No one is more aware of its neighbor’s volatile presence than South Korea. Visitors with an interest in history may seek out the DMZ, but South Koreans never seem to cast more than a fleeting glance north. They have more important things to do. In Seoul’s imperial palaces, visitors pore over meticulous royal tapestries and admire delicate celadon. On Jeju Island, school groups giggle their way through eerie underground lava tubes. Families gather around crowded grill tables of savory meats and vegetables. In short, South Korea fascinates.
Centuries-old palaces like Seoul’s legendary Changdeokgung recall in beautiful detail Korea’s imperial past. Graceful rooftops swoop earthward, covered with intricately-painted floral patterns in vibrant greens and reds. Traditional Korean music and dance fill stages across South Korea, from cosmopolitan Seoul to the smallest rural villages. For a glimpse of the nation’s less endearing past, many travelers make time for a fascinating look at the DMZ, where stern-looking soldiers and razor wire recall the tremendous gulf between North and South.
Eating and Drinking
Settle onto floor cushions to dine on traditional bulgogi. Thin, savory beef strips and crisp vegetables are cooked to order over a grill in the table’s center. Hot stone bowls heat a dinner of bibim bap, with rice, fresh vegetables and egg laid out in a colorful stripe. Whatever the meal, expect a tangy dish of kimchi relish on the side. Sip a steaming cup of tea and enjoy the tranquility of a traditional tea house in Seoul.
A short flight to Jeju Island takes outdoor enthusiasts to Korea’s favorite playground, where natural underground lava tubes crisscross the island and can be explored like caves. Above ground, the island’s volcanic Seongsan Ilchulbong mountain peak draws thousands of visitors up its footpaths for stunning views of the rocky cliffs below and the crashing East China Sea.
Visitors of all faiths rejuvenate their minds, bodies and spirits at Buddhist Temples. Staffed by saffron-robed monks and set in peaceful, wilderness surroundings across South Korea, the centuries-old temples welcome visitors for a restful weekend: Early-morning prayers, vegetarian meals and quiet nature walks. If a temple stay isn’t enough, spend an afternoon at a traditional Korean bathhouse, soaking away your stress with a hot sauna or water massage.