Last updated: 02:57 PM ET, Mon July 09 2018
Seoul, South Korea city skyline nighttime skyline.  (photo via Reabirdna / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

South Korea

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Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, South Korea. (photo via Reabirdna / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan, South Korea. (photo via Reabirdna / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Though most people associate Korea as a business powerhouse, visitors to the country, especially those who go beyond Seoul, experience a country of high-forested mountains and deep spirituality. In Korea Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity contend for spiritual allegiance even as some 50,000 practicing professional Shamans keep alive local beliefs which predate all of the above. This dynamic interaction of religious sensibility gives the culture a dynamic spirit unlike any other in Asia. Four full seasons grace the Korean countryside and in autumn, the changing colors of the foliage create a beautiful temple-dotted landscape.

Seoul, the country’s political and financial center, is also its most globally outward-looking town. With 600 years as a capital, Seoul is rich in old neighborhoods like Inchadong that blend modern and traditional lifestyles in an extremely compelling way. A ring of mountains surrounds Seoul, which in winter allows for skiing within a couple of hours of down town. Mountains such as Paekunsan, Geodansan and Homyangsan are perfect antidotes to those times when the city gets a little too crowded. Gyeonggi is the area embracing both Seoul and Incheon. Incheon is where Douglas Macarthur landed behind the North Korean Army and still attracts many visitors interested in Korean War history. Yongin’s Korean Folk Village presents traditional rural Korean life in everything from dance and drum performances and games to typical homes and food. At the Incheon Ceramic Village visitors can watch as sophisticated artists create the country’s signature Celadon ceramic with its green glaze among the most elegant products produced in Asia.

Jeju is the largest of about 4,000 off-shore Korean islands and it’s also the most popular with tourists. A favorite for Asian honeymooners, Jeju’s Jungmun Resort stretches along the southern beaches of the island. The island’s interior is filled with serenely beautiful traditional villages. On Jeju, the ancient tiki-like stone figures known as Tolharubeng are a ubiquitous reminder of the older culture of shamans, ghosts and spirits. On the Southeastern corner of Korea, visitors can experience the apogee of Korean Buddhism in the old Shilla Dynasty capital of Gyeongju. Gyeongju sits within a ring of mountains on land dappled by dozens of mound-tombs. Gyeongju’s Bulguksa Temple is among the most beautiful shrines in Asia as is the nearby Seokguram Grotto, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Throughout the peninsula visitors will find a cuisine unlike any other in the world because it is literally based on religious and philosophical principles. Korean food is based on such Taoist philosophical concepts as Yin and Yang. Traditional Korean culture believes that there are five elements that correspond to five organs. So the meals in Korea are designed to correspond with bodily needs.

Korea’s climate and seasons correspond almost exactly to the climate of the northern United States. Jeju in the south is always at least 10 degrees warmer than Seoul. Incheon International Airport gives Korea a gateway to the country and to Asia with major airline carriers, with some 43 cities within 3.5 hours of Seoul. Korean Air has a multitude of gateways in the U.S. Such American carriers as Continental, Delta and United also fly to the country as do numerous other international carriers.