Things to do in Korea Countdown: #60-41
60) Yi Sun Shin Square, Yeosu / 이순신 광장, 여수
Yi Sun Shin is one of Korea’s most important heroes, and the most brilliant military commander in history. The square serves as an outdoor museum with his former command center just a couple meters away. The film The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014) depicts the brilliant Battle of Myeongnyang where Yi defeated a Japanese armada with just 13 ships. The more recent Hasan: Rising Dragon (2022) is the second of a planned trilogy by director Kim Han Min. If epic movies aren’t your thing, this brilliant cartoon history on Yi Sun Shin by “Extra Credits” may be up your alley.
59) Bukhansan National Park / 북한산 국립공원
Bukhansan is one of Korea’s 21 National Parks. It is the perfect place to indulge in one of Korea’s biggest pastimes: HIKING! You can enter from either the west or the east of the park, but I recommend the former as it is a more picturesque walk. There is also a cool hike that leads to a fortress gate that was part of a fortification during the Joseon era. Bukhansan is located half in Seoul with its peak is actually right outside of the border in Goyang City, Gyeonggido.
58) Gyeongju Historical Areas / 경주역사유전지 [WHS]
This UNESCO Site in Gyeongju was the heart of Shilla, the first unified Korean kingdom. The city is a local favorite with Koreans from all over the country coming by the millions. Unfortunately, invading nations destroyed most of it long ago. What does remain, however, are the royal tombs, an ice storage, and this ancient observatory (Cheomseongdae). It is the oldest observatory in Asia.
57) Ganghwa Dolmen Sites / 강화 고인돌 [WHS]
The Dolmen sites in Korea are in three different regions: Ganghwa, Hwasun, and Gochang (further on the list). Ganghwa’s dolmens are very spread apart and a bit hard to reach without a vehicle as public transportation is scarce. However, the payout is Korea’s largest table style dolmen, pictured above. This monolithic tomb is one of the oldest of its kind and evidence of organized humanity in the peninsula thousands of years ago. Behind this large one is a small trail that goes off from the loop trail. I totally missed it on my first visit to this site, so keep your eyes open!
56) Everland /에버랜드
Everland is Korea’s best amusement park bar none. However, the recent opened Legoland will give it a run for its money. With a mixture of fantasy land reminiscent of Disneyland and more ‘adult level’ rides as well, it kind of has something for everyone.
Pro Tip – There are often employees outside of the gates who come off as scammers at first glance. If they have an official looking uniform, they could just be telling you about discounts exclusive to foreigners.
55) Upo Wetland / 우포늪 [TWHS]
The Upo Wetland is the heart of a complex ecosystem which is over 140 million years old. Over a 1000 species call this Ramsar protected wetland its home. Upo has a large loop trail around the entire area which takes a couple of hours. Korea listed Upo on its Tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its significance to the natural evolution of species in Korea.
54) Taebaeksan National Park / 태백산국립공원
Mt. Taebaek is Korea’s 10th tallest peak. What makes Taebaeksan special is how it looks in the winter. This area of Korea gets the most snowfall. A common challenge among climbers is reaching the summit in the snow. Nearby are O2 and High 1, two of Korea’s best ski resorts.
53) Old Seogwipo Daily Olle Market and Town 서귀포매일올레시장
The market in old Seogwipo is charming and has everything from souvenirs to oranges. Only this and the market in Jeju open daily on the island. Explore the market a bit, but also look around the surrounding area of the old town. Head south along Olle Trail 6 for some cute shops and cafes or west along the same trail to hit Jeju Olle headquarters. If you don’t know what this whole Olle thing is about, keep reading…
52) Unmanned stores in Jeju / 무인카페, 무인가게
Unmanned stores are not exclusive to Jeju Island. However, the unmanned shops in Jeju are truly unique, making these, destinations you have to see. Here are three of my favorites.
a) Pam Self Café / 팜셀프 카페 – Along Olle Trail 16 you come across this unmanned café with refreshing coffee and other delicious drinks. If you fancy a corndog, they even have those too. Simply look at the price and pay by card on the kiosk. Toss the receipt in the mailbox (pictured above). What makes this cafe stand out is the attached Jeju orange farm. For just a couple of thousand won, grab the bag provided, go into the farm and fill it up, straight from the trees. This place has air conditioner and free Wi-fi, too.
b) Chaek Yak Bang / 책약방 – Along Olle Trail 1, before the halfway point is this tiny bookstore. Complete with honor-system goodies is a small but charming collection of Korean books. While the store won’t take more than a few minutes to look at, you’ll surely come back to show it to your friends.
c) Gagin Picture Gallery / 각인 (사진갤러리) – This unmanned gallery has pictures and paintings both for display and for sale. It is nice to browse without feeling the pressure to buy something.
