There are famous black Koreans

South Korea at a glance

Compared to its direct neighbors - the PR China in the west and Japan in the east - Korea is still largely unknown here. Although well developed for tourism, the main streams of travel to Asia still mostly pass South Korea. The "Land of Morning Calm", as it is often called, has not only produced a fantastic landscape but also a large number of important cultural monuments in its five thousand year history. UNESCO has made several of them world cultural heritage sites. They provide a representative insight into a culture that was once the bridge between China and Japan in many areas.

Olympiator in Seoul

The cultural and material prosperity has repeatedly aroused the covetous looks of the neighboring peoples. Korea was annexed to Japan from 1910 to 1945. Unfortunately, after the liberation as a plaything between the Allied powers, the country was not spared the division. Two Korean states emerged, facing each other at the 38th parallel since the Korean War 1950-53, almost irreconcilably and only separated by a narrow demilitarized zone.
Korea is sometimes referred to as "the mother of Japan". Buddhism came to the Japanese islands via Korea, as did the fine art of ceramics, which the Japanese learned from kidnapped artisans from Korea. Next to China, Korea is probably the most Confucian-influenced country with a tradition that is still alive today. Very old travel reports describe the Korean peninsula as the "Land of High Beauty". In fact, Koreans are a very beauty-worshiping, harmony-minded people. Regardless of whether it is a monastery complex or a small pagoda, a secular palace or a monumental military defense system - the old architecture has always been created in harmony with the surrounding nature and blends harmoniously into a landscape, which is partly due to a series of gentle, fertile valleys next to mountainous formations high alpine character.

While the east coast of the China offshore, almost 1000 km long peninsula rises steeply from the sea, it slopes gently on the west coast. The south coast of Korea, on the other hand, is splintered into thousands upon thousands of picturesque bays and small islands. If you drive south from Seoul, you cross several mountain ranges extending from northeast to southwest, which characterize the landscape with 70% of the area. This alternation, combined with beautiful blooms in spring and splendid foliage colors in the mountains in autumn, is what makes South Korea so unique.

On the islands of Namhae-Do

The name simply means "capital" in the Korean language - and it is the undisputed metropolis of the country. About 11 million people live and work there - if you include the belt of suburbs and satellite settlements, you get a good 19 million, i.e. about 40% of the total population of South Korea! The Han River (Han-gang) flows through Seoul, the banks of which are lined with numerous parks and green spaces where people can relax after work or at the weekend.

In the middle of the northern half of the city with the historical center rises the Nam Mountain (Nam-san), which with its forest forms the largest "green lung" of Seoul. It is crowned by the television tower, from which one has a fantastic view of the sea of ​​houses in Seoul. To the north, the city, which is only 50 km from the demilitarized zone with North Korea, is bordered by the Pukak Mountains. If you as a traveler want to awaken memories of the Cold War, which has long since passed in Europe, you can book one-day guided tours in English to the Demilitarized Zone, which lead to the armistice village of Panmunjom. If you are short on time, however, a trip to the scenic Kanghwa Island northwest of Seoul, where you can buy Korean ginseng roots at markets, is more worthwhile. The trade and cultivation of ginseng, called "Insam" in Korean, is subject to strict government control and Korean ginseng products are among the best in quality in the world.

The most practical way to get around the metropolis is by subway. The network is very well developed and announcements and signs are also in English. The Koreans are always very helpful and especially younger people like to get in touch with the "We-guk", as foreigners are often called here.
The city is extremely clean and very modern. Old pavilions or gardens alternate with towering skyscrapers. The new towers above the old, but does not overwhelm it: for example, right next to the highly recommended old art and antique district of Insadong is the mighty Millennium Tower, which is futuristic on pillars - one of the most architecturally interesting skyscrapers in Seoul.
The city is - due to the explosive development of Korea in the last 20 years - a young city. People under 40 shape the picture. Older people, for whom the whole thing is probably too hectic, usually stay in the suburbs, or you can see them in one of those numerous, tranquil parks - such as the pagoda park, an important place for the freedom movement in Korea during the Japanese occupation. Older men usually sit there and pass the time talking or playing paduk, the board game that is called "Go" in Japanese.

Seoul is very clean and, like almost everywhere else in Korea, it is safe - even as a woman in the evening unaccompanied. Of course, as a tourist, you should take the usual precautionary measures. But considering the size of the city, the chances of falling victim to a crime are extremely small. Vandalism is also completely unknown.
In the evening in a side street, you are alone and you can hear steps behind you? Don't worry - it's just a couple of nighttime enthusiasts who are on their way to Myon-dong - the shopping mecca of young people; or the Tongdaemun Fashion Market, which is also open at night. The streets of Seoul are full of people until late at night.

Another shopping market, located at the impressive old south city gate Namadaemun, is just as popular. Ginseng, handicrafts, bags, jewelry, groceries - you can get everything here.
Itaewon is another market that was specially created for American tourists and members of the army and offers less local flavor - instead it is the first choice for "made-to-measure suits in a few hours" and luxury items of all kinds at relatively affordable prices. In the evening, Itaewon turns into a Western-style excursion destination popular with some tourists with numerous pubs, bars, discos and restaurants.

There is no shop closing time in Korea like in Germany. Some small shops in the country are open until late at night. You can actually trade anywhere except in the department store. It is even compulsory in the markets. However, you will hardly find excessive prices in Korea. In markets too, good quality is mainly offered, which in Korea, as everywhere in the world, is reasonably priced.
Seoul's Lotte Center is well worth a visit. A superlative department store with 12 floors and around forty restaurants with all culinary delights. Right next door is the First Class Hotel Lotte with its classy underground shopping arcade.

