Long neglected by tourists, today South Korea is impressing visitors with its modish shops, traditional temples and dazzling efficiency. Seoul, with its fast-adapting citizens carrying the latest high-tech devices, is a hub of modernity. Delve into the rural parts of the country to find ancient relics, sizzling barbecue and elaborate, multi-coloured palaces. The world’s cleanest public toilets are also a bonus.
Seoul’s futuristic feel is a testament to how far Korea has come since the end of the devastating Korean War in 1953, although traditional houses (hanoks) can still be found in Samcheong-dong. A trip to the DMZ (demilitarised zone) is the closest most visitors will ever get to North Korea. Korean cuisine, always accompanied by a variety of side dishes, turns up the heat in both taste and temperature.
One of the world’s fastest (and cheapest) internet connections, boutiques stocking hip clothes from local designers and a dazzlingly clean and efficient subway system are just a few reasons to spend time in Seoul. Myeongdong is a shopping district packed with cosmetics and clothing shops, while Hongdae offers karaoke bars, nightclubs blasting K-pop (the sound of the country’s infectious popstars, now a worldwide internet sensation), and streets crowded with students looking for a good time. As a contrast, the changing of the guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace is a peek into Korea’s royal past.
Gyeongju, capital of the Silla Kingdom until AD 935, is known as the ‘museum without walls’ thanks to the number of ancient tombs and ruins scattered throughout the city. A short flight from Seoul, Jeju Island is a paradise for nature enthusiasts, with walking trails that take visitors from the top of a (dormant) volcano to fields blooming with yellow rapeseed to clean, dune-backed beaches in a few short miles.