South Korea: a unique combination of ancient tradition and cutting-edge modernity
South Korea is bordered by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north, the Yellow Sea all the way to China in the west and the East Sea all the way to Japan in the east. Having recovered from the ravages of the Korean War of 1950-53, South Korea has gone on to become the world’s 15th largest economy, one of East Asia’s ‘Tiger Economies’. The northwestern region is dominated by the sprawling capital, Seoul. The city is replete with UNESCO World Heritage Site temples, such as Gyeongbok-gung and Changdeok-gung; it is surrounded by parks and mountains, where many Buddhist and other temples and shrines are to be found. In the northeast is Gangwon province, a mountainous border region famous for its skiing. In the centre lie North and South Chungcheong provinces, with their respective capitals of Cheongya and Doejeon. The south is divided into Gyeongsan, Jeolla and the volcanic honeymoon island of Jeju.
The country has everything from the relics of ancient dynasties to the headquarters of Samsung. The intelligent and diligent South Korean people will charm you. You can experience everything from the tension of the Demilitarised Zone in the north to the serenity of a Buddhist Temple.
When to Go?
Spring is the best time to visit: it is warm and not too rainy. June to August is perhaps best avoided: it’s very humid and can get as hot as 40°C. In the Autumn, the countryside comes alive with colour. In the winter, there are skiing and hot spring-dipping opportunities! Avoid the Solar New Year (January/ February) and the Harvest Moon Festival (September/October): these are times when all South Korean families travel, producing huge crowds.
How to get there?
Incheon (ICN), near Seoul, is the country’s largest international airport, serving the USA, Europe, India, Turkey and the Far East. In the southeast, you have Busan Gimhae (PUS) and Daegu (TAE), which serve South Korea and China. The honeymoon island of Jeju has its own airport (CJU), which serves South Korea and Japan.
In the south, if you tire of the delights of Jeju honeymoon island, there are more than 2,000 others from which to choose! In Doejeon, visit the massive museum at the Independence Hall of Korea. In the mountainous northeast, visit Seorak-san National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The oldest Confucian royal shrines left in the world are housed in Jeongjeon in Seoul. In the central region, hike up to the dream-like Buddhist temple complex of Guinsa. The Bulguksa temple complex in Tohamsan includes the 8th century Seokguram grotto, containing an impressive Buddha statue and its surrounding Bodhisattvas (Buddhist saints).