South Korea: Culture to K-Pop
Seoul is also an exciting shopping destination.
Trends drive new generation travellers to the land of K-Pop
Winters in South Korea can be freezing in parts, but is milder along the southern coast. This is the perfect time to be outdoors. Landscapes across the country are covered in breath-taking hues as the cool temperatures and crisp air beckon the visitor to explore.
In vibrant Seoul, trees lining the wide avenues erupt in glorious shades against a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers and ancient palaces. Topping the list of must-visit places is the 14th century Gyeonbokgung Palace where a walk around the pavilions and lotus ponds reveals a glimpse into the grandeur of the Joseon Dynasty.
In the city centre stands the fabulous Namdaemun Gate, which is considered to be South Korea's most iconic cultural landmark, while towards the edge of the city, the still-furnished Changdeokgung Palace is known for its beautiful gardens framed by forest covered hills.
Though Seoul has lovingly preserved its cultural heritage it remains a trendy, modern metropolis. The city's bustling entertainment districts offer everything from live jazz to karaoke bars, while major amusement parks such as Lotte World and Everland cater to families and thrill seekers alike.
The banks of the Han River are lined with parks complete with jogging tracks, swimming pools and roller skating rinks. Here one can hop on to a cruise ferry for scenic views of the city from a different perspective.
Seoul is also a world-class shopping destination featuring glittering mega malls, buzzing street markets and everything in between. Apgujeong Rodeo Street is the place to go for high-end fashion, shoes and luxury brand outlet shops, while Dongdaemen with over 30,000 shops offers a very wide range of bargain products.
The most colourful shopping area though is Insadong, an ancient cobbled street lined with art galleries and antique shops, as well as atmospheric traditional teahouses with wooden floors and paper-screen walls.
Among Seoul's newer attractions are K-Pop themed tours, which include an immersive K-Pop experience in the now famous Gangnam District; a visit to MBC Theme Park; and learning to dance like your favourite K-Pop star.
K-Pop or Korean pop music has enjoyed phenomenal success around the world in recent years, with a massive fan base across the Arabian Gulf. In the UAE, the craze has expanded to Korean culture, food and language, driving a large number of young travellers to visit for a first-hand experience of the country.
Also deriving from K-Pop is the K-Beauty phenomenon - beauty products from Korea with a focus on health, hydration, and unique ingredients such as volcanic clay, soybean, bee venom, and of course, the famous snail slime.
Often packaged in cartoon-kitsch reminiscent of Hello Kitty, these latest, price-savvy innovations are now the most popular souvenirs for tourists. Myeondong District is filled with beauty brands with cult followings such as Innisfree, Etude House and Skinfood. The Olive Young mega store here offers all K-Beauty classics under one roof.
The surge in the number of visitors from Middle East and other Muslim countries has led to an increase in the number of Halal food outlets. As a result of traditional ties Turkish restaurants can be found across the country in addition to Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants.
In Seoul, these are based mainly in the multicultural Itaewon district not far from the Central Mosque. Nowadays, many restaurants offer Halal menus, specially to cater to Muslim dietary requirements. This has made it possible for Muslim travellers to truly experience South Korea through its culinary masterpieces such as bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) and samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup).