South Korea: Subtle Land
South Korea is the quiet neighbor of China and Japan. Even its multi-million cities sometimes make you feel like you’ve just stepped into a highrise village. But this gives you all the more relaxation to truly enjoy the subtle attractions of the country. Highlights of a visit to South Korea include the friendliness of the Korean people, ancient temples, the natural beauty of its mountains, and perhaps even a trip to the Joint Security Area on its northern border, where the Cold War is still alive. South Korea is also becoming an interesting destination culturewise, with its music, television and film industry rapidly becoming a success story across Asia and around the world.
Bulguksa: Buddha Land
Bulguksa (meaning Temple of the Buddha Land) is one of the architectural masterpieces of South Korea. The current temple dates back to the 8th century. It contains seven National Treasures, one of which is the lower Blue Cloud Bridge (Chong-un kyo) and the upper White Cloud Bridge (Paek-un kyo) leading up to the main entrance of the temple. Buddhists believe that one enters Buddha Land after crossing the bridges and entering the Golden Purple Gate (Jaha mun)
Busan: Beach by the City
The Busan beach of Haeundae has become the most popular one in South Korea. Though hard to tell nowadays, Haeundae’s history goes 3000 years back. Its name was given during the Silla period (around the turn of the 10th century) by the philosopher and poet Choe Chiwon, whose pen name was Haeun. It gets very busy during summer and on New Year’s Day, but for the rest of the year it’s a pleasant place for a quiet stroll along the 1.5 km ocean shore.
Korean gardens may not be very well known outside of Korea, but in terms of beauty they are second to none. The gardens take advantage of the natural beauty of its location, without requiring artificially planted vegetation or objects placed within
Seoul: South Gate
Namdaemun (the Great South Gate) was once the southern gate of the walls surrounding Seoul, and dates back to the end of the 14th century. It is now the city’s oldest wooden structure. It is well worth a visit at night when it is floodlighted.
Panmunjom: Tension Land
If it weren’t so serious, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) could almost pass as a theme park for war. Since the North and South signed an armistice in Panmunjom village in 1953, ending the Korean War, a contigent of one million soldiers have starred eye to eye, prepared for war if necessary. Though one of the tensest areas on earth, the border itself is only marked with a small line of concrete. Inside one of the temporary blue houses in the Joint Security Area you can even cross it. Kaesong is only 10 kilometers away, while Seoul is 60 kilometers to the south.
Yonggungsa: Ocean Temple
One of the main attractions of Busan is the temple of Yonggungsa, in the north-east of the city. Its motto is: “At least one of your wishes will be answered here through your heartful prayers.” Unlike most other temples, which are in the mountains, Yonggungsa is situated on a big rock overlooking the ocean. It was founded in the era of King Gongmin, in the 14th century, by the great monk Naong. The temple burned down during the Japanese invation, but was rebuilt in the 1930s. It is best reached by taxi, about 20 minutes from Haeundae Beach.
•676: Silla Kingdom first unified state to cover most of Korean peninsula.
•935: Silla Kingdom gives way to Goryeo Dynasty.
•1392-1910: Korean peninsula ruled by Joseon Dynasty.
•1910-45: Annexed by Japan.
•1945: Korean peninsula divided, with establishment of seperate governments in communist North and democratic South.
•1950-53: Korean War, initiated by an attack from the North.