Mention Korea and several things probably spring to mind: cherry blossom festivals in spring, the sparkling city of Seoul (headquarters to Samsung, Hyundai and other Korean powerhouses) and Psy’s manic and flashy ‘Gangnam Style’. What is not commonly known is that even after the beauty of cherry trees in full bloom fade, the country remains a scenic wonderland, especially the hundreds of islands or ‘do’ (pronounced ‘doe’) that dot the Korean Peninsula. Some of these islands have been converted into protected marine national parks; many are still working bases for fishing folk, while others are famed for their beaches and as holiday getaways.
With over 3,358 officially affirmed islands off the South Korean coast, just visiting one island a day would take you more than nine years to stopover in each of them. While many have visited Jeju, South Korea’s most famous island and one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature the seas surrounding the peninsula are peppered with lesser-known islands with spectacular views and awesome fishing.
For a not-oft-seen look at South Korea, consider going beyond Seoul and heading to a 'do' or three. We have picked a few here but remember there are thousands more.
Seonjaedo: Many are familiar with Moses dividing the Red Sea, but this biblical story has its own, more scientifically plausible version on Seonjaedo. At low tide, the ocean parts to reveal a sandy path from Seonjaedo to the smaller satellite island of Mok. Who knew the city of Incheon, best known for its airport, had such a patch of natural beauty?
Sinuido: The largest producer of sea salt in South Korea, one visits this island not for the fishing, hiking or swimming -- but rather, to gawk at the surreal mounds of salt in the salterns, waiting to be harvested.
Hongdo: The rocky, diminutive (6.47 square kilometers) Hongdo, with its killer sunrises and wealth of peculiar rock formations, has been likened to a flower floating on the water. Named for the crimson light that envelops the entire island at sunset (Hong is Korean for "crimson"), Hongdo is home to about 270 subspecies of evergreen and about 170 species of animals.
Cheongsando: With turtledoves and black coral, mountain goats and clean seas, it's not surprising that in the past people once (well, more than once) fought over possession of Cheongsando. It also doesn't hurt that the fishing is superb, with abalone porridge and hoe (raw fish) as local specialties.
Ulleungdo: This popular vacation destination is the major fishery of the eastern coast -- that is, even more so than all the other coastal fishing villages along Korea's peninsular shoreline. This, as we know by now, translates into good seafood. Ulleungdo's signature catch is the cuttlefish. Otherwise the island is packed with dazzling little nooks -- caves, waterfalls, seaside walks and ancient trees -- all very well-equipped for visitors.
Ganghwado: As the fifth largest island in Korea, Ganghwado, accessible via a short drive over a bridge, doesn't really feel like an island. Its main attractions are its many mountains, rather than its beaches -- the tallest and most popular being 468-meter Mount Mani. Not to say there aren't other activities: You can check out the 120-odd dolmen at the foot of Mount Goryeo, which date back to the Bronze Age, or roll around in the mud flats.
Jukdo: While it may be a difficult and lonely place to live, lacking its own water source (water is either collected rainwater or water brought over from neighboring Ulleungdo) and difficult to come and go (the only entrance to the island is a spiral staircase of 365 steps), Jukdo's attractiveness lies in its tranquil seclusion -- its current population is two.
Geojedo: With a prospering tourist industry, Geojedo, the second largest island in Korea (second only to Jejudo), while smack at the center of the beaten track, is remarkably clean and well preserved. Representative attractions include the grassy green hill by the sea, "The Hill of the Wind," and Hakdong Black Pearl Mongdol Beach, where the beach is composed of round, black pebbles that make muted jangling noises when the waves splash against the shore.
Oedo: Although but four kilometers away from Geojedo, the subtropical Oedo was once a lonely, craggy place without electricity. Today it is one huge (over 132 square kilometers) botanical garden with over 3,000 species of exotic plant life and fetching Western-style buildings and sculptures, a regular backdrop for K-Dramas and often called a "paradise."
Udo: Udo has Korea's only coral beach (Seobin Beach), black lava cliffs and a lighthouse with a view of the surrounding countryside. It is also known for its haenyeo ("sea women") -- tough, resilient female divers who traditionally made their living (and their families' livings) by diving for abalone and shellfish.
