Must See Sights in South Korea

Korea. Is this a place you’d like to visit? You’ve got to be curious lately with all the news and politics, right? As I prepare for my trip to Korea in a little over a week, I’d like to share with you; some must see sights in South Korea. 

I find it fascinating how over the decades, South Korea’s reputation has shifted from an almost 3rd world country to a vibrant and stylish metropolis with K-Pop and some of the best food and shopping in the world. They’ve come a long way!

Born in Seoul, Korea, I came to the states when I was six years old. I’ve been back twice since 1) after my dad died when I was 11 and then 2) at age 19 in my sophomore year of college. Growing up in a Caucasian area where Asians were a small minority, I lost most of my Korean language. Now, I have a hard time even ordering food at Korean restaurants. I would say I identify more with Americans than Koreans. However, Korean food is by far my favorite cuisine!

Other than visits with my extended family, I remember the delicious food, open-air markets and very pushy people on the subway. I screamed at an old man who pushed me aside to get in front of me, walking onto the train! I’m curious to see if the people at the station are just as aggressive when I return. They don’t mean to be rude. It’s part of the Korean culture, but it still confuses me and will make me mad if it happens.

Must See Sights in South Korea

Our trip is limited to 9 days, so we are planning an itinerary based on our preferences. Other than going to cities outside of Seoul, I think we cover the must-see sights in Korea below.

Jeju Island

My husband and I are spending three nights at the Shilla hotel on this island, about an hour flight from Seoul. It will be our first time there, and I am excited!

Jeju Island features a volcano from the center, a semi-tropical forested park, a coastline dotted with waterfalls and the longest lava tube in the world.

A unique feature of Jeju I’m interested in learning about is the deep-diving women on the island. As rice won’t grow on this windy island, women learned to dive for octopus, abalone, clams, squid, and seaweed. Nowadays, the sea-women (haenyo) who dive 10-20 meters without any breathing apparatus, are renowned throughout the country. A typical dive lasts around two minutes. Can you imagine how that must keep them in shape? Wow!

The haenyo’s average age is 65, with some diving into their 80s. We will be able to see them at work in various locations across the island. I’ve got to get some video!
“Olle” means a winding path to your front door, and Olle coastal trails now wind around much of the island.

The Islanders were forced to dig caves by Japanese occupiers to hide weapons near the paths. The walking trails stretch around the entire coast of the island. The trails pass through various landscapes along the way, including small villages, beaches, farms, and forests.

I also look forward to visiting the beautiful Korean beaches on the island and enjoying some fresh seafood!

DMZ – North and South Korea Demilitarized Zone

We will visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. My husband is excited about this. It’s a one-hour train ride to get there from Seoul. The DMZ is a 4 km wide stretch of land that runs the length of the North and South Korean border.

source:www.wmal.com

There, we will get a chance to:

  • Stand in North Korea.
  • Visit a secret tunnel that North Korea dug under the border.
  • Visit an observation deck where we can use binoculars to see into the North Korean Propaganda Village.

I’ve read several books and watched documentaries on North Korea. Its hard to believe the way of life forced on their citizens. I often think about the crazy chance luck Koreans had in 1945 when the North delineated from the South. Wherever you were at that moment is what decided the fate of your life. I could have gotten stuck in North Korea!

Seoul

My husband and I rented a one bedroom apartment in Insadong which is the old neighborhood my family used to live when I was a baby.

Historical Sights

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon dynasty. Gyeongbokgung served as the home of Kings of the Joseon dynasty, the Kings’ households, as well as the government of Joseon.

In the early 20th century, much of the palace got destroyed by Japan. Since then, the walled complex was reconstructed to its original form. Today, it’s arguably the most beautiful and grandest of all five palaces. It also houses the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum within the premises of the complex.

The palace is best to go when it’s most crowded. If the weather is good, everyone rents traditional costumes and walks around taking pictures in the palace. There is also a changing of the guard ceremony which reenacts old Korean traditions.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok is a traditional village a short walk away from the palace. It shows a 600-year-old urban environment filled with old-world Korean homes topped by tiled roofs and stone floors (hanoks) dating back to the 1400s!

War Memorial of Korea

The War Memorial of Korea opened in 1994 on the former site of the army headquarters to exhibit and memorialize the military history of Korea. 

Hiking

Seoul has seven mountains within its hectic city. Bukhansan sometimes called the “lungs of Seoul” is the most popular. The three-hour hike up to Baegundae, Seoul’s highest peak (836 meters) is one of the most popular trails.

Shopping

The shopping in Seoul will make a person’s head spin. The choices can be overwhelming. We will focus on two main shopping areas during our visit.

Markets: Namdaemun Market &  Gwangjang Market

                                                                source – www.thesoulguide.com

The Namdaemun Market is the most massive traditional market in South Korea. This open-air market has pretty much anything you can imagine.

Gwangjang Market is a covered market made of at least 100 food stalls.  Ah, a dream! I can’t wait to eat here.

                                                                source: www.thesoulguide.com

Lotte World

Lotte World is a theme park filled with thrilling rides, an ice rink and different kinds of parades, as well as a folk museum, a lake, accommodations, department stores and more.

The Adventure section is the most extensive indoor amusement park in the world. The Folk Museum is also a popular museum among international visitors. Folk cultural items on display date back 5,000 years in Korean history. There is a Garden Stage which presents variously themed musicals to match each season, and Lotte World Star Avenue is the perfect place to experience Korean stars and K-Pop! I think this place will remind me of Las Vegas. We shall see.

Other Activites We May Do

There are a few favorite tourist activities we are on the fence about. I’d like to try an overnight at a Buddhist Temple, but I’m not sure I can convince my husband. Likely a visit to a jjimjilbang (Bath House) frequented by tourists and locals alike is not going to happen. We are not into sitting around naked with a room full of people, no matter how good the massage and steam room! K Pop concert might be fun. We will have to check that out.

Based on my research, this is a good list of must see sights in South Korea. I shall report back on how we liked our trip!

If you’re interested in other trips I have planned to far away destinations, visit my post on A Traveler’s Perspective on How to Plan a Trip to Africa.

“Flavor Your Life with an Ounce of Salt.” A lifestyle blog by Jen Oliak.