Almost half of the South Korean population lives in and around Seoul. The megalopolis has the most universities, schools and jobs to offer. But outside of the huge city are also other wonderful places to visit. South Korean studies will take a lot of time. Usually we had homework and group projects to hand in every weekend. But with the right time management it is possible to make prolonged weekend trips outside of Seoul – and they are definitely worth it. Visiting other places that are smaller and less international than the capital is an experience for itself. A wonderful one. I will recommend to you my three favorite places after Seoul.
Probably everyone who informed himself about Korea will know about Busan. It’s one of the biggest cities in South Korea and located in the Southern part, directly at the seaside. It is famous for its two biggest beaches, Haeundae and Gwangalli. I personally preferred Haeundae: The beach is surrounded by high and modern buildings and mountains, plus there is a bridge connecting the two ends of the beach. It is really astonishing to see and a relaxing time is guaranteed. But it is better to go there when it is not the mid-summer season – it will be super crowded during that time.
In addition, in Busan there are a lot of fish markets. Since the fish is sold freshly every single day to the restaurants around, the dishes will taste absolutely delicious. I recommend the fish salads and the fish soups. But beware, most restaurants will try to scam tourists! It’s better to take a Native with you who knows how to keep the prices realistic. Those who offer an English menu often have different prices on the English ones than on the Korean ones.
In Busan you will have to take the bus more often than in Seoul because the subway network is a lot smaller. The bus drivers don’t speak English very well, so it is best to show them where you want to go and they will call you and tell you when to get out. A few places at the edges of Busan are also worth a visit. My absolute favorite place to recommend is the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. You can get there by bus, most people go there to see the sunset or the sunrise. The temple is located directly at the seaside and has an astonishing aura of calmness and peace. Most Korean temples are built in the mountains, so seeing it at the coast was an amazing change. You will have to pass 108 stairs that represent the 108 sufferings of Buddha, you can enter into the buildings and some of the monks even speak English and will be happy to tell you more about the history of the beautiful monument which was originally built in 1376 and reconstructed in 1970.
Another thing in Busan is: There are a bunch of events worth a visit like film festivals or music festivals etc, and if you follow the news on Facebook and other Social Media regularly you might even get to some of them for free! We had the chance to apply for the Busan One Asia Festival, a big music festival with a lot of bands and groups, and got tickets for free because we are foreigners. And Koreans love shooting foreigners at such location to show how globalized they became. You will have to come early to get good tickets, Koreans often even camp the night before at the festival place to get good tickets. We took the night bus to Busan and arrived there with the first subway and were surprised by how many people were there already. But it will definitely be worth it. And don’t forget to get one of those lightsticks to support the band you came for! They are also a great opening topic to talk to the people around you and make new friends.
2. Jeju Island
Another wonderful place to visit is Jeju Island. It is known as the favorite Honeymoon place for Korean newlyweds because there is a lot to visit, from mountains to beaches you will find all kinds of nature here. You can travel throughout the whole island by bus but you need to pay attention to your GPS location on your phone because there will be no display within the bus to announce the names of the stations. Jeju-Island is famous for its food, its nature, the little statues you will see everywhere that are supposed to bring you a lot of luck, and for having the biggest lava tube of the world, Manjanggul. The Lava Tube is very dark and moist, but absolutely beautiful. You will be able to stroll there for a long long walk while admiring the structures of the tube. It was discovered and explored by a teacher and his class, and the safe parts are now open to the public. Near the Lava Tube is also a big maize maze which will be very fun to explore. The average time it takes to get through it are 30 minutes. It is surrounded by a beautiful Park with stray cats you can feed.
Jeju Island is also a wonderful place to go hiking. The Hallasan Park is located in the middle of the island, having a variety of hiking trails with different levels of difficulty. The mountain is the biggest mountain in South Korea (1950 meters above the sea). In around the height of the middle of the mountain there is a Crater Lake totally worth the detour. And if you go up all the way you will find an astonishing view over the whole island. You need to get there very early in the morning because they will only let you pass through the entrance until a certain time so you have enough time to come back before it gets dark. Most people arrive there before 6 or 7 am. What I found very fascination is that most hikers were older men and women who are incredibly fit and well trained. Definitely one more motivation to make it all the way to the top!
A city that is less well known but an absolutely must-visit is Jeonju. The city is mostly popular for having the best Bibimbap and cuisine in general. An Ahjumma, whích means an older woman in Korean, once told me that if you’ve ever eaten properly in Jeonju your mouth will be too spoiled to ever find liking in other food. I can approve. But Jeonju offers more, Jeonju offers a lot of culture and traditions. The heart of the city is Hanok Maeun: It is known as one of the biggest village of Hanoks, which are Korean traditional houses. They have ondols, which are floor heaters, and the traditional thin paper walls. You will have to sleep on the floor, which is surprisingly comfortable. Strolling through this area is absolutely recommendable, the architecture in Jeonju is very fascinating and admirable.
Located in Hanok Maeun are also Omokdae and Imokdae. They are the birthplaces of the two Kings who are known to have led the Joseon Dynasty, the biggest and longest lasting Kingdom Dynasty in Korean History. The palaces are open to visitors and there are some museums with portraits and the belongings of the old Kings. Most visitors are Koreans who rent a Hanbok to take truly traditional pictures inside of the temple/palace complex.
When you are in Jeonju you can’t leave out all the little arts shops and the museums. Jeonju is very famous for its Hanji Production, the production of Korean Paper. It is made within 100 different steps and known for being of better quality than Chinese and Japanese traditional paper. You can find a lot of art galleries with beautiful handmade postcards that are wonderfully decorated. You can even make a sheet yourself in the Hanji Museum of Jeonju. Totally worth a visit!
South Korea is a wonderful country with a lot of traditions, culture and nature to explore and a lot of expert knowledge to learn. At Kwangwoon University I had the opportunity to get most of both. I learnt a lot in the classes I’ve had and our professors were very helpful and nice, offering us their help whenever we needed it, going out to explore new areas with us and helping us with translations and organizing our time. The course contents were very interesting and insightful, when it comes to Media Koreans are very far developed and I learnt many relevant things for my studies. Through having regular homework and getting an immediate response on how well we understood everything it was easier to follow and to remember what we learnt. The university campus was really big, but it was still quite easy to get around. I will miss Kwangwoon a lot.
Luckily even though the studies were time consuming, we had enough time to travel and explore the rest of the country as well. People’s mentality is totally different from the European one, but it is still very easy to integrate and feel at ease. At home even. There is just so much I miss now that I’ve gotten back to Germany, I even had a huge culture shock when I arrived back here actually. By now I adapted to Germany again, but I will cherish the memories of my time abroad and everything I learnt during my studies in Korea; I am glad that I had the opportunity to make this experience and can only recommend to pass one’s semester in Seoul!
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