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Popular City in South Korea
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Example of a Korean meal: bibimbap with (from left) pickles, eomuk jorim sauteed fishcake, kimchi, pajeon pancake, a pot of gochujang and doenjang soupFew fall in love with Korean food at first bite, but like most acquired tastes, it's an addictive one once you get used to it. Korean food influences and has been influenced heavily by both China and Japan. Still, Korean food is definitely in a class of its own, mixing spicy chillies and copious amounts of garlic with delicate ingredients like raw fish. Although Korean food is quite low in fat, a fact attested to by the observation that very few South Koreans are overweight, those with sodium-limited diets should beware, as Korean cuisine has extremely high salt contents.

A Korean meal is centered around rice and soup, invariably served with a vast assortment of side dishes known as banchan (반찬). The humblest meal comes with three types while a royal banquet may well feature twelve. There will normally be a couple of vegetable dishes other than some form of kimchi that will always be present such as bean sprouts (콩나물 kongnamul) or spinach (시금치 shigeumchi) and a meat dish such as fried fish.

The ubiquitous kimchi (김치 gimchi), made from fermented cabbage and chili, accompanies nearly every meal and may be a bit of an acquired taste for visitors as it can be quite spicy. In addition to the common cabbage type, kimchi can be made from white radish (깍두기 ggakdugi), cucumbers (오이 소박이 oi-sobagi), chives (부추 김치 buchu gimchi) or pretty much any vegetable that can be pickled. Many different dishes are made using kimchi for flavoring, and kimchi is served as a side dish as well. It is not uncommon to find Korean tourists carrying a stash of tightly packed Kimchi when travelling.

Two more condiments found in almost every dish are doenjang (된장), a fermented soybean paste akin to Japanese miso, and gochujang (고추장), a hot (or not so hot) chilli paste.

A common perception amongst Koreans is that foreigners simply don't like spicy food, so you might have to spend some time convincing people otherwise if you really want to eat something hot. Also, while Korean food undoubtedly has the neighboring bland-dieted Japanese and northern Chinese breathing fire, if you're accustomed to (say) Thai or Mexican food you may wonder what the fuss is about.





South Korea

South Korea (한국, 韓國 Hanguk), formally the Republic of Korea (대한민국, 大韓民國 Daehan Minguk) is a country in East Asia. It occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula that lies between the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. It is bordered to the north by North Korea, and Japan lies across the Korea straight to the southeast.

Archeological finds of prehistoric toolmaking date back to 700,000 BC, and the first pottery is found around 8000 BC. Comb-pattern pottery culture peaked around 3500-2000 BC.

Korea's history begins with the founding of Gojoseon (also called Ancient Choson) by the legendary Dangun in 2333 BC. Archeological and contemporaneous written records of Gojoseon as a kingdom date back to around 7th-4th century BC. It was followed by the Three Kingdoms of Korea, namely Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla, which vied for control of the peninsula until unified by Silla in 668. Unified Silla was replaced by the Goryeo (also Koryo) dynasty, from which the modern name "Korea" derives. The Joseon (also Choson) dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910, one of the longest actively ruling dynasties in world history.

In the early 20th century, Japan occupied Korea, as a protectorate in 1905 and by annexation in 1910. Despite an independence movement, 35 years of occupation followed, through suppression of resistance, economic exploitation, and a "cultural assimilation" policy.

After Japan's defeat in World War II, US-occupied southern half and Soviet-occupied northern half each declared separate states in 1948. The Korean War (1950-53) began with North Korea's attack, and when US and other UN forces intervened on South Korea's side, China supported the North. An armistice was signed in 1953 splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel, but a peace treaty has never been signed.

Thereafter, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 20 times the level of North Korea. South Korea is now a liberal democracy and the 10th largest economy in the world. In June 2000, a historic first summit took place between the South's President Kim Dae-jung and the North's leader Kim Jong-il (leading Kim Dae-jung to awarding first Nobel Peace Prize for South Korea), but the peace process has moved at a glacial pace.


