South Korea boasts one of the fastest-growing tourism industries in Asia right now. While many are quick to credit the so-called “Korean wave” or the influx of Korean pop culture in neighbouring countries and even to Europe and the US, it’s mostly because South Korea is a fascinating country. There is so much to see and so much to do, and all-year-round it is a country in bloom.
Flowers and greenery will greet you nearly anywhere you go in South Korea, and at any time of the year. The beauty of nature is something South Koreans celebrate with both joy and solemnity through festivals and other holidays. So don’t forget your camera when you visit South Korea; you’ll want to take pictures of the breathtakingly colourful vistas that will spread before you on your tour of the country.
Spring is For Cherry Blossoms
Like the Japanese, Koreans have a deep regard for cherry blossoms and consider these ethereal pink-and-white blooms to be a representation of life’s fragility. They mark this deep regard with cherry blossom festivals all over the country.
The biggest of these cherry blossom festivals are the Gunhangjae Festival in Jinhae District in the port city of Changwon in Gyeongsangnam-do. The festival is ten days long, and it usually starts in the first week of April. For those ten days, Jinhae becomes blanketed with cherry blossoms, from the centuries-old trees at the naval base and right beside the railroad at Gyeonghwa Station, to the canopies of flowers covering the Anmingogae Bridge. Evenings become especially romantic as these cherry blossom trees are lit up with lanterns at night.
Another enchanting place to view cherry blossoms is in the Gaesimsa Temple in Seosan City in Chungcheongnam-do. Gaesimsa is located within the dense forests on Sangwangsan Mountain. The location is quite remote, and you have to hike up a curving path to get to the temple. The path is lined with cherry blossom trees, and they are simply magnificent in springtime.
If you don’t feel like driving all the way to Changwon or Seosan to look at cherry blossoms, you can stay in Seoul, the country’s capital, and visit Yeouido Park for the Spring Flower Festival in April. There you will find around 1,600 cherry trees in full bloom, along with azaleas, forsythias, and other spring flowers.
Cherry blossom viewing is usually the most popular South Korea flower season – but it’s also because visitors do not know of these:
Summer is For Lotus
In Korea and in other countries where Buddhism is a major religion, the lotus flower is revered as a symbol of Buddha, a representation of the cycle of death and rebirth. Although the lotus flower begins blooming in Korea in late spring, it usually comes into full bloom in early summer.
Where should you go to view lotus flowers in Korea?
If you’ve visited Chungcheongnam-do in the spring to look at cherry blossoms, return there in July for the Buyeo Seodong Lotus Festival. This is perhaps the most popular Korean festival that celebrates the lotus flower. For nine days, the people of Buyeo honour the lotus flower through fireworks, night parades, cultural presentations, and activities like making lotus flower paper art as well as a lotus flower soapmaking. Of course, it’s also an opportunity to appreciate and capture in photographs the beauty of the lotus flower itself.
If you haven’t got enough of lotus during your stay in Buyeo, you can make a short drive north to Chungcheongbuk-do. Once you’re there, visit the magnificent Wolseong Flower Garden in Gyeongju for a look at the beautiful lotus blooming profusely there.
Autumn is For Maple and Gingko
Autumn is a magnificent time to be in South Korea. The landscape that was covered with blooming flowers in spring and summer becomes fiery in autumn as the leaves on the trees turn red and gold with the season. Most interesting to view are the maple and gingko trees as their leaves turn scarlet and gilded.
There are three great places to stop by in Korea for some maple and ginkgo leaf-peeping: Naejangsan National Park, Mt. Seoraksan National Park, and Hongcheon Ginkgo Forest.
Naejangsan National Park in Jeolla has long been known as an autumn leaf-peeping destination. Local and foreign tourists alike flock there during the fall to see its bright crimson foliage. You can enjoy these red-leaved trees while hiking to other attractions within the park such as Dodeok Falls and Baekyangsa Temple.
Mt. Seoraksan National Park in Gangwon-do is also famous for its fiery fall foliage, but more so for its dramatic, cloud-covered mountain views and sparkling, jade-like bodies of water. The park is great for hiking and rock climbing, and there are a lot of hot springs that you can check out.
Hongcheon Ginkgo Forest, also in Gangwon-do, is a recreational forest that is filled with more than 2,000 ginkgo trees and no other tree species. The forest is a wonder to walk through in autumn because of its golden canopy. Stepping into this forest is like stepping into the world of faeries.
Winter is For Camellias
Most flowering plants and foliage become dormant when winter sets in. The same applies in Korea in winter, with a few exceptions. Most notable of these exceptions is the flower the Koreans call dongbaek, known as Japanese red camellias to the Western world.
Japanese red camellias begin flowering in October and come to full bloom in February. Because of their bloody hue and the fact that the flowers fall to the ground intact when it’s time for them to die, Koreans have come to associate dongbaek with a woman’s tears.
Views of deep-red dongbaek against the pure white snow are truly dramatic. The best place to experience such views is Geoje Island in Gyeongsangnam-do, near the city of Busan. The island is thick with dongbaek, and these flowers make a striking picture against the icy blue seas and the craggy cliffs on the island.
Korea is a country where flowers bloom all year. If you love flowers and you love spending time in the beauty of nature, Korea is a place you must see with your own eyes. So plan your trip to South Korea now and don’t forget your camera.
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