Jindo: One of Korea's best-known folk songs, the Jindo Arirang, originated here; Jindo is also hometown to the beloved Jindo dog, a domestic hunting breed known for its loyalty and intelligence. Once a year, in either February or March, the sea parts to open a 35-meter wide, 2.8-kilometer-long path between Jindo and neighboring Modo. This tidal "miracle" is celebrated each year with a huge festival that attracts thousands of visitors.
South Korea's capital city, Seoul, is a city where green parks, mountains and ancient temples break up the concrete landscape of skyscrapers. Traditional social etiquette is alive and well, even as fashionable, tech-savvy Seoulites lead the world into the future.
Seoul is a city of new technology, neon lights and action-packed markets, but its history is as compelling as its present. Fourteenth-century Gyeongbokgung Palace has survived arson, assassination and Japanese occupation, and its gloriously reconstructed, tile-roofed buildings make up Seoul’s most popular tourist site.
What else to do while you are in Korea?
South Korea hosts a huge number of festivals throughout the year escaping from the stress of cities and mundane daily life to a new, colorful, vibrant place can bring new inspiration to all generations. There are many different types of festivals held each year in South Korea, but for most people tied up in busy city life, this experience can be a very rewarding one.
World Taekwondo Culture Expo
When: July 4 - July 9
What: The World Taekwondo Expo, a major taekwondo festival, is hosted by Muju County, Jeollabuk-do. In addition to the representative taekwondo competitions (Pumsae-movement, Gyeorugi-sparring, and taekwondo aerobics), there will be other programs including taekwondo performances and cultural activities to introduce Jeollabuk-do, Korea, and taekwondo to visitors.
Buyeo Seodong Lotus Festival
When: July 17 – July 20
What: The Buyeo Seodong Lotus Festival is held at Gungnamji, Chungcheongnam-do; Korea's first man-made pond, which was created near the royal palace by King Muwang of the Baekje Kingdom. The most popular performance at the festival is the love story between Prince Seodong (King Muwang's childhood name) and Princess Seonhwa. Other programs include lotus face-painting, drinking lotus tea, making lotus soap, and an art contest.
Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival
When: July 17 – July 27
What: Movies are shown throughout the entire festival period in the official theatres and audiences can attend discussions with film directors. This unique film festival screens movies from all over the world and from a variety of genres including horror, mystery, thriller, and sci-fi.
Boryeong Mud Festival
When: July 18 – July 27
What: Boryeong Mud Festival has been held at the unique shell-powdered sandy beach of Daecheon so, you may swim and massage with a mudpack at the same time. Many events mark the festival, including mud wrestling, mud king contest, mud fireworks fantasy and mud sliding. There is a gorgeous beach there as well, which will come in handy as you won’t have any choice but to get muddy.
Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival
When: August 1 – August 3
What: Over 60 bands will be playing at this major outdoor rock festival, including several famous international groups. Past guests have included Travis, Muse, Feeder, and Gossip (formerly, The Gossip). Hot summer nights and rocking beats make for a great music festival. The festival is held in Incheon City, meaning there are a variety of cultural activity programs and city tours readily available.
Busan Sea Festival
When: August 1, August 7
What: The Busan Sea Festival is a huge event that combines several events and festivals such as a rock music festival, a beach dance festival, and a number of water sports. Having trouble deciding which thing to try first? Take some time to relax and sunbathe on the beach while you make up your mind.
Jecheon International Music & Film Festival
When: August 14 - August 19
What: The Jecheon International Music & Film Festival showcases films with a music theme. The opening movie is chosen among those that best represent the festival's theme, while the closing movie is the winner of the World Music Film Today category. In addition to watching several recent music films, various types of musicians will perform on stage.
Did you know?
Individuals are regarded as one year old when they are born, as Koreans reckon the pregnancy period as one year of life for infants, and age increments increase on New Year's Day rather than on the anniversary of birthdays.
Taekwondo has become an official Olympic sport, starting as a demonstration event in 1988 and becoming an official medal event in 2000.
After narrowly losing the bidding for the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, South Korea’s Pyeongchang in the mountainous Gangwon-do province has now been named the host of the 2018 Winter Olympic games by the International Olympic Committee.
In South Korea you should never leave chopsticks in your rice and that writing someone's name in red symbolizes death.