Saturday, January 10, 2009

South Korea

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) forms the southern part of the Korean peninsula in East Asia. The only country with direct borders on South Korea is North Korea, lying to the north. To the east, South Korea borders on the Japanese Sea, with the Korean strait to the south and the Yellow Sea in the west.
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Geography and climate: the mountainous country consists mainly of mountains covered in forests in the east and uninhabited, flat, fertile plains in the west and the south. Korea is in a temperate climate zone with the usual four seasons also experienced in north and central European countries. The only exceptions are the southern coasts and the island of Jeju-Do, which tend to be in a subtropical climate zone as well as the mountains where a high mountain climate prevails.
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Mountains and rivers: the highest mountain in the country is the extinct volcano Halla-San, with an altitude of 1,950 m (6,397 ft) on the subtropical island of Jeju-Do, that is located 85 km off the Korean mainland. The highest mountain on the mainland is the Jirisan with 1,915 m (6,282 ft). There are four large rivers in the country, the Nakdonggang (length: 525 km) being the longest of these.
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Language and communication: the official and national language is Korean. English and Japanese are also understood in the cities and tourist resorts. Health and vaccinations: vaccination against hepatitis A, typhoid, diphtheria, polio and tetanus is recommended. Long clothing should be worn to provide protection against mosquitoes and other insects, and a locally purchased insect repellent should also be used. Medical care is good in all larger cities and the tourist resorts. Visitors are advised to take out comprehensive medical and travel insurance that covers repatriation costs. A first aid kit should be packed and fruit and vegetables peeled or boiled before being eaten
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Entry requirements: British citizen passport holders may enter South Korea as a tourist for up to 90 days without needing a visa. Passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of arrival and you should be in possession of an onward ticket. Visas are required for all other purposes. Please contact the nearest South Korean Diplomatic Mission before you travel for information on entry requirements for other purposes. Those with all other types of British passport should also contact the South Korean Diplomatic Mission before travelling about visa requirements. Some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country. For further information on exact requirements at immigration please contact the South Korean Diplomatic Mission.
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Arrival and onward journey: South Korea is easily accessible by air from all parts of the earth. Many scheduled airlines such as Lufthansa (LH) and Korean air fly from Europe to Seoul (SEL) daily. In South Korea there are good domestic flights for example Pu San (PUS), Daegu (TAE), Cheju (CJU) or Ulsan (USN) either with the national airline Korean Air or with Asiana Airlines (OZ) (Star Alliance).
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Capital city: Seoul is the capital of South Korea and, until the partition in 1948, was also the capital of the entire peninsula. Counting the greater city area, Seoul has a total of 22 million inhabitants. Almost 45 % of the Korean population live and work in the metropolitan area of Seoul and it thereby forms the third largest city in the world after Tokyo and Mexico City. The hill Namsam in the centre of the city provides a good view of the size of the city. It is popular with day trips for the local population and the summit may be reached either by foot or by using the cable car. There is a television tower on top of the hill, which is the landmark of the city and offers breathtaking views of the skyline of this cultural and financial metropolis. Any tour of the city should also include a visit to the Changdokkung Palace that has been used for festivities by the Korean royal family since the 17th century. The main gate, the oldest in the city and the south gate: Namdaemun that was built in 1448 and regarded as South Korea’s penultimate historical building, are a must on any tourist trail. The pagoda at the east gate, dating back to 1348, is also worth a visit. The hill Gwankasan is a significant recreational area close to the city for the local population of Seoul. There are several hiking paths in the surrounding area. An entire afternoon should be planned to fully explore the area.
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Places of interest and beaches: the cultural and historical highlight of any South Korea trip is a visit to Kyongju on the south coast. The town is about 330 km from Seoul and is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The UNESCO considers the place to be one of the ten most important cultural and historical sites for humanity. Until the year 935 AD Kyongju was the capital of several dynasties for almost 1000 years and at that time was one of the largest cities on earth. The enormous number of important architectural monuments has given the city the nickname “museum without walls”. Many temples, ancient graves of kings and the oldest planetarium in Asia today bear testimony to the city’s former glory and significance. Bulguksa temple, located outside the city is also of interest: it is one of the most important Buddhist sites of South Korea. A further attraction are the Sokurram caves that accommodate a massive statue of the Buddha. The Tripitaka Koreana in the Haein temple built in 1448 is another highlight. This is considered a significant cultural asset throughout the world. It consists of 81,200 inscribed wooden blocks and is the most extensive Buddhist canon in the world. This invaluable cultural asset has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1995. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Seokguram cave on the mountain of Tahoamsan. An impressive statue of the Buddha dating back to the 8th century is to be found there in a stone temple.The towns of Haeundae and Songjang on the south coast of Korea are recommended for beach holidays. The climate in the area is subtropical and the white sandy beaches are the most popular destinations for South Koreans. Skiing and snowboarding is also possible in the southern mountains. Winter sports are popular amongst South Koreans. The southern mountains are also the site of the three large national parks Soraksan, Odaesan and Chuwangsan, all easily accessible form the coastal road.
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Religion: about 46 % of South Koreans consider themselves without confession, 25 % are Christian and a further 25% are Buddhist. There is also a small minority of Confucians and Muslims.
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Major Cities and accommodation: Seoul, Pusan, Taegu, Inchon, Kwangju and Taejeon.