South Korea, the host country of the 2018 Winter Olympics, has gained a lot of attention lately. Despite the recent uproar in the media, South Korea is actually a safe and fun place to visit. There are so many different activities one can do there, many of which are quite unique to the country. Because many US military installations are there, it’s possible you and your family could be assigned in South Korea. This place, incredibly friendly and welcoming, is easy to navigate around and promises unique experiences that one won’t be able to see anywhere else
The capital of this country, Seoul is a bustling metropolis filled with many neighborhoods worthy of your time. One could easily spend a week or more exploring all the nooks-and-crannies that this city has to offer. Gangnam (yes, like the overplayed song “Gangnam Style” from 2013), Hongdae, Itaewon, Jamsil, and Myeongdong are all noteworthy districts to check out. A few key tips that I recommend are:
- Rent a Hanbok (traditional garment) and see museums/palaces for free
- Check out a themed café (cats, raccoons, Star Wars, oh my!)
- Go to a baseball game (Koreans take cheering for their teams very seriously)
- Check out the Military History museum in central Seoul
- Go out for a night on the town in Itaewon
- Eat amazing Korean BBQ.
Don’t be turned off the subway system, it is easy to figure out and makes traveling around town very affordable; download the Subway Korea app for easy help.
If you are craving a beach vacation away from the crazy city life, Busan is the place to go! Busan was the only city in South Korea that was not captured by the North Koreans during the Korean War, and its infrastructure is better than most areas of the country. There are many activities for every kind of traveler– relaxing on the beach, hiking the mountains, tasting amazing sushi, and exploring cultural sites. A significant site in particular is the Buddhist Haedong Yonggung Temple, also known as the Water Temple. (If there is any temple I highly recommend seeing in Korea, it’s this one!)
An easy day trip from Seoul via subway or train, Suwon is a small fortress town that’s home to the Hwaseong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A palace stands at the base of the wall (which costs a nominal fee to enter) but walking along the grounds and on the wall is completely free. On a beautiful, clear day one can see a gorgeous view of the city and mountain for miles.
4. Seoraksan National Park
Situated on the eastern part of the country, Seoraksan National Park is a vast array of gorgeous forests and mountains. It is also close to PyeongChang, home of the 2018 Winter Olympics. One can spend multiple days hiking the area and stumbling upon gorgeous Buddhist temples sprinkled all over. Venture to the nearby beach town, Sokcho, for a lovely day by the Sea of Japan (although careful when you say that; Koreans call it The East Sea).
5. The DMZ
The Demilitarized Zone is a must do item during your trip to South Korea. Where else on this world can you see the tensest (and technically, war zone) border? The DMZ is a high security area that separates North and South Korea. The JSA (Joint Security Area) is where you can go see the conference room designed for meetings between the North and South. In this conference room you can stand in North Korea. Pretty incredible! The spookiest part is knowing that North Koreans are watching your every move, so don’t do anything stupid.
Pro tip: You cannot go here on your own, you must book a tour. Make sure your tour includes the JSA as that is the best part.
By Elizabeth Seis