Monday, January 5, 2009

Korea as a travel destination

I have been to South Korea twice; on one occasion I was en-route to Japan, and the other time I was just doing a weekend stopover to renew my visa so I could stay another 90-days in Japan. My basis judgement on holidaying in Korea is - Why? What for? There is very very little to recommend about the place. If Japan did not exist, then I could find a reason to go there, but the problem is, it does. In Korea, I feel I am viewing some crude, 30-year old version of Korea. The stubborn, difficult old men you meet in Korea, I can find in the rural areas of Japan. Korea has very little natural beauty. I spent some time in the 'iconic' Sarakson National Park, and found it too limiting, and too congested, even on a weekday. There was just one place to go, and one way to get there.
I love Korean food, but its just as nice in Australia. I visited an attractive tea house. I have no interest in the historic sites, as they are pretty much what I would see in Japan. I did watch some good comedy on TV, which even I could understand. I dare say it was better than anything I'd find in Japan, but then nothing to bring me to this country. Few people spoke English. It was cheap to travel around; hotels were reasonable. I did not find the shopping particularly cheap as the cheap clothes were poor quality; electronics are cheaper in Japan. Music CDs were universally cheap. But it made me appreciate there was a reason why I did not see many tourist brochures there. The credit I would pay the government is its efforts to improve services to tourists; though that is also fashioned after the Japanese. The problem for Korea is defining a 'cultural' identity that distinguishes it from Japan, and might in fact make it interesting. The most interesting aspect of Korea was the pottery I studied in school art class, and I'm sure that would bore me today. The east coast had lovely white sand beaches. Yet I was amazed that they were enclosed by barbed wire rather than developed as tourist centres. Do they seriously think North Korea is a threat. A tragic sense of life - another attribute they share with Japan.
The best part about stopping over in Korea is that Korean Airlines allows you to fly on to other countries, unlike Japan Airlines. By flying to Seoul, I can get a ferry to Japan, and continue on to other countries. Japan Airlines only allows you to do that on the same ticket if you stay less than 5 days in Japan. I often want to stay 3mths, so Korea (Pusan) can make more sense. Korea has the cheapest flights to Japan, though China might have better deals now.
Andrew Sheldon