CONTRIBUTED BY STACEY PETERS
South Korea is a great home base to jump off to explore other parts of Asia. But you don’t have to leave the peninsula to enjoy some of the best experiences the Asian culture has to offer.
South Korea is also a great place to explore with mountains, beaches and modern cities to traditional temples. It has tons of natural beauty, a myriad of festivals, religious spectacles and fascinating people that are open to sharing all the above with a little black girl from America. Life as an expat in South Korea this past year has been a mixed bag of experiences I won’t soon forget.
1. Daegu Lantern Festival
I’m not left speechless often, but the 2016 Daegu Dalgubeol Lantern Festival took my breath away and made me feel like a kid. The festival takes place in April in Daegu’s Durya Park and might be one of the prettiest things I’ve seen since moving to South Korea.
2. Busan Fireworks Festival
Fireworks are always fun, but a display that lasts almost an hour, is synchronized to music and includes laser lights over the longest suspension bridge in South Korea that also changes colors with more than a million people is a spectacle.
The Busan Fireworks Festival takes place every October on Gwangalli Beach in Busan. The festival has cultural events and entertainment, high-tech laser light shows, and culminates with one of, if not THE, best fireworks display I’ve ever seen. It is one of the area’s most popular festivals, drawing crowds of more than 1 million visitors every year.
Though most people flock to the beach for a closer view of the festivities, nearby Hwangnyeongsan Mountain also offers a great view of the fireworks. In 2016 the festival was on October 22nd.
3. DMZ Tour
The DMZ isn’t your typical tourist destination. Learning all the things that happened there, watching them watch and photograph you and signing the “possible death” waiver adds to the tension. I did learn a lot and seeing it firsthand put most of it into perspective. I was shocked to see the distance that Soviet asylum seeker had to run with 20+ North Korean soldiers chasing and shooting at him. He made it but he was hauling a** to freedom! Nothing really brings it home until you see it for yourself.
For more information about DMZ tours, read these Overseas Yes/Korea Ye articles:
4. Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival
I decided to spend my birthday in Jinhae (or Chinhae) a week ahead of the annual cherry blossom festival. I definitely recommend going down there before OR after the festival that began April 1 last year and ran through the 10th. Even though the blooms weren’t completely mature yet, it’s absolutely beautiful and there are already lots of people– but not the overwhelming crowds during the festival. The event also features street performers, food vendors and nighttime fireworks.
For more information about the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, read this Overseas Yes/Korea Ye article from April 2015.
5. Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden
I got a chance to watch the colorful changing of the guard ceremony at Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul. It is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Although you cannot roam freely about, there are English (and other languages too) guides that will escort you and relay the history. Known as a place of rest for the kings, the rear garden boasts a gigantic 300-year-old tree. I think it was my favorite of the five because of its stunning ponds and pavilions. Buy a palace combo pass to save money. It is well worth it.
6. N Seoul Tower
I climbed the N Seoul Tower. Did you know? The “N” stands for “New” because of the renovation that took place way, wayback in 1980. The tower is the tallest structure in Seoul and sits atop Namsan Mountain offering a panoramic view of the city and beyond.
Expat Life Tip: Get involved in your local community. I teach a free conversational English class to five ladies who have become my friends for life.
The last English class of 2016 had us playing games. I taught the ladies “rock, paper, scissors” and they had fun learning about “white elephant gift exchange” — without the gift stealing…they are too nice for that! I am so happy and proud to see them becoming so comfortable with their English and expanding their comfort levels with the language. And it’s by FAR the most rewarding thing I’ve done here.
8. Busan Sand Castle Festival
We’ve gone to the Busan’s Haeundae Beach Sand Festival two years in a row because we both love the artistry that’s involved in these contests. The detail and precision that goes into these sculptures is amazing. The competitors come from all around the world for the weekend long festivities. And Busan is our home away from home just a little over an hour from home on the KTX train. The festival takes place one weekend in late May.
9. DIWA Painting Exhibition
After spending months painting in Mrs. Shim’s gallery, I participated in my very first art exhibit in April. I painted a memory from a trip to Spain from a picture I had also taken on a trip there a few years ago. Surprise, surprise… I even sold my oil painting shortly after displaying it. DIWA, Daegu International Women’s Association is just one of many organizations you can participate in here in Daegu.
This article was originally published on Duffelbag Spouse. It has been modified and republished here on Overseas Yes with permission.