Travel Korea off the beaten path this springtime

by - 22 April

Korea is a haven for different types of travelers. The beautiful language, warm people, scenic attractions, captivating nature, wonderful seasons, array of food, hip-popping music, trendy fashion and advanced technology are just few of the many reasons why everyone loves to visit and wants to experience Korea.

As the season of spring starts anew, I suddenly think on what I would like to do in Korea the next time I visit? If given the chance to experience Korea again, the travel I am looking forward to will be more on the different side and unseen beauty of the country as I want to know more about it a little further and something beyond the ordinary. Kimchi, taekwondo, K-pop, K-dramas, cosmetics and electronics, I know the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’ is beyond these things as there really a lot to anticipate about and experience in the country. In this series, join AK as we travel Korea off the beaten track this season of spring.

Experience homestay the entire visit.
Immersing in Korean culture is the main goal of my travel so it would be nice to start the journey through homestay. As I want to experience the country like a local, signing-up in a homestay program hosted by a warm Korean family will be one of the best cultural immersions to try in Korea. Living with the locals where you can be one with the place, observing how Korean living is like, helping out with the daily chores, and trying out new things is engaging totally in a different view of the culture particularly the family culture which is said to be generally warm, loving and closely-knit. It will be a whole lot of experience for me and to start my travel along with a Korean family will for sure make my Korea stay even more memorable especially if it’s set away from the city.

Savor authentic homemade Korean flavors.
In Korea, food is no exception, so finding the best of Korean cuisine and to savor some of the most popular traditional dishes is also a way to understand the culture and the country as a whole. While in a homestay program, it's also a great opportunity to taste authentic recipes and homemade Korean food. Jeonju bibimbap (rice with mixed vegetables and meat), samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), dotorimuk mari (acorn jelly noodle), yeonipbap (lotus leaf rice), jaecheopguk (shellfish soup), daetongbap jeongsik (bamboo rice set), and heukdweji gui (grilled black pork), are just few of the traditional Korean food favorites that I want to try. I love all the food setup on a Korean table so there’s no reason for me to miss out the chance to experience and learn the traditional way of cooking them. This culinary experience is sure to satisfy the chef in me with the best ways in Korean cooking.

Stroll in the less journeyed alleyways.
They say the best way to experience a place is to take the less travelled road specifically those that are tucked in between cities and unknown to many. Although I find it strange, I know there really are interesting finds through Korea’s unappreciated neighborhoods. Most of these have quite an unusual vibe compared to the ones in the city that are full of life. But one thing is for sure as various pojangmacha (food tents), cafes and other shops are also dotted here wherein the local people spend their spare time to dine and drink. I want to discover these places especially the old ones to immerse in the society and local culture that will fascinate me to understand and directly observe the common lifestyle of the many Koreans.

Get lost in the complex subway.
As part of the journey, it’s also a good idea to get lost in the country through its efficient network of subways, railways, and other reliable transportation systems. Korea’s efficient public transportation network is one of the world’s impressive systems of its kind where you can explore the capital city and beyond. I think getting lost in the complex Seoul Metropolitan Subway just like a local will definitely give me a deeper understanding of the everyday life in Korea particularly the transport culture where you can come across so many faces, witness the current situation of a place, and among other things.

Be an artisan at a Korean folk village.
With the ease of using these modes of transportation all over Korea, I will also pay a visit to one of Korea’s premier folk villages especially the one situated in the province of Gyeonggido where I want as well to experience wearing the hanbok, or the Korean traditional clothing, again. It may seem common but to learn more about the old culture of the country through one of it’s fascinating villages while donning the hanbok is what makes it beyond the ordinary. Exploring the Joseon-built village and its historic streets is a wonderful cultural immersion to experience at first hand as you get to travel to the past while learning something new about Korea’s culture and great history through various workshops, unique food experiences and live music performances. I really can’t imagine myself hanging around in this massive cultural village so I better be prepared.

Visit a traditional fermentation farm.
After enjoying the cultural activities in the folk village, it's also great to know and learn more about the soul flavours of the Korean cuisine as the ganjang, doenjang, and gochujang. I want to experience how to make these key sauces that represents the food culture of Korea that pleases the palate and benefit the body at the same time. There are so many documentaries that I've already watched whether it’s all about how they are made from scratch and the beautiful stories behind them but to personally know and even learn how to make them is a fulfilling way to satisfy my hunger for new knowledge. How does it feel like to visit a traditional farm where hundreds of onggi breathing jars are lined up against the clear blue sky? Isn’t it a delicious experience to taste an aged sauce straight from the earthen jar made with great love, dedication, and time?

