Buddhist Lantern Parade, Seoul
Photograph by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Koreans carry colorful lanterns to celebrate the birthday of Buddha, the “awakened one.” No one knows the exact date or even the year of his birth, though tradition says it was some 2,500 years ago. Today, about a quarter of South Koreans identify themselves as Buddhists.
Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul
Photograph by Anthony Plummer/Getty Images
The guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace change frequently, as has much else since 1395, when a palace was first built on this central Seoul site during the Joseon Dynasty. The “palace greatly blessed by heaven” was destroyed by the Japanese at the end of the 16th century and again during World War II. Over the past two decades Koreans have been restoring Gyeongbokgung to its former grandeur.
Photograph by Arthur Meyerson/Aurora Photos
Adrift in a sea of green, workers pick tea leaves. Koreans typically drink green tea, traditionally the focus of an elaborate social and sometimes spiritual ritual. This ancient ceremony is becoming increasingly popular as a way to relax in the sometimes hectic world of modern South Korea.
Photograph by Alan Glockner, My Shot
Hangul has been Korea’s official script alphabet since the mid-15th century. But China and Confucianism had such a strong influence on the peninsula that many in Korea’s upper classes preferred Chinese characters until after World War II.
Namdaemun Market, Seoul
Photograph by David Lomax/Getty Images
Namdaemun Market, in the center of Seoul, is home to purveyors of pork products from whole hog heads to jokbal, a pigs’ feet specialty.
Photograph by Jason Teale, My Shot
In 674 King Munmu created Anapji Pond within the walls of Wolseong, the royal palace during the Silla kingdom. Surrounded by magnificent gardens, the artificial pond was made to look like a small sea, complete with islands and sailing ships; modern treasure hunters have retrieved some 30,000 Silla artifacts from its waters.
Photograph by Murat Taner/Getty Images
Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon was once a creek that flowed into the Han River, but after the Korean War it was buried under an elevated roadway. A project to rip out the road and restore the creek was finished in 2005, and water now flows through a protected corridor 3.6 miles (5.8 kilometers) long, forming an urban oasis.
Buddhist Scripture Tablets
Photograph by Per-Andre Hoffmann/Photo Library
Hoping the word would prove mightier than the sword, King Gojong sought divine aid against a Mongol invasion by ordering his subjects to carve the entire Buddhist canon into wooden blocks. The task took 16 years (1236-1251). Today the 81,258 woodblocks, the Tripitaka Koreana, are in remarkable condition. They’re stored in special buildings at Haeinsa, or “temple of a vast sea of meditation,” which is perched on the flanks of Mount Gayasan.
Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul
Photograph by Will Said, My Shot
The sprawling grounds of Seoul’s most prominent palace, Gyeongbokgung, cover 101 acres (41 hectares) and are dotted with ponds, gardens, courtyards, and a wide range of traditional Korean buildings.
Photograph by Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images
A pastor pauses amid a sea of protesters, some of the tens of thousands who turned out in the summer of 2008 to oppose any resumption of U.S. beef imports, which had been banned five years earlier to allay fears about mad cow disease. Later that year beef imports resumed.
Traditional Korean Celebration
Photograph by Alison Higham, My Shot
Performers take center stage during Chuseok, an annual three-day thanksgiving holiday. A harvest moon signals the start of the festival, celebrated with music, wrestling, dancing, and feasting. Koreans also honor their ancestors with a memorial service called charye.
Photograph by Michael S. Yamashita
Soldiers patrol the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which has divided the two Koreas since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. Around two million troops are stationed along the 2.5-mile-wide (4-kilometer-wide) DMZ, but the zone is off limits to nearly all humans and remains largely untouched. Conservationists say it may be Korea’s greatest wildlife preserve.
Photograph by Alicia Pudsey, My Shot
Rows of golden Buddhas silently welcome visitors to a Korean temple. Buddha was born in India some 2,500 years ago, and his faith reached the Korean Peninsula in A.D. 372, by way of Chinese monks. Koreans, in turn, helped the faith take hold in Japan.
Nat Geo Traveler All Access
Available in print and for iPad®! See destinations come alive with 360-degree photos, videos, and more!