So you've heard so much about South Korea but it's always the same old typical tourist destinations within Seoul city and you're looking to actually get away from the concrete jungle? Or you've been to Seoul so many times you're tired of shopping at Myeongdong and climbing Namsan Park every time? Or you just want to be cool and travel off the beaten path in South Korea? Here’s a list of places from around our favourite Kimchi Land
that nobody raves about!
Haewoojae Museum (Mr Toilet House)
Image: Water Environment Foundation
If there's one place everybody goes to every single day at least once a day without fail no matter where they are, it’s the toilet (if you don’t, you might want to pay a visit to the doctor’s). Believe it or not, there is an entire museum dedicated to toilets in Suwon! Oh, Koreans, they have a museum for everything! Haewoojae Museum, also known as Mr Toilet House, is a double-storey museum shaped like a, you guessed it, toilet bowl.
Housing all kinds of loos and potties, this place was formerly home to a mayor known for improving the city’s public toilets. The mayor was Sim Jae Deok, who actually nicknamed himself Mr Toilet. He even helped to establish the World Toilet Association in 2007, which was the reason he built this ‘toilet house’ in the first place – to celebrate the establishment. Ironically, there’s no bathroom within the building. So if you really
need to go, there is a separate building right outside for that purpose. Make your way to Haewoojae Museum if you’re not too keen on seeing typical historical artifacts.
The Garden of Morning Calm
The Garden of Morning Calm is a beautifully designed garden that features more than 20 themes and 5,000 different kinds of plants along scenic walkways, beautifully manicured grass and flower beds. This garden is the oldest private garden in Korea, carrying a nice balance between the Korean concept of natural curves with asymmetry. It is a perfect spot for couples, families and photographers. A professor named Han Sang Kyung conceptualised this garden. He wanted to create a garden that would become world-famous and to spread the concept of Korean beauty around the world. One of the most meaningful points of this place is the Sukgeun Garden, which is shaped just like the Korean Peninsula and decorated with beautiful flowers on each side, subtly representing the desire for North and South Korea to reunite.
Gangwon province is well-known for its heavy snow during winter. It is the best skiing spot in the country. More than 40% of this region consists of hills, mountains and valleys, making it Korea’s most mountainous region. Particularly in the Taebaek Mountain range, winters here are known to last as long as six months! You may have a hard time shivering in the cold, but if you just want to get away from Malaysia’s hot and hot season, head to the annual Taebaek Mountain Snow Festival and enjoy the winter wonderland that we can only dream of. Take part in fun activities like hiking competition, snow rafting, starlight festival, ice fountain, Igloo Café, and so much more. The festival’s activities are perfect for visitors of all ages.
Inje Smelts Festival
Image: Into Korea Tour
Image: Korea Herald
One of the best things to do during winter is ice fishing. And even if fishing is not exactly your choice of fun, you’ll definitely enjoy the eating part. The Inje Smelts Festival is held on Soyang Lake every winter. A smelt or a bingeo
is a small freshwater fish that lives in Korea’s lakes and reservoirs. It is one of the most popular fishes for winter fishing. At this festival, families and couples alike can enjoy ice fishing, ice sledding, trekking, football on ice, ice race walking, traditional folk games, and many more. One of the highlights of the festival is the cooking contest, where participants can grill or fry the smelts.
Gyeonghwa Station (Cherry Blossom Road)
Gyeonghwa Station is a small railway station that becomes exceptionally busy every spring thanks to the beautiful cherry blossoms blooming along the 800-metre track. Although railway services in and out of this station have been discontinued since February 2015, the tunnel covered with cherry blossoms is still a sight to see. Along with Anmingogae Road and Yeojwacheon Bridge, Gyeonghwa Station is one of the top three spots in Jinhae for photo ops. The area has been featured in a number of Korean movies and dramas, including Spring Waltz
and Boy Goes to Heaven
Changnyeong Upo Wetland
Upo Wetland is the country’s largest natural swamp at 5,550 square-kilometres. That’s three times the size of Yeouido in Seoul! The swamp is made up of four small and large swamps in the Changnyeong area and is said to have formed more than 140 million years ago. The murky waters of the wetland is home to over 1,500 plants and animals, some of which are even endangered species. Visitors can choose to walk or cycle around this swamp, or if you wish to attempt dipping into the one-metre deep swamp, please proceed with caution. There are also famous sights at Upo Wetland, including fireflies, constellation gazing, willow groves, the Upo rain fog, migrating bird, and more.
