Winter sports fans are currently captivated by the 2018 Winter Olympics being held in mountainous Pyeongchang.
The capital, Seoul, is the soul of the country where tourist sites in this modern city are well-connected via a world-class subway.
Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Seoul 1988 Olympic Park and Museum, Bukchon Hanok Village (with its traditional houses) and the North Seoul Tower (which has the highest viewing point).
For exhilarating fun, visit Lotte World (indoor and outdoor amusement park) in the city and Everland Amusement Park in Yongin, 40km from Seoul. The DMZ with North Korea fascinates many people especially with current geopolitical tensions. Visitors with style will want to visit Gangnam District while others may want to experience the Han River cruise and the towering Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple.
Explore Myeong-dong with its street food, entertainment, fashion and lively street life. In the evening, contemplate a small-group Korean food night tour or even a ghost tour! Hongdae boasts with cafes and bars.
Korea is also a green country with mountains to hike and Buddhist temples (like Seongnamsa) to admire. Head for the hills of Songnisan National Park or the marine archipelago centred on Dadohae Haesang National Park.
Koreans flock to Korea’s second biggest city of Busan in the southeast to relax on beaches like Haeundae and Songjeong as well as to visit its temples, Jagalchi Fish Market or aquarium. Soak in seawater spas and visit its mountainous hinterland. The glamorous Busan Film Festival in October is also Asia’s largest.
Jeju Island to the south of the Korean peninsula has a more temperate climate and attracts tourists for its botanical gardens, beaches, lava caves, Folklore Museum and O’Sulloc Tea Museum.
Korea is well connected to the world by Korean Air (www.koreanair.com) and Asiana Air (www.flyasiana.com). Flying time from Kuala Lumpur is a little over six hours. The currency is the Korean Won. For more details, contact Korea Tourism Organisation (www.knto.or.kr).
Taebaek is located in Gangwon Province (where the Winter Olympics are being staged) in the far northeast of South Korea. At 650m above sea level, it is the highest town in Korea. Its population is just 56,000. There are buses and trains from Seoul and the journey takes about three hours.
This is Korea’s most mountainous area. It has deep valleys, rolling hills, rugged landscape and harsh climate. Taebaeksan Mountain (1,567m) challenges adventurous hikers. Each June, when the pink azaleas are at their peak, the Azalea Festival is staged on the mountain.
In Guwau Village, sunflowers take precedent over azaleas especially in August with the Taebaek Sunflower Festival. As the season changes, snow starts to fall with the onset of winter.
One of the best ways to explore Korea’s central inland region is on a KORAIL train (www.korail.com) including the circular O-Train and the V-Train which travel through Korea’s inland valleys.
The O-Train loops around the central inland connecting provinces such as Chungcheongbuk-do, Gyeongsangbuk-do and Gangwon-do. It passes through the cities of Seoul, Jecheon, Taebaek and Yeongju and passengers can get off at any of these stations. Visit Chungcheongbuk-do between April and May for the cherry blossoms. Autumn from September to November is a good time to visit South Korea.
Also, check out the German village in rural Namhae county.
Korean food is well known and liked for specialities such as hot fried dough, samgetang (chicken stew), galbi (beef ribs) and, of course, kimchi (pickled cabbage).
Head to markets like Dongdaemun or Namdaemun for hawker food but go easy on the soju (which contains alcohol).
Country: South Korea
Population: 52 million
Area: 100, 200 sq km (Malaysia is 330,803 sq km)
The Competition: South Korea is in Group F of the World Cup against Germany, Mexico and Sweden./