Land of the Morning Calm

Posted on April 10, 2012

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Breathtaking mountainous scenery, pickled cabbage for breakfast, lunch and dinner, public toilet stalls set aside for ‘foreigners only’ and an annual mud festival – South Korea is one of the most incredible, as well as one of the strangest places I’ve ever holidayed.

The Republic of Korea is the southern tip of the only divided country in the world. Yet while still technically at war with the north, the people of South Korea are among the gentlest, kindest and most welcoming I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I’ve never felt safer abroad.

Children happily travel alone after dark and on the subway because it really is that safe. Crime rates are staggeringly low, and you can see it. It’s the kind of place where you could turn your back on your handbag, and expect to find it exactly where you left it. Bikes, umbrellas and shoes are left unattended all the time – theft is simply unthinkable. Whether this is because South Koreans are genuinely saintly, or comes as a hangover from the totalitarian regime of the north and a prevalence of CCTV surveillance, I don’t know. Perhaps a bit of both.

Formed after the Armistice Agreement in 1953, the demilitarised zone definitely represented a peak in the bizarreness of my holiday. Straddling two warring Koreas, and acting as an ever-present reminder of the ongoing conflict between north and south, the heavily armed slice of land is an unlikely, but successful tourist attraction. It’s also an accidental breeding ground for all kinds of rare ecosystems and wildlife. Untouched for years, the DMZ houses wetlands, forests, mountains and rivers as well as 200 species of bird, 52 species of mammal and reported sightings of Siberian tigers and leopards.

Had I not been visiting a friend who was teaching English in Daejeon, I probably never would have thought to visit South Korea. And I would have missed out. With affordable high speed trains to whizz you from one end of the country to the other in a matter of hours, very few tourists and magnificently sculpted landscapes at every turn, it’s one of the best trips  I ever made.

I only wish I had a better camera at the time, but hopefully I’ve managed to capture some of the wonder that is the Land of the Morning Calm.

All photos copyright Claire Shropshall

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Posted in: Photography