Eco-destination: South Korea
INDUSTRIALIZED and highly developed, South Korea is famous for being one of the Asian Tiger economies. Better known for Hyundai cars and Samsung electronics than a place to take a green holiday, this East Asian peninsula’s diverse geography and unique ecological characteristics offer a surprising range of options for the eco-conscious traveller.
From the spectacular natural sites of Jeju Island – one of country’s most popular destinations for domestic tourists – to the unintentional eco-zone of the DMZ, South Korea is a great choice for those looking for a natural experience that doesn’t weigh on the conscience.
Jeju is South Korea’s largest island and home to beaches and windswept coastlines, volcanic mountains, lush green forests, lava tubes, waterfalls and South Korea’s largest peak – Halla Mountain. Jeju has plenty of mainstream tourist attractions, some of which may not seem so normal to non-Koreans, such as the sex-themed Jeju Loveland and a museum of teddy bears. For eco-conscious travellers, Jeju offers many opportunities for hiking, cycling and diving, features amazing stone gardens, plenty of small inns to stay in and establishments serving locally sourced food. Jeju is home to several UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites and possesses a culture unique in Korea, incorporating a matriarchal family structure and a penchant for distinctive stone sculpture.
South Korea is home to two major wetlands: Uponeup Wetlands in Changnyeong (Gyeongsangnam-do Province), which is the country’s largest wetlands, and Junam Wetlands Park in Changwon (Gyeongsangnam-do Province), the largest habitat for migratory birds. Attractions at Uponeup include wildlife spotting (birds, wildcats and rare flora such as the thorn lotus); an eco-observatory; and the nearby Bugok hot springs resort. Junam is known as a ‘live natural museum’ for migratory birds and is also home to an ecological center and the Ramsar Cultural Center, associated with the 1971 convention on wetlands of the same name.
Other wetland destinations in South Korea include the Nakdong Estuary Eco Center in Busan, which includes a migratory bird park; and Suncheonman Bay in Suncheon, Korea’s environmental capital. Suncheonman Bay is home to a rich biodiversity, vast tidal flats, a 1,000-year old temple and the ancient Naganeupseong Folk Village. Suncheon is a great place to visit for combining stunning nature and fascinating history. Read more about it here.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has an unlikely wildlife refuge, and is home to rare cranes, many fish and mammals such as Asiatic black bears, musk deer, spotted seals and maybe even Korean Tigers, a species thought to be extinct. The DMZ’s unique natural habitat results from the area being almost completely devoid of human contact for nearly 70 years. Korea is attempting to rebrand the DMZ as the PLZ – the Peace and Life Zone.
From South Korea’s official tourism site:
The Peace and Life Zone (PLZ) includes the DMZ and other areas nearby, which contain historical, cultural, and natural treasures, which for years have been hidden away from the public eye. The name “Peace and Life Zone” pays reference to the unpolluted natural environment and the people’s general hope for the arrival of a new peaceful era to both sides of the border.
Read more about the former ‘scariest place on Earth’ turned green strip on BBC News.
If you can get to Korea before mid-August this year you might want to check out the World Expo 2012 in Yeosu. This year’s expo has a largely environmental, as well as cultural, motif, with the main theme being ‘The Living Ocean and Coast’.