The Top Destinations for anyone Living, Working or Traveling in South Korea
From August 2010 to August 2012 we lived in the land of the Morning Calm, woke up to the smell of kimchi, discovered a love for all things spicy, mastered the use of chopsticks and went to work Monday-Friday in hopes of imparting the English language upon sweet Korean children. During our first year, we took advantage of the extensive and efficient public transportation system of trains and buses. However, upon entering our second year, we took a risky plunge and purchased a car to increase our travel convenience and ensure that our recently adopted pup would be able to accompany us more comfortably and conveniently. While living in South Korea, we were fairly centrally located, making road-trips relatively painless. The following offers a bit of insight regarding our favorite road-trips that we enjoyed while living in the land of the Morning Calm.
The Home of South Korea’s Wine Country
Korea is hardly known for it’s wine production, however when we stumbled across a Wine-focused meet-up on Meetup.com we couldn’t resist the temptation.
After a short drive we found ourselves in a small, Korean town which was home to a French Catholic Abbey which had introduced grapes to the region in the early 1900’s. The town remains famous for grape production and has found particular favor with a Korean man who has experience as a vintner in California and who is eager to introduce fine wine and wine production to the Korean peninsula.
The tour of the Anseong-based vineyard included a quick trip to the original (and updated) Abbey, a full course lunch near a lake accompanied by the vintner’s wines and a tour of the Chateau which allowed for unlimited refills of a deep red wine and a complimentary bottle of wine to enjoy at home. If you’re in Korea and can get in on a similar tour, we’d definitely recommend it, however, we’re struggling to find a working website to confirm that the winery is in fact, still in operation. Regardless, the Abbey is beautiful and just outside of the town you can visit a Grape and Wine Museum complete with a free shot of Grape Vinegar!
The Buddha Stands Tall
Like most of South Korea’s National Parks, Seongnisan boasts a beautiful Buddhist temple and numerous national treasures. Additionally, Seongnisan is home to a golden Buddha which exceeds the height of one hundred feet.
We always enjoyed making our way into the National Parks and this park had the added benefit of being near enough to the smallish Korean town of Cheongju where we were able to pick up a Subway sandwich to enjoy at the base of the park, a true treat when you’re hundreds of miles from home.
Other things that are fantastic about Korean National Parks is that the entrances are always packed with small restaurants and vendors who unlike American ‘resort’ towns, provide their goods for a rather reasonable price, making visiting a Korean National Park a true joy!
8. «The Farm»
The Peace of Korean Countryside
When it comes to travel, we have a huge preference for visiting the countryside and soaking up all that is peaceful, traditional and natural.
While driving in South Korea, we had the great pleasure of driving through the countryside on more than one account. More importantly, we had the opportunity to befriend Korean’s who were not only incredibly conversational, friendly and all around fantastic, but who happened to have access (via her father) to a small, private farm where we enjoyed BBQ’s, card games and even a mid-summer sleep-over!
By far some of our favorite road-trips lead to «the farm», unfortunately, if you want a similar experience you might have to make some friends or search out some home-stays, but we guarantee it’ll be worth the effort.
The Home of Mud Baths
One of South Korea’s most famous festivals is held in Boryeong and typically involves a lot of mud and beer. However, the little coastal town has a bit of fishing village charm all year around.
We opted to avoid the drunken festival and rather than visiting Boryeong in the summer, we made a trip in the fall and enjoyed the cool breeze while walking along the beach after having finished off a plate of raw-fish.
Boryeong is incredibly famous for their mud-products, unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to wear a mud mask, but if we had the opportunity again, we’d be sure to take advantage of it.
The Famous Lantern Festival
One of the most impressive festivals we were privileged to attend was the Lantern Festival hosted by Jinju. The festival showcases numerous giant lanterns of all shapes, sizes and design floating on the river that runs through the town and guards an ancient Korean castle. Some of our favorite floats were the Phoenix, the Dragon’s, ladybugs, scenes from traditional Korean-life and of course E.T.
Aside from being able to view fantastic glowing, lanterns and firework displays the festival offers participants a chance to send their personal hopes, prayers and wishes into the river and into the hands of the gods.
As for the city itself, Jinju has a few specialty dishes including a rice and vegetable dish topped with raw beef, for the adventurous of spirit. Additionally, the city has a great vibe and is an inviting place to spend a couple days, exploring shops, the riverside and the historical castle and castle-grounds.
The Best in Beaches
Busan is South Korea’s second largest city and the most popular destination for those wanting to hit up the beach, especially in the summer. Summer days at Haeundae Beach offer a constant sea of people clustered under large, colorful parasols and another cluster of folks floating on yellow inner-tubes out in the ocean. During the high season, you can expect to hear the call of «Chicken, Maek-ju» (Chicken and Beer) from old Korean men sent out by their local fried chicken parlor. Go ahead and grab a bucket of chicken and a cold beer, sit back and take in the warmth and joy that is common only to summer.
Being a large city, Busan also offers some of the greatest variety in activities and places to go. Famous for their aquarium, you can easily make your way to fish and sea creature viewing pleasure from Haeundae Beach as the aquarium is right there, on the beach! Would you rather be eating those sea creatures, again you’re in the right place. However, while Busan may specialize in seafood dishes, the variety of foods both Korean and Western and everything in between is immense and worth exploring.
