Monday, June 28, 2010

Q & A: Travel in Korea

Formspring seems to be blowing up now. Which is awesome. I'm happy to answer your questions, but it takes me a bit to get to them all thoroughly. I prefer to answer one at a time. Also, you can send questions via e-mail, as always.

If someone were to go to Korea, what are a few must see places to go?

I never got the chance to blog about it properly (but I did upload my photo album), but my visit to the DMZ changed my entire perspective on Korea, its history (especially recent), and on my own country's military operations abroad. I don't think there is anything like it anywhere else in the world, and given what's been happening lately, it may not be around for much longer. I would venture to say that for a tourist in East Asia, it alone is worth the side trip to Korea. The USO in Seoul offers the best tour around--you get to go into the restricted Joint Security Area (판문점) with the blue buildings that they're always photographing for the news.

Other than the DMZ, "must see" recommendations would depend highly on your travel preferences. One of the best tourist trips I made here for the culture was to Haehoe village in Andong to see the traditional mask dance. I adore temples in the mountains, but others find them dull and too similar after one or two. My favorites include Haeinsa, Bulguksa (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites; while in Gyeongju for Bulguksa, check out the other sites), Yonggungsa (one of my banner pictures is from this temple...), and Daewonsa. Jogyesa is great if you hit it around Buddha's birthday when it is covered with lanterns. The palaces in Seoul are worth a look, as is the Jongmyo shrine. I loved the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, but it's not everyone's cup of tea.

For nature--hike a few mountains and see some beaches. I have not been to Seoraksan in Gangwondo nor to Jirisan in Jeolla (the two most Koreans love on the peninsula), but I feel like I'm missing out because a lot of the "lesser" mountains have been some of my happiest trips in Korea. It's hard for me to dislike a beach, even the super crowded ones in Korea. We have a trip planned for Jeju in August and I expect I will add this as a "must see" upon return--my one and only un-blogged, un-photographed trip there was a one night Swing Camp and it was enough to make me fall in love with the island. For natural beauty in Korea, I've yet to find something to top my trip to Somaemuldo via Geojedo.

For cultural experiences, Seoul offers taekwondo demonstrations and classes for pretty cheap. You should also check out Insadong. There is nearly always some kind of local festival happening somewhere and they are usually quite fun. I think an all night out on the town (and Koreans really do party ALL NIGHT, they're wild!) should include a good Korean jeon shik or dol seot bap restaurant, a noraebang (singing room), and makkoli jip or soju house (I prefer the food at makkoli jip)--not necessarily in that order. Visit a mungujeom (stationary store)--trust me... it's worth it.

Blog readers, help me out here! What else is a "must see" in Korea?

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