51) Gangneung Beaches / 강능 해변
The coastal town of Gangneung was the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, despite its location to the nearby ski mountains, it is mostly known for its beaches. Along the coast are a number of great beaches for some fun in the sun. You can hit any of them really. The further you get from the center of town, the more secluded you will be.
50) Wolchulsan National Park / 월출산국립공원
Wolchulsan is one of Korea’s smallest national parks. What it lacks in area it makes up in very interesting hikes that will give you a good work out. Some of the steps are so steep, they could really hurt your knees. The suspension bridge near the top is pretty cool too.
49) Kongju Gongsanseong Fortress / 공주 공산성 [WHS]
Kongju / Gongju Fortress once defended the old capital palace of the Baejke Kingdom. After centuries of neglect, the government finally refurbished a few years ago. Gongsanseong is not the most popular place in the world, so you can have a quiet walk by yourself and take in all the history. For a really great view, check it out at night from the other side of the river. It lights up and reflects on the riverbank.
48) Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls / 천제연폭포
There are three waterfalls of note in Jeju Island, but none as spectacular as Cheongjeyeon. The bright blue pools formed at the top make it very temping to take a dip. While ‘strictly prohibited,’ I regularly saw Koreans and foreigners alike dipping their toes or even going for a swim. For the more adventurous, go for a hike downstream until the water forms another waterfall.
47) Sunrise Peak (Ilchulbong) / 성산 일출봉 [WHS]
Jeju Island is full of surprises. Mt. Halla is not the only natural highlight as the views from atop “Sunrise Peak” are beautiful in their own right. Get there early or prepare to wait in line. This short but rewarding 45 min hike is worth it.
46) Jeju Dive Sites / 제주 다이빙 (섭섬 / 범섬)
Korea may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of SCUBA diving. I lived here a decade before I even realized that Jeju Island had soft coral. The dives are quite beautiful and worth a look if you pick the right weather. The reason this isn’t higher on the list is because the visibility and weather factors are tenuous at best. Picking a dive day with the right conditions is difficult. Nevertheless, if you feel up for it, I recommend the dive sites of Seopseom and Beomseom.
45) Yongpyeong Ski Resort in Pyeongchang / 용평리조트 평창
Korea’s best ski resort is none other than Yongpyeong. It also happens to be Korea’s biggest snow park. If the city of Pyeongchang rings a bell, that’s because it was the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics! With tons of slopes, it accommodates skiers of all skill levels. What sets it apart is the 6km long Rainbow Paradise Slope, the longest on the peninsula. This run takes a half hour to reach by gondola and another 20 minutes to get down.
44) Maze Park / 김녕 미로공원
A maze made out of bushes sounds like something straight out of fantasy, but it exists on Jeju Island. This is one of those ‘tourist traps’ that is so worth it. Give yourself a challenge and try to solve the maze without a map! It’s location near the Mangjanggul lava tubes makes it quite convenient, too.
43) Chuncheon Myeongdong District / 춘천 명동
Chuncheon is the birthplace of “Dalk Galbi,” one of Korea’s best meals. The city has a number of “dalk galbi streets” with Myeongdong (same name as the place in Seoul) being the closest to Chuncheon Station. With Legoland opening in Chuncheon in 2022, I expect this area to be a lot busier these days.
42) Chuam Beach / 추암 해변
Chuam Beach was the inspiration for the nickname “Land of the Morning Calm.” At least, that is what I want to believe. Few sceneries are as unique as watching the sun rise behind the magnificent waters of the Sea of Jap…just kidding, the East Sea. Chuam also has tons of king crab restaurants which liter every corner. If you don’t have a car, no problem! The train station stops within view of the water.
41) Bijindo/ 비진도
Bijndo was another spot inspired by a random picture. I had been to Koh Nang Yuan in Thailand a few years ago. When I saw a picture that looked like that iconic set of islands, I just had to visit it. Bijindo does not disappoint as both a beach and a beautiful hiking trail. Bring cash or food as the sole restaurant I found sold fried chicken and did not take card. Most Koreans that visit do so as part of a daytrip picnic of stay in a hotel that provides food.
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