Trip of the week: exploring the quieter side of South Korea

You can see a lot in two weeks, from the ‘pristine’ beaches of the north to the ‘lush’ hills of the south

Seated bronze Buddha statue and tiles, Soraksan National Park
Seoraksan National Park is two hours from Seoul
(Image credit: Janette Asche/Getty Images)

From Gangnam Style to Parasite, South Korea’s popular culture has spread across the world in the past decade or so. But there’s another side to this East Asian nation, says Adam H. Graham in The New York Times – a tranquil realm of thatched-roof hamlets, Buddhist temples and forested mountains.

The country is slightly smaller than England, so you can see a lot of it on a two-week visit, from the “pristine” beaches and granite peaks of the north to the “lush” hills of the south. Hiring a guide for parts of the trip would help overcome linguistic difficulties, and might make the visit more culturally enriching too.

In the mountainous Seoraksan National Park, two hours from Seoul, you may have to fend off crowds of elderly Korean women in “oversize visors” to catch the cable car up to the ruins of the 13th century Gwongeum Fortress – but it’s worth it for the views.

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Much more peaceful is a stay at Samhwasa, a 1,000-year-old Buddhist monastery hidden deep in a ravine in the Mureung Valley. The monks will accompany you on walks in the “mossy” woods, and take you through their “austere” routine. Meals are “humble”, rooms are “cell-like”, with very thin mattresses, and guests take part in 6am prayers in the “dim, cavernous” temple, with its splendid ceiling depicting dragons, tigers and bodhisattvas in yellow, cinnabar, green and blue.

Nestled in a “sandy oxbow” of the Nakdong River is the historic village of Andong Hahoe, where you can stay at Bukchondaek House, a 19th century mansion with a meticulously restored landscaped courtyard and traditional floor-heating system. Breakfast there is wonderful.

The south is renowned for its cuisine, and Bukchondaek House is a good prelude to a culinary tour of the southern provinces of North and South Jeolla: be sure to stay at Baekyangsa Temple, home to Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist nun who is also a renowned chef.

For tours, try Wow Corea ( and Inside Asia (

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