City of Busan, South Korea. Photo by: Jennifer J. Lacelle

Colours of South Korea

By Jennifer J. Lacelle

When it comes to preserving history and culture the citizens of South Korea are highly adept. Their monuments to history have not only been preserved over time, but they highlight their way of life and the natural beauty of their country.

Take, for example, the largest outdoor market in Busan. The Gukje Market was originally considered a flea market — Dottaegi Market — until 1948 when it’s first building was erected. Today, the long string of roads can be easy to get lost in as it runs down the main and side streets.

Vendors predominantly serve fresh meals. They are canopied from the weather and locals, as well as tourists, can sit and watch their meal be cooked.

Because the market is so close to the water, there are a vast number of fresh seafood vendors. If you want fresh, it’s hard to beat this place because you can walk up, select which fish, octopus or lobster you want, before sitting down while the chef removes the live animal from the aquarium and prepares it for you.

For the most part, it’s a tight fit between these outdoor food vendors and buildings until you reach the shopping area where you’ll find knickknacks, trinkets, and a good number of hand-made items.

These stores work like a flea market in that they are a combination of stalls covered by canopies and strip malls. The colours in this market, especially in the clothing items, fill the rainbow spectrum with bright, florescent and luminescent shades. Many of these items are hand-dyed and sewn.

The bustling of people only helps to bring this place further to life.

If you like food, the top recommendation is to try traditional Korean barbeque. These restaurants will vary in price depending on a number of factors. If you’re seeking more high-end, you’ll likely find the entire carcass hanging from the ceiling behind a glass barricade where the kitchen is. You’ll also notice that each person in your company will have their own server.

If you take the route of an average barbeque, once your table orders the desired meat, you’ll find that your table will be filled with an array of foods to share — rice, soup, salad, seaweed, fish, squid, and dipping sauces. Your table’s server will come out and begin cooking the meat in front of you and use special scissors to cut to desired sizes before leaving you to enjoy your meal.

When it comes to history, The National Museum of Korea in Seoul is a jaw-dropper for sure.

With several levels in the building there are hundreds, if not thousands, of artifacts expertly curated and preserved to explore. Even if you don’t speak or read Hangul, which is more commonly called Korean, some sections are translated to English.

Here you will find exhibits for Buddhism, royalty, sewing, traditional martial arts uniforms, weapons, artwork, tapestries and monuments.

Another site to visit while in Seoul is the War Memorial of Korea. Exhibits goes all the way back in time to the Gojoseon period. In other words, Paleolithic to Iron Age when society was predominately nomadic tribes who were gatherers and hunters

A massive war drum, with a tiger painted on it, greets you upon entering the building. Followed by it are rows, upon rows of exhibits in this museum.

Outside, you’ll find rows of old planes a few tanks sitting on the other side of a river filled with koi fish. There’s a large wall between the parking structure and this exhibit. The wall spans the area and engraved in the stone are depictions of soldiers in action.

They are lit up in spectacular fashion as they explain the history of weapons and warfare in South Korea. When you head down the massive spiral walkway, you’ll find boats have been built inside the museum.

Every item tells a story.

If you’re feeling royal, prepare to spend the day exploring Changgyeonggung Palace in Seoul. It was built during the Joseon Dynasty (1483) by the ninth ruler of that era, King Seongjong. The palace was meant to house the wives of the former kings. This palace is actually known to be rather miniscule in comparison to other palaces.

Nearby is Gyeongbokgung Palace, number 117 in the country’s historical sites. This regal palace’s construction began in 1394 by the Joseon Dynasty’s first king, Yi Seong-gye. It was completed a year later, during his fourth year as king. It was the first of five to be built during this era.

Korean palaces are known to be grand spaces with living quarters, dining rooms, libraries, meeting rooms and more.

This palace takes more than a day to fully see and appreciate the rich, colourful artistry in the walls while milling the grounds and carved out pathways. Even if you have a map, there’s no guarantee you won’t get yourself lost since there is such a vast area to explore. However, even if that happens, you’ll be far too mesmerised to worry about that.

You can also rent Hanboks, traditional garb, while you wander the palace, if you’re feeling a little more regal.

This doesn’t even begin to cover the spectacular array of sites to visit while you’re in South Korea. You can visit hundreds of sites including; temples, the DMZ, palaces, and shops.