Experiencing the Korean culture goes beyond what you hear from people or see on the internet. When in South Korea, Korean culture can be experienced in various ways, whether you are traveling alone or in a group. For the arts, culture, and history buffs, here are some recommendations on what you can do to learn more about this unique culture:
1) Watch a Traditional Arts Performance
Over the recent years, Korean non-verbal performances are on a rise, gaining a lot of attention with their creative and modern twist that allow people from all walks of life to enjoy without any language barrier.
Not only are the shows foreigner-friendly, they also incorporate traditional Korean arts, culture, dance and music all on one stage, making the experience a memorable one with fun stage banter that involves audience participation.
Jeongdong Theater in Seoul is one place to experience the Korean culture first-hand through your eyes. A must-go for all the culture junkies and curious creatures out there, this public theater has been operating as a performing arts center for Korean traditional shows since 1995.
Today, it features some of Korea’s well-acclaimed productions, traditional arts’ performances and exhibitions.
A notable show to catch would be “The Palace: Tale of Jang Nok-su”, which brings the historical story from the Joseon Dynasty to live through traditional Korean dance.
The tale centers around the encounters of Jang Nok-su, who was otherwise known as the ‘dangerous Cinderella in Joseon Dynasty’. Jang Nok-su was born a servant, became a gisaeng (courtesan), and eventually a royal concubine of Prince Yeonsan (1476-1506), one of the most notorious leaders of Joseon.
Throughout the 75-minute non-verbal show, audiences will learn how this commoner seized power through a brilliant execution of dance and expressions. If you are into period dramas, you’d definitely enjoy this masterpiece as much as we did.
There are subtitles in English, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese on the TV screens placed at the side of the theater, which helps in understanding the story better. For those who are interested, showtimes are available every Tuesday to Saturday at 4pm – book yours here to enjoy free seat ticket upgrade from July to August!
Address: 43, Jeongdong-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul
Tel: +82 2751 1500
Operating hours (Customer Service Center): Mon 9am-6pm | Tue-Sun 9am to 9pm
Getting here: City Hall Station (Line 1 & 2, Exit 1/2/12) — Follow the stonewall path along Deoksugung Palace and you’ll be able to see the Jeongdong Theater on your right.
2) Visit a Local Night Market
Visiting a local night market is one of the ways to experience the Korean local culture and activities. Every year, the Bamdokkaebi Night Market returns to Seoul at several locations, where visitors can get a taste of the Korean culture through various hands-on activities, as well as enjoy a plethora of street food offered here.
Selected as Seoul’s most popular seasonal festival in 2017, the Bamdokkaebi Night Market attracted over 5 million visitors at 6 different venues. This year, the Night Market is situated at 5 venues: Yeouido Hangang Park, Banpo Hangang Park, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), Cheonggyecheon Stream, and Oil Tank Culture Park, where each location features various zones such as the Food Zone, Handmade Zone, Event Zone, and more.
Operating only during the weekends from now till 27 October 2019, one can look forward to a variety of food trucks that offer delicious street snacks, open market with unique handmade items, busking & cultural performances, as well as fun events happening at the various night markets.
Here’s a look at this year’s Cheonggyecheon Time Tour Market, which sees relatively more tourists because of its popular location. To find out more about other Night Market locations, click here.
Location of Cheonggyecheon Time Tour Market:
Operating Hours: Every Saturday, 5pm to 10pm & Every Sunday, 4pm to 9pm (Last date of operation: October 27, 2019)
Address: Gwangtonggyo Bridge area at Cheonggyecheon Stream, 14, Seorin-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Getting here: Gwanghwamun Station (Line 5), Exit 5 | Jonggak Station (Line 1), Exit 5
Other Locations: Click here to find out more!
3) Immerse Yourself in Korean Art
Learn how to appreciate art and culture better when you visit an art studio in person! What used to be an elementary school in PyeongChang, Gangwon-do, has transformed its spaces into the now-operating Mooee Arts Center that is filled with state-of-the-art sculptures, ceramics, paintings and calligraphies by well-known local artists.
Over here, navigate yourself around to explore the various art zones which include an outdoor sculpture park and open studios filled with exhibits of unique calligraphies and sculptures. You can also find a series of buckwheat flower oil paintings by renowned artist Jeong Yeon-seo, who is the head of the arts center.
If you’re lucky enough, you might even bump into the owner of the paintings himself and learn how to personalize your own pressed flower necklace or accessory! Simply inquire over the counter at the ticketing booth to find out whether the class is available on the day of your visit.
Address: 233 Saripyeong-gil, Bongpyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do (강원도 평창군 봉평면 사리평길 233)
Tel: +82 3333 56700
Opening hours: (Mar-Oct) 9am to 6:30pm, closed on the 1st & 3rd Monday of each month | (Nov-Feb) 10am to 5pm, closed every Monday
Admission fee: ₩3,000 (5 to 65 years old) | ₩2,000 (Above 65 years old) | Children below 5 years old enter for free
Getting here: From Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, take a bus bound for Jangpyeong Intercity Bus Terminal. Afterwards, take Bus No. 43 and alight at Mui-ri Bus Stop. Walk for approximately 10 minutes to reach the arts center.
4) Walk Through the Korean History
Ever curious about how the North Korea territory looks like? Or why Korea was divided into North and South? For those who always want to learn more about North Korea and its fascinating history, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) Tour is a highly informative tour that brings you to historical sites such as the Odusan Unification Tower, Dorasan Station, Imjingak Park, Dora Observatory, and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.
Delve into the history of Korea and get to see views of the North Korean territory from atop the Odusan Unification Tower and Dora Observatory – It is a sight to behold!
There are also observatory points located at the Imjingak park near the demilitarized zone in Paju, the border city between North and South Korea. Established in 1972, Imjingak Park lies on the south of the DMZ and represents the hope for future reunification.
Over here, visitors can find the historic Freedom Bridge that symbolized the “return to freedom” for 12,773 prisoners of war, who returned in 1953 after the signing of agreement that ended the Korean war. Standing firm at 83m long, 4.5m wide and 8m high, the bridge was made up of wooden structure reinforced by steel and held a deep significance in the history of Korea.
The DMZ tour also stops at the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, a secret passageway built by North Korea in the past for the purpose of invading South Korea. Traces of coal could be found along the walls in the tunnel and it was said that the North had tried to disguise the passageway as a coal mine to ease any form of suspicion.
Visitors are allowed to enter the tunnel after locking up all their belongings away, including cellphones because no photography or videography is allowed inside. While going down the inclined route in the tunnel may be easy, walking back up the slope is more challenging. Overall, it is an interesting and eye-opening experience, but the walk may not be fit for elderly people with difficulties in walking.
This tour is mainly accessible via group tours and it is extremely insightful for visitors to gain more depth of Korea’s history. For those who are interested, you can book yours here.
This post is brought to you in collaboration with KTO Singapore.
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You can call her a k-drama guru 😉