Famous for bibimbap (rice, egg, meat and vegies with chilli sauce) and its role in the Japanese invasions of the 16th century, Jinju is a laid-back city with a park-like fortress by the Nam-gang (Nam River). It's the largest city in the area and a convenient transport hub from which to explore the province’s western region.
This island (www.ulleung.go.kr), the top of an extinct volcano that rises majestically from the sea floor and has incredibly steep cliffs as a result, offers some of the most spectacular scenery in Korea; think mist-shrouded volcanic cliffs, traditional harbour towns and a breathtaking jagged coastline.
Famous for its mackerel, strong soju (local vodka) and wooden masks, Andong makes a good base for exploring the numerous historical and cultural sights outside the city. The city itself has a very laid-back vibe and is strikingly friendly, with a good selection of places to eat and stay.
Less than 10km south of the DMZ, Heyri is a charming village of small-scale contemporary buildings that couldn’t be more of a contrast to the heavily fortified, doom-laden border. Conceived as a ‘book village’ connected to the nearby publishing centre of Paju Book City, it has blossomed into a community of artists, writers, architects and other creative souls.
Seongsan-ri & Sinyang-ri
A must-see destination, Seongsan-ri (Fortress Mountain Village) and the neighbouring village of Sinyang-ri are at the foot of a spectacular extinct volcano that rises straight out of the ocean. Black-sand beaches are nearby, as is the lovely island of Udo and the Seopji-koji peninsula, with breathtaking architecture by the Japanese master Ando Tadao.
A little gem of a resort town, Danyang (http://english.dy21.net) is cosied right up to the mountains of Sobaeksan National Park, at a bend in the river Namhan-gang. This is small-town Korea at its most charming: you can stay at a riverfront motel and explore limestone caves, hiking trails and a one-of-a-kind Buddhist temple, basking in mountain views wherever you go.
Jirisan National Park
This park offers some of Korea’s best hiking opportunities, with 12 peaks over 1000m forming a 40km-long ridge. Many peaks are over 1500m, including Cheonwang-bong (1915m), the country’s second-highest mountain. There are three principal entrances, each with a temple. Two of the three temples, Ssanggye-sa and Daewon-sa, are in Gyeongsangnam-do.
Gyeryongsan National Park
Gyeryongsan is the region's most popular park, perhaps because of the sense of accomplishment it offers: you can easily hike from one end to the other in a day. There are two park entrances: the eastern one closer to Daejeon and the western one closer to Gongju.
Chiaksan National Park
This park may be the smallest of the national parks in Gangwon-do, but it offers challenging hikes and is a very doable weekend trip from Seoul. A popular but strenuous route starts from Guryong-sa (구룡사; Nine Dragon Temple) up to 1288m-high Biro-bong (three hours, 5.6km); it’s possible to continue another 5.4km (two hours) down to Hwanggol (황골).