Our favorite part of visiting Busan was visiting the seaside temple which will require either a car, a bus or perhaps a taxi ride (which aren’t too expensive in Korea, but would still run about $15-$20 both ways). The temple is set within the rocky shore of the sea and has one of the best vibes of all the temples we visited while living in South Korea.
A Korean Drama Hot-Spot
While living in South Korea we had the good fortune of visiting Gyeong-ju more than once, once in the winter and once in the summer. Both trips were phenomenal and left us with nothing but fond memories of this South Korean city which is of the utmost importance to Korean history and today, to Korean Historical Dramas.
While we are not history buffs nor K-drama addicts, Gyeong-ju was absolutely a beautiful setting which reverberated with history and the glory (and difficulty) of days gone-by. The city itself was the heart and capital of the Silla Dynasty and allows visitors numerous glimpses into that era and time-period. From the well kept Anjapi Pond of King Mumu’s palace grounds, to Bulguksa Temple outside the city limits, to the giant temple mounds, Gyeong-ju is the place for Korean History to come alive.
Not only does Gyeongju boast fantastic historical sights, as well as some modern takes on history including a Silla theme-park, but they boast some culinary delights as well. Two kinds of bread, one filled with red-bean paste another made with barley, are signature dishes of the town as well as a well laid table of Korean side dishes and numerous lettuce leaves to wrap it all up in, Gyeong-ju is one of the surest ways to delight your full range of senses while touring South Korea.
3. Seoul Olympic Park
R16 B-Boy Competition
In 1988 Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics. Twenty-four years late, the park still hosts a number of concerts and sporting events. In July of 2012 we had the great privilege of entering Seoul Olympic Park to explore and more importantly watch the R-16 B-Boy Competition, a two-day event. Since we arrived on the first day of the event, we missed out on witnessing the B-Boy Crew Battles but were honored to watch the solo events of Popping, Locking and Solo B-Boy Battles.
Now, if you’ve kept up with some of out posts, you may be thinking: «Isn’t this a couple who has an un-dying love for Bluegrass?»
Indeed we do. And it is a very rare occasion when hip-hop comes blasting out of our speakers, however, the art and talent of B-Boy’s and their Popping and Locking counterparts is something that has truly come to amaze us, primarily because of South Korea and a performance we once watched.
Should you have the opportunity to go to the R-16 B-Boy Competition wherever it may be located, we highly recommend it. And, should you choose to attend another activity at Seoul’s Olympic Park, we highly recommend going early so that you can take in the numerous sculptures set up throughout the park and perhaps even rent a covered-bike to tour the large park grounds and get in a bit of exercise while you’re at it!
The Heart of Green Tea Production
By far one of our most enlightening and enjoyable road-trips took us down south to the Green Tea Plantations of Boseong. Not only did we enjoy touring the plantation and enjoying green tea lattes and milk shakes, but we camped out a near by beach and had one of our all time favorite meals!
Korea is famous for their BBQ, not as in bar-b-que sauce, BBQ but as in, there’s a grill at your table, hot and ready for your choice of meat to be grilled and wrapped in lettuce with your favorite Korean side-dishes such as Kimchi. So, while traveling down to tour the tea plantations, we stopped by a restaurant to enjoy BBQ and ended our meal with a bowl of Korean cold noodles, but not just any cold noodles. These noodles were made with green tea and swam in a bowl of mild and refreshing, cucumber laden broth that was the absolute perfect end to a delicious meal on a hot spring day.
1. Jeju Island
The Hawaii of South Korea
Anyone who has traveled to South Korea or considered a trip to the Peninsula has likely dreamt of going to Jeju Island. A popular honeymoon destination and the setting for many Korean Dramas, Jeju has just about everything one would want on an Island getaway.
We had the pleasure of driving around the island for about 5 days and the added joy of camping out every night. Fortunately, many beaches on Jeju provide a shower house, so five days of camping did not include five days-sans-shower.
The island is home to many famous sights including the highest peak of Hallasan, just under 7,000 feet and numerous waterfalls, all entirely breathtakingly beautiful. Additionally, Jeju, like many popular tourist destinations has an uncanny amount of tourist-trap-type-attractions from Loveland to a Teddy Bear Museum, to a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum to a Trick Art Museum there is something for everyone and a million ways to be distracted and entertained.
Most importantly however, is the delicious array of foods available on Jeju island. We were thrilled with the raw fish and seafood options as well as the infamous black pork which is grilled at your table with fresh and fermented vegetables then wrapped up with a sliver of garlic in a lettuce leaf and enjoyed immensely. Aside from these meat dishes, Jeju boasts the best, most sweet and delicious oranges and mandarins which are not so abundant in the summer, but still used in a few key dishes including a milky, yet delicious Korean alcohol called maekoli.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Jeju, and there’s plenty of reason for it, a bit more touristy than other parts of Korea, but still an outstanding destination if you’re so lucky to be traveling within the Land of Kimchi.