Beyond Seoul: Exploring the fiery fall leaves and tranquil beaches of South Korea

The breathtaking view of Mount Merapi in Java. Pic: Jimmy McIntyre/flickr

HIGH-SPEED internet, Starcraft, and a population that looks like it’s largely composed of gorgeous future K-pop stars – yes, South Korea’s Seoul has a lot going for it.

You can’t visit this cool country without a stop in the capital, a fascinating city that has emerged as one of the biggest and most advanced in the world in only a few decades.

But South Korea is so much more than its most famous city, and getting outside the capital metropolis will afford you some unique and unforgettable experiences. Here are five other places to visit in the Land of the Morning Calm.

Seoraksan

If you plan to be in South Korea during the fall, put this one on your list immediately (though it is beautiful to see at other times of year as well). Seoraksan is one of the best places to enjoy the fall foliage, and get your heart pumping as well.

You can get in on an organized hiking trip from Seoul or go it alone, but either way, you’re going to want to see this place. It’s a tough hike but you can break it up by spending the night in a traditional guest house before trekking the rest of the way down in the morning.

Oh and gird your ego – the post-middle-age ajummas and ajusshis powering past you with their hiking sticks and gear might put you to shame, but just look at the view and try not to feel too bad about how much more fit they are than you.

Busan

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This beachside city is another popular one for tourists, especially in the warm summer months. There are plenty of waterfront restaurants, hotels and bars where you can get your party on after a day of lounging under the sun.

Holidays see a huge influx of foreigners looking to party away a three-day weekend. Beyond that, however, there are some fantastic natural sites and historical landmarks to visit in the area. Check out the ancient Beomeosa Temple, or the Haedong Yonggunsa temple near the sea.

For those inclined towards the arts, be sure to visit the Gamcheon Culture Village, an Instagram-friendly, quirky mountainside community of festively painted homes, cafes and galleries  ideal for an hour or two of strolling and selfies.

Jeju Island

Located off the southern coast of South Korea, Jeju has been likened to Hawaii for its beauty and its temperate climate. Climb Hallasan, a breathtaking volcanic crater, or indulge your naughty side at the Loveland erotic museum.

There’s also the Southernmost Theme Park, a great option for those traveling with young ones, as you’ll find an insectarium, petting zoo and tangerine farm, according to CNN Travel.

SEE ALSO: Jeju Island in South Korea is the alternative tropical island you’re looking for

Andong

Andong is the place to go for authentic and well-preserved Korean culture. Pay a visit to the Hahoe Folk Village, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and see traditional Korean houses, goods and ways of life.

Before venturing into the village, head to Byeongdae Cliff, from which you’ll see a gorgeous view of the entire village and surrounding rice fields. The traditional folk masks made in Andong make great gifts and souvenirs, as you’ll find unique ones here that are far more interesting and special than the more popular ones you’ll find in larger tourist districts.

The Andong Mask Festival is held every October, and includes traditional folk performances by actors who don the beautiful, and occasionally creepy, masks. Andong is also the source of some pretty tasty – and potent – soju, so prepare your liver accordingly.

Boryeong

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If this name sounds familiar to you at all, it’s probably because of the annual Boryeong Mud Festival, an event that is exactly what it sounds like.

Thousands flock to Daecheon Beach for the festival every year, though the Boryeong area has something to offer even those who don’t relish the idea of rolling about in the mud with a bunch of strangers.

Muchangpo is a beautiful beach town that is quiet and serene, especially in early fall, where you can feast on fresh local seafood and, when the tide is out, walk out to towering islands far into the sea.

Take a trip to Wonsan Island and visit the village of Seonchon, or just grab a book and sit on the beach, enjoying the calm and quiet after the noise of Seoul.