As a tourist you should definitely visit the information center in the Korean tourist office KNTO, where there is also extensive information in German, furthermore the island of Youido, the "Manhattan" of Seoul with the parliament and the gold-colored 63 building, which has a large aquarium on its 63 floors houses. Since Seoul has not only been the capital since 1945, but has been performing this function for over 600 years, there are also some very impressive palaces in the city: for example the Kyongbok Palace, once a royal residence in the Choson period (built in 1394) has an area of ​​about forty acres. Not too far away is the Changdok Palace (World Heritage Site) with its secret garden, an impressive example of Korean horticulture. The Chongmyo Shrine, adjoining the palace to the south, houses the ancestral tables of the Choson dynasty and was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995.
Northwest of Kyongbok-kung is the blue house, which is not shown on any South Korean city map for fear of North Korean attacks - the official residence of the President - which can be visited with a guided tour. One should be prepared for strict security controls.

A trip from the island of Youido by ship to the Korean world trade center COEX is not to be missed. Nearby is the beautifully landscaped Olympic Park with works of art from 66 countries and an excavation from the Paekche period, the epoch of the "three kingdoms" of Korea.

Landscape at Hahoe

The city is located south of Seoul and can be easily reached by train in less than an hour. It is home to another world cultural heritage site: the almost 7 km long ring fortress Hwasong from the Choson period (around 1796), which can be visited in its entire length. The folklore village to the east of Suwon gives a multifaceted insight into the life of Korea in ancient times. The people living there show the visitor traditional handicrafts, old dances, the typical Korean peasant music "Sanmulnori" as well as Confucian wedding ceremonies.

The impressive Sorak Mountains stretch out on the east coast, a five-hour drive from Seoul. In autumn, the beauty of the foliage color takes even the locals breathless. Along the beautiful east coast, which is well developed for tourism, one finally arrives inland through mountainous formations to Andong and Hahoe; The former place is famous for the traditional, colorful mask dance, the latter for its listed, thatched houses.

Via the city of Taegu, which lies at the foot of the picturesque Palgong Mountains, you get to Kyongju (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the old capital of the Shilla Empire, which holds many art-historical treasures - around a million people are said to have lived here once. The National Museum presents thousands of unique exhibits from that era, and the city itself is called the "Museum Without Walls". High-rise buildings are forbidden and in today's city center there are not the usual bank and administration palaces, but the time-honored mound-tombs (tumuli), one of which is even accessible. In Kyongju you will find the world's oldest observatory as well as the most beautiful temple in Korea: Pulguk-sa; Modeled after the "pure land of Buddha", it is rightly another UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Sokkuram Grotto east of Kyongju on the coast, which houses the most perfect Buddha statue.

The largest port city in Korea is Pusan. Four million people live in a landscape characterized by sea and mountains. The view from the Pusan ​​Tower over the city and the surrounding area is very impressive. A detour with the subway in the direction of the Pomo Temple (Pomo-sa) in the north of the city is very worthwhile. You can get great culinary impressions of the diversity of the marine fauna at the Chagalchi fish market. Fish cannot be served fresher - from the fish trawler via the market hall directly to the plate, so to speak - mostly raw.
Even those who love shopping will not be disappointed in Pusan: around the tower is the large market and if you go down to the subway you will find yourself in the realm of the underground shopping arcades with hundreds of shops and stores.

The Hallyosudo Waterway extends from Pusan ​​on the southern coast; a marine national park with over three thousand rugged and mostly uninhabited islands, some of which can be reached by ferry.
South Korea's largest island, Chejudo, can also be reached by ferry or plane from Pusan. A tropical paradise that is rightly called "Hawaii of Asia" and geologically already belongs to the Japanese archipelago. Chejudo is also home to the highest mountain in South Korea: Halla-san, an extinct volcano. From Chejudo you can fly directly to Seoul or to any of the 16 interconnected domestic airports.

Leaving Pusan ​​north-west towards Seoul, one arrives through the scenic Kayasan National Park to the Haein Temple with the Tripitaka Koreana, which was completed in 1251 and contains the entire Buddhist canon on 82,000 wooden printing plates with 45 million hand-carved Chinese letters.
The printing blocks are stored in a unique structure built for this purpose at the time, whose ingenious ventilation system still ensures that the wood of the panels does not fall apart. The hall together with the Tripitaka Koreana has been recognized as a World Heritage Site.

Other worthwhile destinations in the southwest and the central region are the small town of Namwon, which marks the entrance to the Chiri Mountains (Chiri-san), which is often referred to as "Switzerland of Korea", and the town of Taejon, which has a science park on top of it The premises of the EXPO 1993 offers. The Popchu-sa is a spacious temple complex and has one of the largest Buddha images in Asia with a 36 m high, free-standing bronze statue.

Southeast Seoul you can visit traditional pottery factories at Ich'on, where the famous jade green celadon porcelain from the Koryo period or the white one from the Choson dynasty is still made today in an old tradition. Impressive exhibits from the history of Korean ceramics are presented in the city's ceramic museum.

Thomas Schneider

More about South Korea

- South Korea - Korean travel notes
- Seoul: In the footsteps of tradition
- Hae-woo-jae - toilet fascination in Korean. The Suwon Toilet Museum
- Living with temple monks in South Korea

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