Korea’s DMZ from the South

There aren’t a great many ways to get inside the Demilitarised Zone, and only one to visit the Joint Security Area itself. USO Tours offer a day-long coach trip from Seoul, just down the street from the War Memorial of Korea. Booking the USO Tour proved a fiddly process: they require payment at least four…

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Hwaseong, Suwon, South Korea

Only 19 miles south of Seoul lies South Korea’s only remaining walled fortress, Hwaseong. It surrounds Suwon city centre, and was completed in 1796 to house and honour the remains of Prince Sado. More on him in a moment. Within the fortress walls is Haenggung, the palace built by King Jeongjo in 1789. The evidence…

Gyeongbokgung, Seoul, South Korea

Completed in 1395, three years after the founding of the Joseon Dynasty, Gyeongbokgung was completed. The first of Seoul’s Great Palaces, it has been razed, left derelict, reconstructed, torn down, and reconstructed again in the subsequent 700 years. Arrive at the Gwanghwamun gate on the hour between 10:00 and 15:00 and you will witness the…

Changdeokgung, Seoul, South Korea

One of Seoul’s Five Great Palaces, Changdeokgung was built during the Joseon Dynasty, after Gyeongbukgung. It came about as part of a power struggle between members of the Royal Family. King Taejong had killed his own brothers in Gyeongbukgung, so built a new palace further to the east. This Palace is packed. I mean very,…

Bongeunsa, Seoul, South Korea

Nestled behind the massive COEX Mall in Gangnam is a Buddhist temple founded in 794 by Yeonhoei, head of the Seon (Zen) Buddhist sect. The temple’s history, like many in South Korea, is blighted by the Joseon Dynasty’s attempts to eradicate Buddhism altogether. Originally named Gyeonseongsa, it was renamed and moved during King Myeongjong’s reign,…

Lotte Department Store, Busan, South Korea

Am I really posting about a Department Store? You bet your butt I am. You see, the branch of Lotte in Gwangbok, Busan, has one of Busan’s best sights: The four-storey hourly water-fountain display. This photo of Lotte Department Store Gwangbok Branch is courtesy of TripAdvisor The show lasts approximately ten minutes, and there is…

Beomeosa, Busan, South Korea

Sunshine, peace, and dazzling mountain views. Add to that one of Jogye Buddhism’s Head Temples and you have a wonderful side-trip from Busan. The temple feels remote, despite being only a half hour’s hike from Beomeosa subway station (or a far shorter bus ride). Hop off at the bus stop and you have more uphill…

Haedong Yonggungsa, Busan, South Korea

South Korea’s southernmost temple spreads across rocky outcrops in the Sea of Japan like a spider delicately perched on strands of its web. Built in 1376 it has survived suppression by Confucianism and outright destruction by the Japanese, and remains an important centre of Korean Buddhism to this day. The approach is lined with statues,…

Golgulsa, Gyeongju, South Korea

Golgulsa is a Zen Buddhist temple approximately 25km from Gyeongju. Famous as the modern home of Sunmudo, a wholly-Korean Zen martial art, the temple also offers demonstrations of Sunmudo, as well as templestays for Koreans and foreigners alike. Finding the temple is a test of your adventuring skills. Starting in Gyeongju, either at the Bus…

Tumuli Park, Gyeongju, South Korea

Gyeongju is a tiny town which packs a heck of a lot of value. Once the seat of the Silla Kingdom, the area around it is now littered with sites of tremendous historical significance, including the tombs of an unknown number of members of the royal family and their court officials. In the centre of…