In a country that boasts a worldwide high 82.7 percent internet penetration, where 78.5 percent of it's entire population and 97.7 percent of it's youngsters are on Smartphone, Koreans not only chat away on emoticon-ridden messenger apps but also use pay at shops using Smartphone, watch TV on subways and scan QR codes at the world's first virtual supermarket.
While Hyundai plans on rolling out a car that starts with Smartphone in 2015, Samsung, in the meantime has been designing a curved phone. Crazy displays of technology already in place but not yet distributed can be seen, by appointment, at T.um, Korea's largest telecom company – SK Telecom's future technology museum.
But the Republic of Korea is not all about future either, it is also very much in the present. If you are wondering how best to spend upcoming festive seasons, then head on over to the South Korean capital of Seoul to enjoy among other things:
Light Festivals in Boseong and Busan: Towards the end of each year, Korea transforms into a beautifully embroidered pattern of lights all across the nation. A trip to Boseong in Jeollanam-do and Busan in Gyeongsangnam-do should surely be up on your must-see list for year-end attractions.
19 December 2014 – 1 February 2015: Boseong-gun holds its annual Boseong Green Tea Plantation Light Festival around the Botjae Dawon (Botjae Tea Plantation) area. The farmlands are highlighted with colorful LED lights numbering to more than 1.2 million as well as a large Christmas tree, photo zone, Milky Way Tunnel, hands-on programs like hanging wish notes theme the streets.
26 December 2014 – 4 January 2015: The Busan Port Lighting Festival at Yongdusan Park turns the city of Busan into a massive event hall lined with dazzling lights, including streets lit with LED smart lights and artificial ceilings packed with myriads of luminaries. Carriage riding, an art exhibit on new-year lamps, wire-arts, and glow-in-the-dark face painting apart from witnessing the Busan Tower's giant pillar wall showcase a two-day media façade on 30 and 31 December.
Bosingak bell ringing: At midnight at the start of the New Year, the Bosingak bell rings 33 times in the celebration in the busy downtown Jongno area of Seoul. The iconic bell and its surrounding pavilion, worth a visit at other times of the year to see up close, on New Year’s Eve, lets travelers share a little holiday cheer with the people of Seoul turning up in massive crowds to see live performances from pop stars on the pavilion. To stand and watch the festivities of the first few chimes of the bell, get there before 10pm.
A walk towards the nearby station in either direction offers lots of late-night dining options. Try the traditional haejangguk (hangover soup) nearby at Cheongjinak (24 Jongno-gu, Jongno-1-ga), which is older than Bosingak bell and open 24 hours a day. Head towards City Hall Station for a variety of late-night Korean barbecue restaurants.
First sunrise of the year: Seoul has lots of mountains to watch the first sunrise of the year; the easiest to reach is Mt. Namsan. N Seoul Tower observatory, open early on 1 January, or the top of Mt. Achasan offer earliest sunrise views in Seoul. To take in the first sunrise, the Haneul Park is popular. In Mapo-gu atop the former landfill turned eco-park, watch the sun rise over a sea of golden reeds. Visit the 63 Building observatory deck, or the Hangang River, or the Yanghwa Bridge which allows you to watch the sun as it rises over Yeouido. Take early morning cruises, on new year, that depart from Yeouido Dock or share water taxis with other sun gazers.
Seoul Tower: The 236.7 meter tower, considered the best tower in Asia, sitting atop Namsan Mountain offers panoramic views of Seoul and the surroundings.
The structure, renamed ‘N Seoul Tower’ thirty years and countless visitors later took an 'N' for it's ‘new’ look from a 15-billion won remodeling in 2005 designed for the tower to be able to be decorated for each new season or event with overall color scheme. Try the N Grill western-style revolving restaurant (one rotation every 48 minutes) and the Sky Restroom (an artfully decorated space). Both offer breathtaking cityscape views.
Yeosu’s scenic ocean ride from above: The Yeosu Cable Cars, floating over Dadohae Marine National Park – one of Korea’s superb natural landscapes made up of many small islets, connects passengers from mainland Jasan to Dolsan Island and offers magnificent views of the southern sea and a close-up view of one of Yeosu’s most famous tourist attractions, the Dolsandaegyo Bridge.
Thrill-seekers board a see-through glass bottom Crystal Cabin to view the crystal blue sea to reach observatory points. Stick around post sunset to see the Dolsandaegyo Bridge cable cars beautifully lit in contrast with the pitch-black night sky.
Getting your skate on: The Mokdong Ice Rink hosts lessons in figure and speed skating, ice hockey and hosts local hockey games. For something a bit more exclusive, on 6 December, go for the awesome views of the ice rink of the Grand Hyatt Seoul on Mt. Namsan.
Lotte World’s Ice Rink, Korea’s largest and most popular indoor rink takes in up to 1,000 skaters at once. It is a beautiful space, too, below an old-timey glass dome that lets in plenty of natural light with an obvious bonus of it being in the middle of the world’s biggest indoor amusement park.
Bridges on the River Hangang: Reflecting Seoul's nightscape and city-lights, the Hangang River flows from the Taebaek Mountain Range to the west via Gangwon-do, Chungcheongbuk-do, Gyeonggi-do, and Seoul. One of the few rivers of such breadth traversing large cities, it is often considered a river of the people, containing various elements of the life moments of Koreans and Korea’s dramatic economic growth.
Of the many bridges in Seoul, Gwangjingyo Bridge lends a comfortable walking path, landscaped facilities and various-shaped streetlights scenery of Seoul.
While walking towards Gwangnaru or Cheonho-dong along the bridge and taking in the dazzling city lights of Seoul reflected off the river, people can take the glowing glass staircase to drop by the Riverview 8th Avenue – one of only three sub-bridge deck observation areas in the world. The Avenue's under-bridge area's many glass structures deliver a surreal feeling of actually walking on the river itself. Small, charming performances and exhibition spaces make Riverview 8th Avenue a cultural space for citizens.
Achasan Mountain: Stretching from Seoul to Guri City this 287 meter mountain is an extremely popular hiking spot in Seoul and Guri City for panoramic views of the Han River and Seoul unfolding at the mountain base.