By Danny Matson
You’re living in Japan now! You’re in Asia! With an abundance of exotic destinations at your fingertips you’re not going to let this opportunity for travel pass you by, are you? The question is simple; where are you going to go on your next holiday? Well, I’m here to help you. Go to Korea!
Before joining the JET program, I lived in Korea for two years as an ALT with EPIK; a teaching program for native English speakers much like JET. I had no idea of what to expect from the country before going there, and I have to say I was pretty much surprised at every turn.
From sitting down to a meal on the floor that looked like this:
To participating in this:
To risking my life for a photo opportunity like this:
Korea certainly packs a punch. Traveling around Korea is a cinch. It’s roughly a quarter the size of Japan. High speed rail connections are a quarter the cost of the Shinkansen, and frequent bus services are a quarter the cost of that. In other words, you get a lot for your quarter!
Planning a meaningful trip to Korea will depend largely on two factors, “How much time do you have?” and “When are you going?”
If you only have a week, then I’ll give it to you straight. Spend 3 or 4 days in Seoul, and a few more in Busan. Both are big cities with a lot of culture and experiences to offer every traveler, they shouldn’t be missed on any itinerary through Korea. This expats blog includes the highlights of Seoul: http://onestep4ward.com/seoul-english-teachers/. I can’t say it much better myself. But if you have a little more time and flexibility, or you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, read on!
I think the best way to experience Korea is through its festivals. In my two years living and traveling in Korea, they were easily the highlight. Korean festivals range from the traditional (art, food, mask dancing, etc.), to the epic (international firework competition, lantern display), and culminate with the downright awesome (mud festival). I highly recommend timing your trip to Korea around some interesting festivals; don’t worry, they take place year-round! Korea’s tourist information
website has the most accurate information about upcoming festivals. Click on the link and continue to “Events” for a comprehensive festival list: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/1021_Things%20to%20See%20n%20Do.jsp
If you don’t have time to click through that extensive list and you want to know the one festival that you can’t miss, let me take this opportunity to introduce you to the Boryeong Mud Festival!
Literally it’s just a weekend of muddy riot. There’s mud-pit wrestling (with strangers and friends alike), mud slides, and a mud prison- among other things. If you’re feeling sticky you can jump in the ocean at any time, as the pinnacle of the festival, “Mud Experience Land” takes place right on Deachon Beach. After the chaos, be sure to hang around for the all-night party. This festival typically held in early summer.
Other Top Festivals:
- The Jinju Lantern Festival; beautiful glowing lanterns floating in the river in this old town
- The Busan Haeundae Sand Castle Festival
- The Andong Mask Festival
- The Busan International Fireworks Festival.
Alas, I realize it’s not always convenient to time a trip around the local events. So if you can’t jump on the festival track, here are my five favorite places to visit in Korea:
1. Seoraksan. A Truly epic mountain range to the north with one of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen in my life. If you can go in autumn, the colors are incredible
2. Gyeongju. The ancient capital of Korea. Massive graves which house the remains of kings of the past. The city is a kind of open-air museum with relics and old temples scattered throughout.
3. Andong Folk Village. See old mud houses, sacred trees, and a glimpse of what a traditional Korean village was like. One of the only authentic and well preserved villages of its kind in Korea.
4. Tongyeong. Off the radar, but worth going to for its quirky art village. Perched atop a hill over looking the city, you can spend time wander through a labyrinth of painted alleyways. Also good here are the island adventures you can access by ferry.
5. Jeju Island. Lava caves, beautiful scenery, and a peculiar sex museum make this a fun getaway.
So, ready to check out Korea now? If you’d like more detailed information, feel free to contact me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can give you a Korean language tip or two if you’re interested in using some of the local lingo. Have fun!