The bustling city has a lot to offer tourists

South Korea is opening up to the world, not only as a technological hub but also a grand tourist destination. At par with Japan and the Western world in technology, the Korean Peninsula in the eastern end of Asian continenthas walked that extra mile to preserve its ancient culture and tradition amidst amazing technological advances and use it to attract tourists.

In the heart of the Capital, Seoul, is the 14th Century Gyeongbokgung Palace surrounded by high rise buildings dotted with huge television screens. The Gyeongbokgung (literally means a palace blessed by heaven) was built in 1395, three years after the Joseon dynasty was founded. It served as the main palace for more than 500 years. It was steadily expanded for over nearly 300 years before being reduced to ashes during the Japanese invasion in 1592. For the next 276 years, the palace grounds were neglected and finally rebuilt in 1867 by Prince Regent Heungseon Daewongun who built 500 buildings within the premises.

It was taken over again by the Japanese in 1911 with the ownership being transferred to the Japanese Government-General resulting in its slow destruction. The restoration work is still going on.

However, what is astonishing about the palace, more than its history of phoenix-like existence, the hourly Gate Guard Change ceremony which is a huge tourist attraction. A real delight, it presents a stunning blend of centuries-old tradition in the otherwise modern city. Visitors from all parts of the world throng it to watch the 10-minute ceremony. In this special event based on extensive historical research, all the uniforms, weapons, and accessories of the gate guard are fully re-enacted, creating an impressive spectacle.

Just within the hi-tech Seoul itself, is Bukchon-Insa-dong or the Traditional Culture Street where once upon a time were clustered art and crafts shops and cultural relics shops. In 1988, merchants got together and developed the street.

Equally popular is Jeonju Hanok Village, an upmarket traditional residential area dotted with traditional Korean houses, known as hanoks having all modern facilities. “Places like Pukchon were developed to preserve the Korean tradition. These hanoks have all facilities and the old town was given special focus so as to attract youth who were moving away from their culture and roots due to fast development in the country,’’ explains Eun-Hee Choi, an English speaking guide associated with the Korean Tourism Organisation.

The Down Town has all facilities like coffee shops, branded outlets so that youngsters are attracted. “Along the same street we have small household museums and craft centres which display artefacts and ancient prized possessions.”

Yido is a famous pottery galley academy and café in Pukchon which is thronged by young people. “Tradition and modernity co-exist in harmony here,’’ says an official at the academy. Yido is founded by Y Yoonshin, a leading figure in popularisation of Korean ceramic art. It is a multifunctional cultural space that presents a new lifestyle and culture incorporating modern ceramics and crafts.

Everland Resort is dubbed as Korea’s best and fourth in the world. It is a wonderfully created fantasy dream world having Safari World (with Royal Bengal Tigers taken from India), Speed Way (a big racing track) and 40 other attractions to thrill every visitor. Distinctive themes like Flower Carnival, Summer Splash, Happy Halloween and the Christmas Holiday Fantasy are held seasonally along with a variety of daily events like magic show, dance performance, marching band and a Halloween Road Party. Aqua Magic Tree, haunted by “aqua fairies”, is a huge hit with children. Moonlight Parade is a fascinating light show and Dream of Laciun is a splendid show of fireworks in the evening.