South Korea’s tourism industry is on the rise, thanks in part to its successful co-hosting of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. And visitors who have come in recent years have generally liked what they have found: futuristic skyscrapers, lively cities, ancient palaces, temples, and fortresses, large-scale amusement parks, miles of coastline beaches, and a beautiful countryside of mountains, rivers, and designated national parks.
While South Korea (or the Republic of Korea) occupies only a small part of the Korean Peninsula, sharing it with North Korea, it has more than two-thirds of the population in the region. The peninsula stretches 600 miles north and spans 135 miles wide. The country is bordered by the Yellow Sea in the west, the East China Sea in the south, and the Sea of Japan in the east. The country’s only land boundary is the heavily guarded Military Demarcation Line, which divides North and South Korea.
Geographically, South Korea is very mountainous and dominated by the Taebaek and Sobaek ranges. Most people reside in the lowlands to the west of the mountain ranges, while the rest settle in the east where the mountains descend into the sea. There are over 3,000 islands that scatter the south and west coasts. The largest island is Cheju, which is home to the volcanic Mount Halla.
Historic and Cultural
South Korea has a little bit of everything. Perhaps most notable are the thousands of temples, palaces, and fortresses found in the country. Korea has a longstanding Buddhist heritage, which is quite evident with the more than 10,000 temples and 20,000 monks scattered throughout the land. The monks stay at the temples where they meditate, make lanterns, hold tea ceremonies, and otherwise live the Buddhist life.
South Korea’s most famous Buddhist temple is Haeinsa, which is at the center of the Mount Gayasan National Park in Daegu. The temple features the UNESCO-listed Tripitaka Koreana, which has 80,000 wooden printing blocks that engrave the entire Buddhist scriptures. The work was started in 1252 and took 16 years to complete.
Another famous temple is the Bulguksa Temple. This beautifully painted wooden temple features the UNESCO-designated Seokguram Grotto, which is a granite Buddha that looks down through a protective glass case.
South Korea has other historic and cultural sights as well. Some of the best temples, fortresses, and relics in South Korea are found in the mountains of the Bukhansan National Park, which is just outside of Seoul. Also visit the UNESCO-listed Suwon City; it is reputed for its Hwaseong Fortress and its city walls and defenses.
To learn more about the Buddhist culture, Gyeongju has a museum called the “museum without walls”. It has been designated by UNESCO as one of the ten most historically significant sites in the world. The museum not only exhibits Buddhist culture, but also traces the history of the Silla Kingdom, which lasted for 1000 years.
In Seoul, visit the Joseon palace of Changdeokung, which served as the residence for the Joseon dynasty rulers who reigned from the late 14th century to the early 20th century. Near the palace is the Jongmyo Shring, which has ancestral tablets of the dynasty.
Probably South Korea’s most famous historic-cultural attraction is the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the truce village of Panmunjeom. The zone sits on the border with North Korea and is the location of where the 1953 armistice was negotiated and signed. It is the only location where North and South Korea connect. It is also possible to visit some of the incursion tunnels underneath the DMZ that were discovered. These tunnels were dug to allow North Koreans to cross over to South Korea.
South Korea has a number of national parks that flaunt some spectacular scenery, including the Seoraksan, Chuwangsan, and Odaesan. In particular, the Seoraksan National Park in the north is considered the most beautiful.
Visitors can enjoy winter sports by visiting the more than 15 ski resorts in South Korea, including the popular Alps Ski Resort. Odaesan National Park has a half-dozen famous ski resorts. Pyeongchang features the Dragon Valley ski area.
For those looking for a good hike or some great scenery, visit Jeju-do, which has been dubbed “honeymoon island” by South Koreans. It is located off the southwest coast and has trails that lead up to Mount Hallasan, which is the highest mountain in the country at 6,400 feet high. “Stone grandfather” black lava statues, gorgeous waterfalls, and the volcanic Seongsan Ichulbong Peak are some of the features you’ll encounter.
Another “honeymoon” gem is the Hallyeo Maritime National Park in the southeast. You can cruise the archipelago and its 400 islands and enjoy some nice scenery; the park is where Admiral Yi Sun-Sin defeated the Japanese in the 16th century in some naval battles.
South Korea has a number of theme parks. Two of the more notable ones are Lotte World in Seoul and Everland Resort in Kyonggi-Do, which is about an hour outside of Seoul.