The Umbilical Cord Shrine for King Sejong’s Children
Image: One Weird Globe
Yup, this place is exactly what the name suggests. It might just be one of the strangest spots in the world! In case you didn’t know, King Sejong was one of the great kings from the Joseon Dynasty and was most popularly-known for creating the Korean alphabet, hangul
. However, legend has it that he had a unique habit during his reign. He collected the taeshil
, or umbilical cords and placentas of his children, all 19 of them! If you’re grossed out by this, you might want to skip this part and scroll down to the next point. King Sejong apparently moved the taeshil
from Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul to this current location in Seongju, which took his people four years (no underground subway systems back then lah
)! Why umbilical cords? We’re not too sure why, but if you ever feel like you’ve seen it all, come visit this eccentric shrine and in a way, take a part of the Korean royal family back with you.
Cheongdo Bull Fighting Festival
The Cheongdo Bull Fighting Festival is the largest festival of its kind in Korea, and attracts almost half a million visitors every year since 1999. There are about 130 matches between fighting bulls while spectators cheer on. In the beginning, bulls were paired together regardless of size. But in recent years, the organisers have decided to divide them into three segments according to weight. Now, if the sight of bulls head bumping, pushing and neck butting is a bit too violent for you, you can also enjoy art contests, rodeo experience, magic shows, and even cow-play exorcisms.
Juknokwon (Bamboo Garden)
In the quiet town of Damyang lies a stunning bamboo forest that looks like it came straight out of a martial art movie. The Juknokwon Bamboo Garden features an artificial waterfall, a pavilion, walking paths and an eco-exhibition centre. Walking around the entire garden would take you about an hour, or two, knowing the selfie-wefie generation these days. If you look carefully between the bamboo plants, you may also find green tea shoots growing from the dew that drips off the bamboo leaves. This is a different type of green tea we’re familiar with. It is known as Jukro tea. If you’re looking for an escape from the chaos in the city, this dense bamboo thicket welcomes you with eight different themes to stroll through.
Seomjin River Train Village
Image: Korea Herald
We all love old abandoned railway tracks and stations once in a while, don’t we? Especially how they can somehow look both eerie and picturesque at the same time. The Gokseong district office has managed to turn one of their forgotten railroads into a lovely tourist spot where you can take a short 10km ride on the steam engine train. This steam engine train is actually built as an exact replica of the one that used to operate in the region years ago! Passengers get to enjoy the view of the lush greenery along the Seomjingang River and flowers along the roads during spring. Trust us, you wouldn’t want to miss riding on the steam train because they don’t make trains like this anymore!
Image: Jeju Weekly
Jeju is known for its large green tea production throughout the island and Daheeyeon Garden is one of the major tea farms there due to its good conditions for growing tea. There is a natural cave formed within the vicinity in which the Evergreen Luce outdoor garden was built, and equipped with ponds, bridges indigenous trees and flowers. You will reach the Eve hall once you pass through the tunnel-like cave. The most interesting part of this garden is the cave café located inside, which serves naturally fermented green tea bread, cookies, green tea latte, green tea juice and other green tea-related confectionary. And if you’re looking for a bit more adventure, you can also go motor carting or ziplining while overlooking the vast green tea field!
Gimnyeong Maze Park
For those who have always wanted to attempt getting lost in a maze, especially after watching movies like Maze Runner
, head to the Gimnyeong Maze Park that contains flora from all around Asia. This maze park has seven images incorporated within it and is fittingly built in the shape of the Jeju island. From a bird’s eye view, you’ll find images of a serpent, native horses of Jeju, a ship, a Sparrowhawk, and dolmens from the Bronze Age. These images have also become the island’s famous landmarks and symbols. There are four ways to complete the maze. Using a map will only take you five minutes, but where’s the fun in that? Without proper navigation, it could take you up to 20 minutes. There have also been visitors who spent almost an hour getting lost in the maze! Come to think of it, it’s a pretty scary feeling being stuck for one whole hour going round and round, isn’t it? But if you enjoy the thrill, check out the Gimnyeong Maze Park located near the Manjanggul Cave.
Image: Japan Visitor
If you’re into health tourism, then Heosimcheong Spa might just be the right place for you. This tourist spot aims to improve the health of visitors by offering hot spring baths, relaxation and physical training. It can accommodate up to 3,000 guests and covers about 4,300 square-metres, making it one of the largest hot springs in the region. With 40 different baths combining hot spring water, and oriental medicinal elements and seasonal herbs, visitors can choose one of the recommended baths according to their age, health concerns and personal preferences. Now who wouldn’t want a relaxing hot spring experience once in a while that’s actually good for their health!
Bosudong Book Street
Image: ywpark / Flickr
The Bosudong Book Street was established after the Korean independence as a residential area, taking over the previous Gukje Market that was demolished in the area. Residents began to sell books left behind by the Japanese. Due to the vast collection of used books, people can often find rare books here. In the early ‘60s during which the Korean publication industry has yet to stabilise, students and educated people came here to sell their books and buy used ones. And as time went by, more and more people started doing the same thing and the alley eventually became a famous book street throughout the country. So if you think that Busan is famous only because of that
movie you saw last year, you’ve been mistaken.