Top Travel Ideas

Korean Travel’s Must-Sees

Forgive us for this rather lengthy list of what we feel you really need to see in South Korea. You see, over the course of our stay, we uncovered so many fantastic locations around the country that we can honestly say that any tour covering all the sights of interest would have to last at least a month. We’ve chosen our highlights according to season, with a simple ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ division – we’ll let you make your own call as to when that crossover takes place, but it’s certainly worth considering the extreme climates in South Korea – if you want to do both, you’re best coming in Spring or August, which is also probably the most comfortable time to drop in. Here goes:

SUMMER:

-       Boryeong Mud Festival – Splatter yourself in green mud, experience small-town seafood, indulge in some wrestling and explore the Korean music scene all in one weekend. One of the most anticipated weekends (or two, if you can manage both) of the summer, this is the party to be at, held in the obscure East coast town of Boryeong, which is a tiny little village the rest of the year. Not to be missed.

-       Sereoksan National Park – Not only is Sereoksan the nicest piece of mountain scenery in South Korea (and, if you’re feeling lazy, the highest peak can be ‘conquered’ by lift), it’s also one of the most beautiful spots, with plenty of hidden Buddhist caves, for example, as well as views into North Korea. The nearby town of Sokcho is well worth a night or two, as well, especially if you’re into your seafood, or enjoy wave hopping on the speed boats that run from Sokcho’s beaches.

-       Ulluengdo/ Dokdo – The two islands off the west coast of South Korea offer something completely different to the rest of the country. Aside from being set in beautiful clear waters and offering almost perfect swimming conditions, they’re also fairly hard to get to, so avoid the mass tourism influx of places like Jeju. Dokdo is so hard to access, in fact, that you’ll probably be stuck on the first island due to waves. Still, exploring the native culture, feeling like you’re visiting a pre-technological Korea and going to a beautiful tourist spot that most never make it to, even if they live in Korea, makes it more than worth the hassle. Not to mention the excitement on your students faces should you tell them you visited the disputed territory of Dokdo.

-       Jeju Island – Jeju is the tourist version of the above, and the only spot in Korea that could reasonably be considered tropical. We’ll be honest and say that it’s not quite as good as the locals make out, but it is a very nice spot with some beautiful sites, especially the huge volcanic crater in the centre. Then there’s the ‘fork’ (folk) museum, and the traditional ladies who still pluck shellfish from the bottom of the sea by diving around the coasts. An interesting experience to say the least.

-       Tongyoung – We don’t recommend Busan in the summer, simply because it becomes so incredibly overcrowded (it’s not uncommon to hear of a million people descending on a single beach at certain weekends). Tongyoung, though, has no such problems, and also has its own interesting cultures, such as a turtle ship and it’s own form of Kimbap (California Rolls). Enjoy!

-       Outdoor Korean BBQ – there can’t be a better sign of the summer in South Korea than the first Korean BBQ, eaten outdoors on the streets and found on pretty much every corner. Cook your own beef, chicken and kimchi over the heat whilst supping on a beer (or a lot of Soju, if you’re with a local), and you’ll quickly fall in love with the cuisine: this is the less alternative stuff, and it’s perfectly suited for rays of sunshine and plenty of time to relax and eat. Plenty of visitors end up bringing back all the material to cook their own BBQ when the leave. Don’t worry, dogs aren’t served on BBQs!

WINTER:

-       The ski resorts – South Korea ski resorts are far better than you might expect, but better still, they’re extremely cheap. It’s not unrealistic to expect a weekend for less than £100, including equipment, passes and accommodation, and the slopes – whist not featuring quite the same extremes as the European resorts – will certainly entertain all but the most impressive of skiers. Start of with High One And phoenix Park resorts, and go from there.

-       The Ice Festivals – South Korea’s ice festivals are a really special experience. If you can handle the cold of the harsh winters, which often come in at -20 or colder out in the sticks, you’ll find yourself wondering around winter wonderlands that include everything from ice sculptures and sledding to traditional activities, pre-planned hikes and, of course, plenty of hard liquor to wash it all down with. For the best experience, why not stay on an old lady’s floor, too!

-       JimJilbang – Jimjilbang is Korea’s version of a sauna, and it’s both cheap and fantastically good fun. For about W10,000, you can not only go in and use the varied saunas, baths and washing facilities, but you’re also able to sleep overnight in some of the bigger Jimjilbangs, which provide beds and TV rooms (in Korean, of course). If you’re feeling adventurous, try a few of the treatments as well, which include cupping (vacuum attaching a cup to your back to draw the blood to the surface) and acupuncture. Spot the locations (in almost every neighbourhood) by looking for a symbol showing some wiggling ‘steam’ lines rising above a circle.

-       Experiment with food – There’s plenty in Korea you’ll find very normal, and you’ll probably grow to love the local cuisine (if you don’t, the bigger cities will supply you with most you miss from home anyway), but while you’re here, you should certain try a few oddities, too. Allow us to help you out with a few: the still wiggling tentacles of an octopus make for a great delicacy, as does the dangerous flesh of a puffer fish. You can get silkworm larvae, freshly boiled, as a snack, as well as dried squid served up much like a packet of crisps (send both home to your friends for a bit of fun…). The big one, of course, is dog, which is normally served as a soup and can be pretty difficult to hunt down. Then there’s an assortment of seafood that varies from the delicious to the stomach churning. Let us know what you hunt down!