  • North Chungcheong — landlocked province filled with mountains and national parks
  • South Chungcheong — central western part of the country. Flat area made up of rice paddies. Point where main train lines and highways converge. Notable Places: Daejeon, hot springs, Mt. Gyeryongsan.
  • Gangwon — natural wonderland; Seoraksan National Park, east-coast beaches and ski resorts.
  • Gyeonggi — surrounding Seoul and covered in its urban sprawl
  • North Gyeongsang — largest province and richest area for historical and cultural sites. Notable places: Andong, Gyeongju and the islands of Ulleungdo.
  • South Gyeongsang — known for its gorgeous seaside cities and most respected temples. Notable Places: Busan, Haeinsa Temple.
  • Jeju — Korea's honeymoon island, built by a volcano. Great scenery with wild flowers and horseback riding. One of the few places you may need a car.
  • North Jeolla — Great Korean food.
  • South Jeolla — Lots of beautiful small islands, good for fishing.


  • Seoul(서울) — the dynamic 600 year old capital of South Korea, a fusion of the ancient and modern
  • Busan(부산,釜山) — the second largest city and a major port city of Korea.
  • Daegu(대구,大邱) — a cosmopolitan city, rich with ancient traditions and sights
  • Daejeon(대전,大田) — a large and dynamic metropolis located in Chungnam province
  • Jeju(제주,濟州) — an ancient port city, now a vacation hot spot
  • Jeonju(전주,全州) — once the spiritual capital of the Joseon Dynasty, now a leading center of the arts filled with museums, ancient buddhist temples, and historical monuments
  • Gwangju(광주,光州) — the administrative and economic centre of the area, the largest city in the province
  • Gyeongju(경주,慶州) — an ancient capital of the kingdom of Silla
  • Chuncheon(춘천,春川) — capital city of Gangwon province, surrounded by lakes and mountains and known for local dishes, dakgalbi and makguksu

Other destinations

  • Guinsa — spectacular mountain headquarters of the Buddhist Cheondae sect
  • Seoraksan National Park — spread out over four cities and counties, the country's most reknowned national park and mountain range
  • Panmunjeom — the only tourist site in the world where the Cold War is still reality
  • Jindo — commonly associated with the dog native to that area, the Jindo, every year people flock to the area to witness the parting of the sea and participate with the accompanying festivities
  • Boseong — rolling hills blanketed with green tea leaves where you can stroll along a wooded path and stop at a nearby spa to drink the home grown tea and take a seawater bath.
  • Somaemuldo — an hour off the coast of the South Gyeongsan province there's a hidden island surrounded by aquamarine waters and a breathtaking view that will stop you in your tracks
  • Yeosu — one of the country's most picturesque port cities especially at night, nominated to host the 2012 World Expo
  • Seonyu Island — The Island where Taoists stayed.

South Korea is a very homogeneous country, with nearly all inhabitants identifying themselves as ethnically Korean and speaking the Korean language. However, there are a significant number of foreign workers from China and Southeast Asia, and about 30,000 American military personnel stationed throughout the country, especially near the North Korean border.

Although it is the 12th most densely populated country, South Korea now has the world's lowest birthrate (1.16 children per woman nationwide and even less in Seoul), and dealing with this will be one of the major problems of the 21st century. About 85% of South Koreans live in urban areas.

During the Joseon dynasty Korea's dominant philosophy was a strict form of Confucianism. People were separated into a rigid hierarchy, with the king at the apex, an elite of officials and warriors below him, a small middle class of merchants below them, then a vast population of peasants and a hereditary class of slaves. Men were superior to women, educated were superior to the uneducated and everybody stuck to his defined role or faced the severe consequences. Buddhism and its supposedly dangerous notions of equality and individual spiritual pursuit were suppressed.

While the Joseon Dynasty ceased to exist in 1910, its legacy lives on in Korean culture: education and hard work are valued above all else, and women still struggle for equal treatment.

Korea has a significant number of Christians (26%) and Buddhists (26%). Some 46% of the country profess to follow no particular religion.

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