Today, a large number of Sri Lankans are living and working in South Korea, an East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. This has brought South Korea and Sri Lanka closer together, with thousands of young Sri Lankans now able to speak Korean. Moreover, Korean Air flies several times a week to Colombo, bringing a lot of Koreans to Sri Lanka. Korean teledramas have also reached the hearts and minds of Sri Lankans.
South Korea is known for its green, hilly countryside dotted with cherry trees and centuries-old Buddhist temples, plus its coastal fishing villages, sub-tropical islands and high-tech cities such as Seoul, the capital.
Any visit to South Korea will begin from Seoul, one of the 20 biggest cities in the world with over 25 million people. Every year, more than 10 million international visitors come to Seoul. It is known as Asia’s most “livable” city. Situated on the famous Han River, Seoul’s history stretches back more than two thousand years when it was founded in 18 BCE by Baekje, one of the three Kingdoms of Korea. Seoul which is surrounded by mountains has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a feat matched by only a few other capital cities. Seoul has a mix of ancient and new high-tech buildings almost side by side, which makes it a major tourist paradise.
Among the other famous cities in South Korea are Busan, Incheon (which has Seoul’s Airport voted best in the world nine years in a row until 2013), Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju, Ulsan, Yongin, Ansan, Anyang, Jeju City, Wonju and Asan. Jeju is actually an island off the Korean mainland which is very popular among Koreans as a vacation spot. In fact, the Seoul-Jeju air route is the busiest airline route in the world, with hundreds of flights a day in either direction. If you visit Jeju, you can visit one of the world’s largest lava tubes and part of an even larger cave system which offers unique glimpses of geologic wonders. Highlights include the tube itself and various features, such as a massive lava column.
Getting around South Korea is very easy, with a good network of dependable high speed trains, buses and ferries. Domestic flights are not all that expensive either. But if you have enough money, think about getting a hire car and driver, which will enable you to explore this fascinating country at your own pace. If you have time only for nature, visit South Korea’s most popular national park, at Seoraksan which consists of towering rock pinnacles, dense alpine forests, wildflowers at every turn and wonderfully remote temples. Do not also miss a visit to the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, where you can catch a glimpse of North Korea.
Pramod de Silva