Korea, Korea, Korea… I’m so happy I came back and decided to stay on long term (right now the plan is for three years). When I lived in Seoul, I was eighteen, infatuated with K-pop and Kyuhyun, and over all lazy. I knew very little about Korean culture and traveling around… I didn’t even know what to look for in Seoul let alone the best places in Korea as a whole.
My first time here was a very happy, very quick blur, and after spending four months in Spain, I realized I needed to return because I had seriously missed out in my first visit. I also needed to do my homework so I could take advantage of proximity and ease of public transportation to explore every small corner I could in the time I had. I already have an ongoing list for 2016, but I thought I’d pause to reflect on the best places in Korea I visited in 2015.
For me this is not only the best of the best places in Korea, it’s probably one of my favorite places in the whole world so far (it’s pretty close with climbing the bell tower in Florence, eating gelato in Capri, all of Segovia, and the Golden Gate bridge). I think it’s a mixture of the bright colors and the fact that I totally wasn’t expecting it. I tagged along last minute when a friend asked me to go, almost not going because a) cold and b) saving money for my Thailand and Cambodia trip. I’m so glad I got to wander around here, and I even went back in May to show Lynsey before she left! I don’t get down to Busan often, but every time I do I make it a point to stop here.
Speaking of beautiful villages, Ihwa is pretty darn charming all on its own. It’s in Seoul and filled with wall art all around. It’s a nice escape from the bustling of areas like Hongdae or Gangnam, and it’s just cute. Kudos to the people who did the art for the stairs. I barely have the patience to vacuum stairs let alone paint them.
Best place to see cherry blossoms in all of Korea. Hands. Down. I’ve followed blogs where they post these spring blooms around the country, and I still maintain the road in Hwagae is the best I’ve ever seen. Even with the crowds of people it was just stunning. I’m definitely returning in April because I want to spend the whole day there and just wander the whole 4 kilometers.
Don’t go to Haeundae if you go to Busan. It’s very, very crowded. Instead go over to Gwanghalli, which is a little smaller and much less crowded. When we went in May it was practically empty! Eat a burger, take in the views, and enjoy the seaside breeze.
I went here as part of field trip from our Education Office to experience a temple stay. While it rained the whole time and was humid when it wasn’t, I found Naesosa to be absolutely beautiful. The rain actually created a fog over the mountains, and because it was June everything was green, green, green. The best was hiking up and looking out over the mountainside and the temple area from above.
My friend/one of my co-teachers from one of my previous schools is actually from Suncheon, so she kindly showed me around when I visited for the day in July. One of the big must-sees is the Suncheon Bay, and we walked around the mountain to the observatory to see the bay in full. Yes, we sweat, but it was also pretty breezy for a Korean July, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been! The bay was gorgeous, and it reminded me of being back in college where the Chespeake Bay featured heavily in my life. In case you haven’t noticed, I have a thing for bodies of water!
Green. Tea. Heaven. Maggie and I had been wanting to go here since spring, but when we could go together, it rained, and then it was summer and way too hot. When we saw it was supposed to be drizzling on our planned day in September, we were hesitant, but ultimately decided to say screw it and take our chances. Luckily, just like with Naesosa, the gray skies made Boseong even more stunning than it already was and actually cooled off the area quite a bit.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
If you’re a Korean Drama fan you’ve definitely seen snippets of this place before (especially the glowing flowers). I went to Seoul for the day to see Cirque du Soleil, and I really wanted to stop by DDP since I didn’t get a chance to over my Chuseok weekend. This plaza didn’t even exist yet when I first came here in 2011, and now it’s where Seoul’s fashion weeks are held. The whole design is incredibly unique. If you want a good bird’s eye view, I recommend going to one of the near by buildings and riding the elevator up.
My first big hike since I was a kid… Maggie and I were determined to go for a hike, and we thought…why not start with a trail in Jirisan? Intermediate didn’t seem too bad. And then about an hour in and we were balancing on stones the whole way up… It was beautiful, though, and even though I died multiple times, it was such an accomplished feeling when we finished and knew we could hack a 9 hour hike.
One of my favorite places mostly because it’s dedicated to love and it’s a ten minute bike ride away from my apartment. It’s the setting to Korea’s love story, called “Chunhyang,” and the whole area is open and charming. I stopped by one afternoon after school to take pictures and enjoy the fall leaves.
This is one of those days where risking the rain didn’t work in our favor. After I read Roxy’s post about it the weekend before, I got Elissa to visit with me. We were soaked to the bone, but it was still gorgeous even with rain in our faces. Nothing can really deter me when it comes to hanging out under red, green, and yellow trees. While we didn’t hike the whole thing, we went to the observatory and admired our surroundings.
How cool is this bridge? Visiting Daedunsan in the fog was definitely a different experience to visiting it on a clear day (which is now on my to-do list). There’s an eeriness to not being able to see around you, and bridge itself is stunning as it disappears. I’d probably not go if you’re scared of heights, though…
The East Sea
How pretty is the East Sea?! If you’re a Super Junior fan, you’ll recognize the Korean name– it’s Donghae! The water here is insanely clear, and the air is cool and fresh. We went on a weekend field trip with our education office, and this was by far the highlight.
My last big adventure of 2015 has been the trek out to see this cute cafe. Truly a work of art and truly in the middle of nowhere.
What have some of the best places in Korea (or the world) you’ve visited this year?
Words and Photographs by Samantha