Gorgeous views, healing experiences
Enjoy natural beauty and nourishing feasts in South Korea
Besides being a haven for beauty junkies and fans of K-pop and K-drama, South Korea is also a treasure trove of natural and man-made wonders.
Located west of Busan, the Gyeongsangnam-do province houses numerous renowned mountain temples and boasts countless islands of various sizes that are praised for their picturesque scenery. It also grows high efficacy and quality wild medicinal herbs.
On my six-day trip in early June, I journeyed to six areas - Gimhae, Geoje, Sancheong, Tongyeong, Jinju and Busan, followed by an extension into the nearby metropolitan city of Daegu.
This is the birthplace of Gaya culture. I hopped onto a rail bike at the Nakdonggang River Rail Park and pedalled my way through lush greenery before being greeted by the city's beautiful river view.
After my mini rail adventure, I dropped by the Raspberry Wine Cave right beside the park for a taste of its famous fruit wine.
Within the cave, there was an array of trick art installations and sculptures which offer photo opportunities.
Before leaving the city, be sure to try one of its speciality dishes, Dakgalbi (spicy stir-fried chicken), which is accompanied with sweet potato, cabbage, rice cake, perilla leaf and other ingredients.
I was mesmerised by Korea's second largest island at first sight.
Surrounded by natural coasts lined with beach coves and pine forested cliffs, it is no wonder Geoje is often dubbed the "Blue City".
One of the highlights is Oedo Botania, a magical marine botanical garden popular for its magnificent view of the crystal blue South Sea and surrounding landscape.
But come prepared with a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
At the entrance of the garden, a steep hill awaits before you get to wander through the colourful fields of flowers and relive your K-drama fantasies by visiting the filming locations of TV series such as Winter Sonata and Hospital Ship.
What really blew me away, however, was the ferry ride en route to the garden.
The relaxing sea breeze and the stunning scenery of the rock formations along the Haegeumgang River, assigned an official green area in South Korea, made me want to stop time and soak in the moment forever.
Take a mini hike up the famed Windy Hill - featured in K-dramas and variety shows such as Garden Of Eve and 2 Days & 1 Night - and be rewarded with the visual feast of a Dutch-style windmill set against the golden rays of the sun.
Just 10 minutes from the hill is the Sinseondae Observatory.
While it certainly offers panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding islands, it took some effort to manoeuvre my way through the steep and rocky pathways before ascending to the highest point.
There were many firsts on this leg to Donguibogam Village, Korea's first medical theme park, which specialises in oriental medicine.
I visited the medical clinic, museum, Ki experience arena and medicinal food hall.
For lunch, I savoured a medicinal feast that was meant to promote longevity and well-being.
Consisting of superior wild vegetables and herbs such as white ginseng and raspberries from the mountains nearby, it was a nourishing experience not readily available anywhere else.
Gather positive energy from Baekdudaegan Mountain where three different rocks - Guigamseok, Seokgyeong and Bokseokjeong - reside. But the highlight was the 30-minute traditional heat therapy that helps to improve the circulation of energy and blood flow.
A tour of the museum, followed by a unique dress-up experience as a medical staff member from the Joseon Dynasty, not only enlightened me about the origins of Korean medicine, it also brought back memories of the classic 2003 K-drama Jewel In The Palace (2003).
Dinner was then served at the nearby Takjja Ori House where I tried ori bulgogi (grilled duck) for the first time.
But what completed this entire experience was a traditional hanok stay, where I slept on mattresses with an underfloor heating system.
I was initially sceptical about the comfort of the lodging, but it was a pleasant surprise.
* Check out the second of our two-part series on the Southern region, focusing on Tongyeong, Jinju, Daegu and Busan, on July 19. This trip was made possible by the Korea Tourism Organisation.