Climb the mountain to be one with nature.
Besides the Korean flavors, I might as well do hiking in one of Korea’s scenic peaks and see the untouched beauty of this side of the country. This activity has been in my Korea travel bucket list for a long time now so making it into a reality will be a fulfilling experience. An exciting hiking set in springtime would be a great experience when the mountains are lovelier and thousands of cherry trees are in full bloom. Experience forest bathing, setup a camping in the mountainside, and ascend at the trail’s peak while enjoying the picturesque surroundings and be one with nature are just few of the things that I also want to tick-off my list. For me, it’s not typical to do hiking abroad and it’s one of the activities that I usually enjoy so I will grab the opportunity if time permits me. But whether it’s spring, summer, fall, and or winter, whichever season, I can be sure that I will enjoy the best of Korea has to offer.

Be a monk for a day in a Buddhist temple.
Like a homestay program, I would like to experience to be a monk for a day in a templestay. When I first visited the famous Buddhist temple of Haedong Yonggungsa in Busan years ago, the experience for me was the most memorable of the entire cultural tour. It was my first time to ask for prayers in a Buddhist sanctuary and it was such an amazing experience as they were later answered. Praying inside the main sanctuary and seeing the Buddhist monks chanting their prayers for the devotees made me think of their life inside the temple. They say that the life of a monk is mainly centered on the appreciation of all living things so to be one at least for a day and experience their daily routines will for sure give me a new perspective on life and learn more about Buddhism which has hugely influenced the country for long years and still valued until to this modern day.

A tour in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Additionally, I want to be an army of peace and tour the DMZ, which for long years has been the symbol of division of the Korean peninsula, is what I am also looking forward when I visit back to Korea. The Korean DMZ, or the 250 kilometers-long Demilitarized Zone, is actually one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world that even though it is called 'demilitarized,' still the security in the area is strictly enforced beyond its boundaries. How does it feel to be a civilian in the DMZ where peace and conflict coexist? What does it feel like joining a DMZ tour escorted by a Korean soldier on-duty? What is life really like in the demilitarized zone which is just a few kilometres away from the northern part of the Korean peninsula? A tour of the DMZ is definitely one of the exceptionally uncommon activities to try and still at the top of my Korea travel bucket list because it is of historical significance. Despite the situation of the place and only select areas are allowed for both civilians and tourists, I want to learn not only the history that happened here but also to know how to be part in the campaign of promoting permanent peace in the entire peninsula.

Meet the South Korean president.
Following up the visit in the Korean DMZ, I want to meet President Moon Jae-in. I know it’s far beyond reality to meet one of the world’s inspiring leaders today but to see him speak in the public at the very least is but an experience of a lifetime. Since the Korean people had him in the government post over two years ago and with his influential platforms, I have become one of the president’s growing fans. I do really admire Moon administration’s recent accomplishments notably the realization of the new era of peace in the Korean Peninsula and the immediate response to the COVID-19 outbreak that both received worldwide praises. But seriously, if given the chance to meet him in person, I will shake his hand and tell him that he’s doing a great job for Korea.

These are just few of the things that I have set in my mind for now which you can also include on your itineraries when you visit Korea. There really are a lot of interesting activities and endless possibilities to make our entire Korea travel experience off the usual: taste test all cherry blossoms-flavored food and drinks you can imagine, stay in a traditional Korean house hanok a day or two, get a soju fix and experience the vibrant night life in the city, enjoy a day of relaxation in a Korean public bathhouse jjimjilbang, watch a blockbuster Korean movie without subtitles, attend a traditional Korean wedding, and the list goes on.

I don’t know how far I will go with this list but one thing is for sure, I will do it one at a time. I know some of these are further than the usual things but discovering Korea off the beaten track this season of spring is immersing in an entirely new approach to understand and appreciate more the different side of the country as it provides a unique window into the Korean culture. What’s more, it’s also another way to experience the good, the bad, and the ugly.

*This article was both published on the Talk Talk Korea (“[John’s Top 10] Travel Korea off the beaten track this springtime,” March 16, 2020) web portal and (“My top 10 picks for springtime traveling in Korea,” March 19, 2020). All photos used herein are property of Annyeong Korya which are protected under applicable copyrights.

You May Also Like


Do you have something to share?