Lotte World is visited by more than 5 million people each year. It is a large recreation complex on an island that is linked by monorail. The complex includes the world’s largest indoor theme park, an outdoor amusement park, cultural museums, hotels, restaurants, and numerous shopping malls.
Everland Resort receives more than 7 million people each year and is the sixth largest amusement park attendance-wise in the world. It has a zoo, water park, a several Disneyland-like rides, buildings, and themes.
The climate in South Korea is temperate. Winters are mild in the southwest, while cold and bitter in the country’s capital, Seoul, in the northwest. The summer, on the other hand, is hot, as monsoon winds blow in from the Pacific Ocean bringing hot, moist air. There is at least one typhoon every summer that brings heavy rainfall and hurricane-like winds.
South Koreans are a friendly group of people who have succeeded in transforming a once-agricultural nation into a modern economic success story. But while progressive, South Koreans have also held onto their unique culture and traditions.
The transformation of South Korea from a rural to an industrial nation has resulted in a migration of the country’s population to the major cities. Today, one-third of the people in Korea live in four major cities: Seoul, Pusan, Inchon, and Taegu.
The culture of South Korea is heavily influenced by the ancient values taught by Chinese Philosopher, Confucius. These values continue to dominate South Korean thinking and behavior. Parents, teachers and elders command tremendous respect and obedience from children, students, and youth.
South Koreans also rely on Confucianism and Buddhism for religious and moral guidance. Buddhist temples are found everywhere and ancestral worship and shamanism remain an important part of the country’s culture. In recent years, Christianity has become increasingly popular. Among the Asian countries, Christianity has its largest following in South Korea, outside of the Philippines.
North and South Korea existed under centuries of Dynastic Rule until the Japanese invaded the peninsula in 1910, beginning a brutal 35-year occupation of the country. After the Japanese invaded China in 1937, triggering the Sino-Japanese war, Japan began their attempt to exterminate Korea as a nation by mandating worship of Japanese shrines and eliminating the teaching of Korean language, history, and culture. During the war, they also forced the conscription of tens of thousands of Korean men to support the Japanese cause, while enslaving around 200,000 Korean girls and women to serve as sex slaves or “comfort women” at Japanese military brothels.
At the end of WWII, Soviet troops moved into the northern peninsula, while American troops took the south. Both the Americans and the Soviets refused to leave, so the country was split into two along the 38th parallel. The United States administered the south until 1948, when South Korea (or the Republic of Korea) was established. The Soviet, in turn, created North Korea (or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).
In 1950, the Soviet-supported North Korea invaded South Korea in an attempt to bring the two sides together under Communist rule. The United States intervened to prevent South Korean defeat. The war ended in 1953 with the establishment of the Military Demarcation line to serve as the border between the two nations. Today, the war has still not officially ended, and the two Koreas remain divided with the Demarcation Line heavily guarded and patrolled.
Since the end of the Korean War, South Korea has industrialized significantly, transforming from an agriculturally-based economy to a leading industrial nation that rivals Japan in world trade. South Korea’s political development, however, has not been as smooth. For decades after the Korean War, authoritarian measures were implemented and justified based on the need for national security. Civil liberties were restricted and political activists were imprisoned; the ugliness culminated in the 1980s with the massacre of thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Kwangju and the declaration of martial law in the mid-1980s.
In the late 1980s, South Korea embraced political reform; it instituted multiparty elections and established a democratic constitution. Today, the country enjoys substantial freedoms, as well as a high standard of living.
“Everland.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everland>
“Lotte World.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotte_world>
“South Korea Travel Guide – Overview.” <
“South Korea Travel Guide – Top Things to Do.” < http://www.worldtravelguide.net/country/140/top_things_to_do/Far-East-Asia/Korea-Republic-Of.html>
“South Korea Travel Guide – Top Things to See.” < http://www.worldtravelguide.net/country/140/top_things_to_see/Far-East-Asia/Korea-Republic-Of.html>
Varley, Paul. “South Korea.” Lands and Peoples, Volume 2. Danbury: Grolier Incorporated, 2001. ISBN: 0717280225.
 South Korea Travel Guide – Overview
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 South Korea Travel Guide – Top Things to Do
 South Korea Travel Guide – Top Things to See
 South Korea Travel Guide – Top Things to Do
 South Korea Travel Guide – Top Things to See
 South Korea Travel Guide – Top Things to Do and Lotte
 South Korea Travel Guide – Top Things to Do and Everland
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