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Archived Posts from “Korea”

South Korea-Land of the Morning Calm

21

September

Located in East Asia, South Korea is a highly developed nation whose name means ‘Land of the Morning Calm’ and its capital is Seoul, a major metropolitan city and the second largest in the world. The Korean Peninsula itself is located in a temperate climate with terrain that is quite mountainous. While winters can be relatively cold in South Korea, the summers are warm and balmy, punctuated by a short monsoon period called ‘jangma’ which takes place mostly in the month of July. With rolling hills and river basins, there is much natural beauty in this land and, in fact, the country has 20 national parks and natural places to enjoy such as the Suncheon Bay Ecological Park and the Boseong Tea Field. For most people, the preferred season to visit South Korea is during the autumn season which spans from September to November. Within these months the air is crisp, the humidity drops significantly and foliage turns to brilliant shades of orange, red and gold. Between April and May, spring arrives and many global travelers prefer to visit during this season to catch the sights of many trees and flowers in full bloom.

Being a nation that has warmly embraced high technology, South Korea is exceptionally advanced among nations in terms of transportation so you will definitely find the expected modes of travel such as air travel, motor ways and trains. In fact, Korean Air served over 21 million passengers in 2008 alone and South Korea’s Incheon International Airport has been named the “Best Airport Worldwide” every year since 2005. Frequent high-speed train service runs between all major cities, courtesy of Korail and subway systems are in these large cities, as well.

While South Korea’s culture has been said to be influenced heavily by its western neighbor, China, it does maintain quite a unique culture all its own. With 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Korea, there are clearly plenty of historical sites to visit. Pop culture has a strong following in this nation, with many popular television shows and styles of music having quite eager fan bases. Another surprise for visitors is the intense popularity of online games such as Starcraft, which is often televised in South Korea. With an estimated 90% of Koreans owning mobile phones, this is clearly a land of people on the go.

Korean cuisine is nearly as storied as that of its neighbors China and Japan, based primarily on rice, tofu, noodles, fish and meat. Kimchi, a spicy fermented vegetable dish is often served with each meal and soup called ‘guk’ is traditionally enjoyed as a main course. If you enjoy spicy foods then you will be happy to know that Korean food is typically heavy in seasonings such as sesame oil, garlic, ginger and hot pepper.

Clearly, South Korea is a country with a clean atmosphere all its own with something to offer everyone.


North Korea-A Land Apart

25

January

Travelers looking to experience something totally different and to travel to a place where, most assuredly none of your friends have ever been, then North Korea is the place for you. An anachronism in so many ways, Pyongyangthe country is one of only a handful of communist states left in the world, one that continues to play by its own rules on the world stage, and one that is sadly backwards, yet oddly charming. For the savvy and intrepid traveler, this strange land can provide a wonder and mystery that can only be found in very few corners of the world. One thing should be noted, it’s impossible to write about North Korea without mentioning the government. The government permeates everything about the country, including tourism. Visitors to North Korea will always be members of a tour group, and will have at least one ‘guide’ with the group, whose function is to keep tabs on tourists as much as it is to provide information to them.

To say that the government is paranoid and controlling is putting it mildly. Many tourists will feel limited and stifled because of the rules and regulations put into place. Of course, there are many ways to bend the rules. The best way to get ahead in North Korea is to play along and be respectful. Showing respect to the guides, the people, and the government will reward itself in the guides feeling more comfortable with you and perhaps allowing you to go out alone some, or showing you some places that are not normally seen by tourists. On the other hand, showing disrespect and speaking ill towards the government and its leader, Kim Jong Il, can have severe penalties for tourists and guides as well. It is important to keep in mind that severe penalties in places like North Korea are totally different than what most Westerners think of. Prison sentences, heavy fines, and worse are common in North Korea for even the smallest misdemeanor. Even if you feel that stopping and bowing in front of a statue of Kim Jong Il is totally absurd, you should still show respect by remaining still and silent as others pay homage. North Korean tour guides are expected to ‘control’ the guests, so any disturbance or scene caused by a guest, will negatively affect your guide, and could easily get them into very hot water.

All that being said, the sights that await visitors in this country are like no others in the world. In Pyongyang, visitors will be shocked to find that even though many people can’t afford food and electricity at certain Mount Baekdutimes of the year, the city has a functional and spotlessly clean metro, complete with beautiful artwork and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Visitors will be taken to Mansu Hill, where they can pay their respects to the “Great Leader”, Kim Sung Il, by bowing in front of a 20 meter tall statue of the leader. Another monument to the first Kim, is the Juche Tower. Rising over 170 meters, the tower was built using over 25,000 stones to commemorate the leader’s 70th birthday. One of the biggest pilgrimages in the country is to Mangyong Hill, birthplace of Kim Il-Sung. Thousands of Koreans visit the museum to witness the hard-scrabble conditions that the hero of heroes for North Korea had to endure in his childhood.

Kaesong was once home to a huge population, and was the seat of the Koryo Dynasty. Unfortunately, over the years, several wars decimated large parts of the city’s historical legacy, but a walk through the old quarter can provide a glimpse into the city’s past. Kaesong also has several museums and ancient ruins that have been preserved that are worth seeing.

North Korea is also home to some severe weather with the winters’ biting cold, and the summers’ monsoons. However, planning a trip during the spring or late summer/early fall, visitors will be impressed with the gorgeous skies, and alternately, blooming flowers or spectacular autumn colors.

Traveling to North Korea isn’t for the faint of heart, and is probably better suited for experienced travelers looking for something totally off the beaten path. Although visitors may feel like they are being treated poorly or that they are being ripped off for food or in hotels, rest assured that the overwhelming majority of North Koreans have it far worse. A trip to North Korea may not be for everyone, but for those daring enough to make the journey, the reward will be well worth it.