If you read the last post about Less Touristy Things to do in Seoul, you get the drill. I am not saying that these alternatives are BETTER than their more touristy cousins in Korea, but I can definitely assure you that you will be one of the few foreigners experiencing these places. The last post included places within Seoul or within a short day trip, so this one will exclusively be limited to places outside of Seoul.
Historical City -> Skip Gyeongju, go to Kongju and Buyeo
The first unification of Korea was arguably accomplished by the Silla Kingdom when they conquered both the Goguryeo and Baekje Kingdoms. Out of the three, more historical artifacts remain of Silla and their capital was Gyeongju. To this day, millions of Koreans (probably, made-up number) visit and encourage foreigners to see Korea’s “cultural capital.”
Guess what happens when you dig deeper into the Korean history rabbit hole? Turns out, these Baekje folk were no chumps and were way more interesting. You can read all about it on your own time, but their capitals were Buyeo and Kongju where some fascinating ruins either remain or have been reconstructed. My personal favorite is the discovery of the Baekje King Muryeong in the 1970s in Kongju, one of the coolest archaeological finds of the century. While you can’t go into the real tomb anymore, there is a replica that was built in a museum right next to the real thing.
Beach Town -> Skip Busan, go to Sokcho or Samcheok
Granted, Sokcho is full of domestic tourists but overall, it is still kind of flying under the foreigner radar minus the few who are keen on visiting Soraksan National Park. I may have mentioned once or twice that Busan is super overrated (note, that’s NOT a popular opinion and have since warmed up to the city), but I truly believe that Sokcho is the better beach town. It may not have the party vibe at all, but it is just a more chill time under the sun. For an even more off the beaten path, Samcheok or even Gangneung would fill the beach town role. None of them compare or even come close to Jeju Island’s beaches, but hey…mainlanders can’t be choosers. Which reminds me…
Korean Island -> Skip Jeju, Visit Ulleungdo
I am not even going to lie, Jeju is dope! But if you absolutely want to just try a different kind of island or if you’ve already been to Jeju, Ulleungdo is pretty damn awesome too. Unfortunately, Ulleungdo does not really offer anything more than three rocky beaches and is NOT at all the highlight of this adventure. However, the hiking is pretty fun and the squid is fantastic. Seriously, do you like squid? I sure as hell do and whether you like it raw, grilled, on a stick, or in the wild as a fleet of squid ships capture thousands of tons every night… where was I? Anyways, Ulleungdo does not disappoint in its cool views and quirky corners. It is a bit of a hassle to reach from Gangneung or other east coast ports, but definitely worth it.
National Park – Skip Soraksan, Jirisan and Bukhansan, go to Wolchulsan
If there is one outdoor activity Koreans love, it is hiking. There are no shortages of trails to be found all over the country and people often flock to the big three national parks of Soraksan, Jirisan, and Seoul’s very own Bukhansan National Parks. However, nested deep in Jeolla Province is the much smaller but far less crowded Wolchulsan. Located just east of Mokpo is this steep but rewarding climb. You may or may not run into other hikers along the way so try not to break anything.
UNESCO World Heritage Site -> Skip Bulguksa, go to ANY OF THESE
I’ve got to stay true to the namesake of this site. Korea has 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites* which is quite a lot considering its size. Despite this, most WHS that Korea fights tooth and nail to get, often lie in neglect. Sure, tons of people visit Bulguksa temple in Gyeongju and Changdeok Palace in Seoul, but what about these other gems? Here are 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that get very few visitors, foreign or domestic.
Haeinsa Temple – The home of the Tripitaka Koreana lies deep in Gayasan National Park. This temple gets limited fanfare from locals but even less foreigners. The Tripitaka Koreana is the oldest flawless copy of the Zen Buddhist sutra, written in 80 thousand wooden blocks. Every Korean knows it but I have yet to meet anyone who has visited. Haeinsa is the most important temple in Korea and participates in the English version of the Templestay program.
Gochang Dolmen Sites – “Korea’s Stonehenge” is very impressive with hundreds of paleolithic era tombs. Korea actually has 40% of all the dolmens on Earth and every Korean child studied them in school. Despite this, we were the only ones on the bus and when we arrived, and there was a whopping single car in the parking lot. The Hwasung Dolmen sites are equally desolate, if not more so (I don’t think I saw anyone who didn’t work there).
Hahoe Village – Sure, this historical village is becoming more and more famous, especially during the Andong Mask Festival in October, but for the most fascinating place to see in all of Korea, it is a shame it is not more well known. I hope I don’t eat my words though as its relative serenity is like 90% of its charm.
Magoksa Temple – I’ve actually never talked about this temple before on this blog (I don’t think). You see that asterisk above saying that there are 13 UNESCO sites, but the link only describes 12? Well, Magoksa and a few other mountain temples are Korea’s latest addition to the UNESCO WHS list, which I visited before its WHS status. It is a beautiful and historic temple, easily reachable by bus from Kongju. Again though, very few people in sight.
I hope you have a great “road less traveled” time in Korea. I do have some more ideas so I may expand this in the future, but for now, leave your own suggestions on the comments below.