Korea has many distinct features which make it one of the most unique places to visit in the world. Ranging from the traditional and cultural forms of entertainment to the more relaxing scenic Autumn walks puts Korea in as a definite destination for any tourist willing to experience the true wonders of the art of history and nature. Of the four seasons which are so different and contrasting each in their own way, nothing can outshine the great splendour of leaves turning red and yellow:- making Autumn the best and most colourful time of the year for visits for many Australian tourists. Winter can be described as one of the most picturesque times in Korea, with snow draping the roofs but the weather is extremely cold and dry with temperatures frequently reaching below zero degrees Celsius. During Spring the temperatures become milder and flowers start to bloom, but in stark contrast Summer is not particularly a great time for visits with humidity levels reaching up to 70% and receiving the vast majority of the nation’s annual rainfall.

From Sydney the one single trip to Korea takes approximately ten hours. However although these ten long hours may seem boring and tiring at the time, you will be rid of any negative thoughts upon arrival and seeing the colour and beauty of the lively city domain. Not only that, but there are also interesting aspects of Korean history which unveils itself as you delve deeper and deeper into its profound extremes. Korean history dates back to more than five thousand years and Seoul, the city central of Korea, originates from the Chosun Dynasty from about six hundred years ago. Upon arrival at Inchon airport it would take you just one hour to reach Seoul, the heart of Korea, which was once the home of numerous rulers of the many kingdoms. It is beyond doubt that every step you take will lead you into a significant landmark and every sight you see will draw your attention, sometimes stirring up impressive thoughts and at other times inducing feelings of jealousy at the differences that exist between the quality of life then and now.

There are five representative ancient royal palaces in Seoul which heighten its cultural aspects:- Kyungbok Palace, ChangKyung Palace, Changduk Palace, Duksu Palace and Jongmyo Royal Shrine. Of the five listed above, Changduk Palace and Jongmyo Royal Shrine has been designated a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. Now let’s firstly enter Kyuungbok Palace, the construction of which was begun by Yi, the founder of the Chosun Dynasty in 1395. This palace served both as a residence for the royal family as well as the seat of the government until 1592 when it was destroyed by the great fire during the Hideyoshi invasions. For 273 years it lay in ruins until restoration took place in 1865. The Korean kings received guests at the throne hall known as Kunjongjon which encompasses all the character and style of the 16th century. Kunjongjon is a stone building which was architecturally designed to meet the majestic and dignified nature of the king’s status and reputation. It is a spacious two-storey building with dragon paintings on its high ceilings to symbolise the power of the king. However the most striking feature of the Kunjongjon is the vibrant and most stylish patterns engraved on the outer wall pillars. These patterns are characteristic of the unique beauty of Korea but the true splendour of the Kunjongjon’s architectural design originates from its curved roofs.

Like any of us today, the king had a separate bedroom to sleep in which was located towards the back of the palace in a more secretive and confidential area; only, he had quite a few to choose from:- one where he could sleep by himself, one where he could sleep with his queen and also others where he could sleep with his previous wives. (having multiple wives, was a common act in the Chosun Dynasty and was considered totally lawful in its rights to give birth to a son in order to continue on the family hierarchy.) The queen’s bedroom is like a charming dwelling which has a very important role in producing a son for the next generation. Thus, a background of mountains and the peaceful nature was artificially created as a symbolism of giving birth to many young. However, we shouldn’t forget that there were wives who received more love from the king and there were also those who received less. Not only this, but there would also have been many wives who were unable to give birth to an heir. Stepping through the different areas and discovering new things is deemed to bring you a huge mixture of feelings especially those experienced by the wives:- happiness, sadness, loneliness and disappointment.

Another essential feature of Kyungbok Palace is its beautiful gardens. There were two main regions ?a public and a private, both consisting of a calm and peaceful lake accompanied by a beautiful garden area. As you walk along the calm serenity of its natural beauty, you will find that it is difficult to not become overwhelmed and rapt in the vivid and striking magnificence of the white-lotussed lake waters together with the deciduous plants which undergo seasonal changes.

Apart from Kyungbok Palace there are also two other ancient royal palaces which are a must-see. Firstly, Changduk Palace which is the best preserved of Seoul’s main palace complexes was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site as of 1997. In Changduk Palace Biwon, (meaning ‘secret garden? which is located at the back part of the palace grounds, is by far the focal point of the tour. Its 32 hectare grounds comprise ponds, pavilions, ancient gnarled trees and interesting gates such as Pullomun which is associated with the traditional myth whereby passing under this gate is said to bring everlasting youth. Secondly, Jongmyo Royal Shrine is the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines to have been preserved. Dedicated to the forefathers of the Chosun dynasty, the shrine has existed in its present form since the 16th century and houses many tables bearing the teachings of members of the former royal family. Ritual ceremonies which link music, song and dance still take place there, perpetuating a tradition that goes back to the 14th century.

Now that you have been informed about the major ancient historical sites do you think that you have seen all there is to Korea? The answer is no. There are also numerous museums in Seoul such as the War Memorial Museum, the National Folk Museum and the Kimchi Museum but the best museum in Korea by far is the National Museum which holds a wide variety of Korean historical artefacts that originate from approximately five thousand years back. Now that you have seen the best of Seoul, do you think that you have seen the best of Korea? Again, the answer is no. Have you been to the city of Kyungju and experienced the one thousand year old history of the Shilla Dynasty? Or have you been to what is so called the ‘Alps of Asia??Sol’ak Mountain? What about the foreigner oriented shopping and nightlife area of Itaewon? What is your impression of Korea now? Wouldn’t is be somewhere you would like to come visit again? It is beyond all doubt that Seoul is the centre of all things, and for the visitor, it is the place to observe, encounter and come to terms with the sometimes chaotic, sometimes hectic but ultimately a nation with all the beauty and charisma which incorporates the superiority of both the past and present. A ‘Seoul which will remain in your soul?and bring back happy memories for many more years to come.