Modern urban parks, culture and design alongside illustrious historic palaces.
Hawaii, the Mediterranean, Disneyland, paradise…Jejudo has been compared to all four, and each is at least partly true. The volcanic island features swaying palm trees, cactus plants, orange orchards, circus shows, casinos, a dozen sandy beaches, 14 golf courses, scuba diving and much more.
Gyeonggi-do & Incheon
Busan & Gyeongsangnam-do
South Gyeongsang province is a study in contrasts. Travellers looking for big-city action are unlikely to go away disappointed as Busan is full of interesting restaurants, thousands of places to drink and enough cultural assets to fill a few days of exploring.
Gyeongsangbuk-do’s natural beauty is seconded only by its profusion of spectacular temples, Confucian schools, ancient pagodas, rock-carved Buddhas, teashops and tombs. Gyeongju, once the capital of the Shilla dynasty (57 BC–AD 935), is often called ‘the museum without walls’ for its historical treasures, many of which are outdoors.
There’s a noticeably absent cosmopolitan feel in this port city known for raw fish and a harsh dialect that people in Seoul sometimes find incomprehensible. Underneath the drab urban landscape created by an unimaginative use of concrete, quirky people jump the queue, shout while conversing and giggle at the sight of international travellers.
South Jeolla is one of Korea’s least developed and greenest provinces, where 25% of households are farmers against a national average of 7%.
Gang·won-do, northeast of Seoul and bordering the ocean and North Korea, holds many of Korea’s natural gems. Roads wind through wildflower-dappled valleys, rivers chase and meander their way to the sea, and verdant green mountains cloaked in mist rise up suddenly.
The province of Gyeonggi-do hugs Seoul like a reverse letter ‘C, ’ providing excellent day trips or longer expeditions to some of Korea’s gems. Often overlooked due to its proximity to the Bladerunner-esque cityscape that is Seoul, Gyeonggi-do is a varied province: rivers and rice fields, shrines and scenery, timeless temples and ever-present smiles.
The southwestern province of Jeollabuk-do has always been Korea’s rice bowl, and the image of white egrets standing in terraced rice fields is a provincial icon. Unspoilt national, provincial and county parks cover the more mountainous parts and offer some of Korea’s finest get-away-from-it-all hikes and scenery.
Jeju-si (Jeju City), the island’s capital, sits at the middle of the north coast. The city centre, a mere 4km east of Jeju airport, is hardly glam but does have a few historic structures, a large market, the Chilseongno shopping precinct and lively student bars and restaurants opposite the old city hall.
Gongju and Buyeo in Chungcheongnam-do, commonly shortened to Chungnam, (www.chungnam.net), were once capitals of the ancient Baekje kingdom. The treasures found in King Muryeong’s tomb make him Korea’s Tutankhamen, and a rich heritage of ancient Baekje relics can be found in other tombs, fortresses and museums.
Amid the tangerine groves on the lower slopes of Hallasan sits touristy Seogwipo, Jejudo's second-largest town. A 25-minute bus ride to the west takes you to surprisingly unspoilt beach at Jungman, a luxury resort town, surrounded by tourist attractions and activities. The isolated and windswept isle of Marado, off Jejudo's southwest tip is the most southerly point of Korea.
Incheon, a bustling, industrial port 36km west of Seoul, is big enough to warrant its own subway line. The international airport sits on an offshore island, so be sure (if you’re heading to the airport) that you don’t go to Incheon proper. Instead, take a direct bus from Seoul. (A subway service is scheduled to open in late 2007.
Chungbuk is the only province that has no coastline, but it makes up for it by being the country’s lake district. A two-hour ferry ride along Chungju Lake zips past attractive cliffs that inspired Joseon-era artists and poets. Lakeside, Cheongnamdae is a holiday villa used by Korean presidents that is open to the public for most of the year.
Jeonju (www.jeonju.go.kr), the provincial capital, is famous for being the birthplace of both the Joseon dynasty and bibimbap (rice, meat, egg and vegetables with a hot sauce). Centrally located, the city is the perfect base from which to explore Jeollabuk-do as it’s the hub for all the bus services.