers and the opportunity to try horse riding. In fact this island positively encourages travellers to ditch the car and travel by horse, bike or foot instead! After the hubbub of Seoul, take life a little slower and savour your natural environment.
The ancient volcanic island of Jeju (known as Cheju) is the home of Seogwipo city and the Halla volcanic mountain. A self-governing province, it is rich in ancient culture mixed with modernization. This island is steeped in ancient culture and unique wonders from football to main tourist attractions and convention centers. It is a bustling tourist and business retreat destination. With over 6 million visitors per year, the locals cater to every need in true eastern hospitality. Must sees include dreamy beaches, nature preserves, hiking trails, fine and local dining, magnificent waterfalls, golf, football, horseback riding, local festivals, mountain climbing and many seasonal attractions and festivals.
Discover the traditional temples and pagodas of Gyeongju
In the far south-eastern corner of Gyeongsang province of South Korea sits the city of Gyeongju. With a population of less than 300,000, the city that borders Cheongdo and Yeongcheon and lies close to Japanese waters leads itself to a sleepy seaside town bordered by crisp mountains and chilly waters. The ancient capital of the kingdom of the Shilla dynasty in the first century, Gyeongju contains a vast number of archaeological sites and cultural points of interest designated as a world heritage site by the UNESCO. Called the museum without walls there are an abundance of temples, tombs and pagodas to experience. Must see sights include the Gyeongju National park, Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, Golgulsa Temple, the covered market, Chemseongdae observatory, royal tombs and the Wolseong Yangdong Village. Be sure to hike through Namsan Mountain, stroll through Tumuli Park, walk through Wolseong Park, and visit California Beach to awaken your inner adventurer.
By Julie Bowman