Busy Seoul street – Photo credit
South Korea’s mad, feverish capital competes with Tokyo for the title of the most populous (and addictively chaotic) metropolis on the planet. Wildly frenetic Seoul is home to 25 million people – a few million more than all of Australia – and is a mega alpha city par excellence.
While here, visit four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeokgung, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Shop in Dongdaemun Market, Namdaemun Market, Insadong, COEX Mall and the Yongsan Electronics Market. Culture hop between the city’s over 100 museums and chill out in massive urban parks.
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South Korea’s second city is far from second best. Boisterous Busan offers rough-hewn, atypical port city charm. Dig past the uniform concrete skyline and mingle with locals and the metropolis of 3.5 million people pulls you in.
Take a cable car up to Geumjeongsan, people-watch on Haeundae’s busy boardwalk and dine and dance in Gwangalli Beach. Taejongdae park and a plethora of temples and shrines deserve visits as well.
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One of Asia’s most notable leisure islands, Jeju-do is a tourism dynamo in South Korea. Home to the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes, the country’s only special autonomous province is home to just over half a million people. Roughly ten times that number visit the premier playland every year, from Jeju City resort hotels to Hallasan National Park.
Tumuli Park, Gyeongju -Â Photo credit
A tidy coastal city with less than 300,000 people, Gyeongju lays claim to a disproportionate amount of brilliant UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As such, trips to Seokguram grotto, Bulguksa temple, Gyeongju Historic Areas and Yangdong Folk Village are absolute itinerary stops.
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The Korean Demilitarized Zone, the fabled DMZ, is the world’s most infamous border buffer. About midway across the Korean Peninsula, the 250 km-long, 4 km-wide boundary area is the most heavily militarized on the planet (and an unlikely haven for the endangered Amur leopard). Travel to North Korea is a quagmire but you can come fascinatingly close here.
Dadohaehaesang National Park
The dominant national park in South Korea by total area, Dadohaehaesang covers 2,321.5 km2 and significant biodiversity. Well worth a special detour, the park unfurls extraordinary fauna and flora.
Chungcheongnam-do, or South Chungcheong province, has a lot to offer intrepid travelers. The lively capital Daejeon is in the midst of a major refurb to entice new crops of Asian tourists and Taean Marine National Park has some of the best beaches in the country. Meanwhile, historic royal capital Gongju contains some of Korea’s most venerable cultural treasures.
Seoraksan National Park
A probable future UNESCO World Heritage Site, Seoraksan National Park is a foremost world biosphere reserve. Though a relatively miniscule 167 km2, the park’s unusual dessicated granite formations protect a vital array of plants and animals.
Jirisan National Park
The first national park in South Korea is built for hearty mountain hikes and stands as a first-rate black bear conservation ground.
Incheon Bridge – Photo credit
The third most populous city in South Korea is poised for greatness. Incheon is luring multinationals galore to the hyper-futuristic Songdo International Business District and will host the Asian Games in 2014.
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