South Korea is a fascinating mélange of ancient culture and modern technology. Travel to Korea reveals traditions that have survived since the dawn of Korean history are finding new corners to exist in the rapid race toward economic and technological development. There are plenty of things to do in South Korea for everyone.
South Korea is a country that has no royal family and yet, the people rejoice in the celebration of Jongmyo Jerye, the Royal Ancestral Rite celebration which is officiated, in full regal regalia, by the descendents of the last royal line.
When you travel to Korea you’ll find ancient palaces that reverberate with silent tales of long gone kings and courtroom intrigue, sit side by side with modern concrete structures and a frightening choke of traffic.
The latest two-mega pixel camera-phone craze has gripped the nation and busloads of young Koreans wander around obsessed with taking photos of themselves to the backdrop of ancient monuments.
It appears that younger generation are using cutting-edge technology to capture a personal piece of the nation’s history.
When Hyosun Ellen Kwon married Albert Hwang earlier this year in Seoul, they exchanged vows in a traditional Korean wedding ceremony.
The groom presented a wooden wild goose, or kireogi, to the bride’s mother as a token of lifelong fidelity.
Waiting patiently for his bride, he looked regal in his traditional garb: tall samo cap, and deep purple wedding hanbok.
The bride covered her face with her sleeve during the ceremony.
Even in today’s modern South Korea, it would be unthinkable for a young couple to skip the rituals of this ancient ceremony.
Couples compromise by having dual celebrations – both the traditional as well as a modern western celebration complete with a white wedding gown.
Travel to Korea means absorbing both ancient and modern. In downtown Myeongdong, bright neon signs shout a loud modern message.
As South Korea hurtles along the road of rapid technologic development, new technologies are influencing lifestyles.
High technology cafes are popping up in the midst of the busiest entertainment precincts.
The three-storey Starbucks Cafe is a popular meeting spot for groups of all ages from teenagers to grannies, and has ample seating on every level.
It provides free wireless internet access to anyone who turns up with a wireless card and a laptop computer.
Besides the standard American Starbucks fare, the menu also carries a traditional Korean flavour with green tea frapuccinos and sweet potato cake.
Korea’s phone company, SK Telecom, is gathering the youth market into the bosom of its high technology TTL stores by providing free computer terminals with internet, music, DVD as well as magazines.
More travel to Korea
While in the charming nooks of Insadong’s antique row, old traditional tea shops welcome the youth of Korea who savour the olden brews of their culture while pitting against each other in the ancient game of Go.
High speed internet is used everywhere by everyone including temple monks in the middle of a forest, traditional Korean guest houses, villagers and even the Jeju Island women divers who dive for produce in the cold oceans around Southern Korea.
Satellite dishes hide in the backyards of brick and mud huts.
The adoption of technology has touched all generations; the main reason is that by custom the elderly often live with at least one grown up child.
This cultural practice has eased the path for the older generation of folk in learning new technologies.
“It’s no big deal. Everyone on Korea uses high speed internet”, my guide Minju scoffs at me.
“I’ll show you something even better”, she drags me to a railway station and hands me her spare credit card.
I walk through the turnstile and press the card against the reader.
This is a world of ticketless public transport where commuters swipe their credit cards to pay for small amounts on trains and buses.
South Korea’s shipping industry is booming. From the first spear ships built in AD1011 to the Turtle Ships that defended Korea during the war with Japan, Korea leads the world’s shipbuilding activities with the three largest shipbuilding companies: Hyundai, Daewoo and Samsung.
The Daewoo plant alone is capable of building a modern tanker from scratch in 18 months and has the technology to build eight ships simultaneously.
In contrast to the nation’s headlong rush for economic development, the country is also fanatical about preserving its historical assets and culture.
Authorities at all levels are obsessive about designating old buildings with a “National Treasure Number” and intangible things such as dances, plays and traditional games with an “Important Intangible Cultural Property Number”.
There is a plethora of officially designated assets which are besieged by local tourists keen to remind themselves and educate their children on their culture. Travel to Korea can be a bit of an enigma.
The new high speed KTX train flies at speeds of up to 300km/h; at a blink of an eye it will take you to the Korean countryside in the Gyeongsangbuk-do region where World Heritage treasures and traditional Korean style houses abound.
Everywhere you go in Korea, there is evidence of how modern technology and ancient cultures blend into a harmonious and unusual landscape. Yes, travel to Korea is fascinating.
Christina Pfeiffer explored South Korea as a guest of Korea National Tourist Organization
Discover South Korea
Asiana Airlines flies to Seoul.
Shilla Hotel Seoul is a blend of modern and ancient, tel: +82-2-2233-3131