Korea Opens its Gates Wide to the World

Korea recently made newspaper headlines when President Kim Dae-jung was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize. Called the Nelson Mandela of South Korea, President Kim’s efforts to reestablish peaceful coexistence with North Korea resulted in the first top-level contact since the peninsula was divided at the end of World War II.

This historic reconciliation is great news for tourists planning to visit Korea. Previously, foreign visitors could only glimpse North Korea on tours to Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Now, they can travel to North Korea’s scenic Mount Kumgang’s “12,000 peaks region.” Three luxury cruise ships depart year-round from South Korea’s Tonghae port, on the southeast coast.

Last year, 4.7 million tourists visited Korea, which included 50,678 from Canada. In order to further encourage visitors, the Korean government has designated next year as Visit Korea Year 2001. “This is our way of announcing that Korea is opening its gates wide to the world,” said President Kim Dae-jung. “I invite everyone to Korea, a harmonious East Asian country, characterized by an ancient cultural tradition and scenic natural beauty. I hope that Visit Korea Year 2001 will lay a foundation for the success of the 2002 World Cup and Asian Games,” he said.

2,001 Prizes for Visitors

A variety of cultural, sports and tourism events will be held throughout Korea in 2001, along with contests and special promotions. The official mascots of the year are Chorong-i and Saektong-i, two cute children in Korean dress, carrying the traditional chongsachorong (lantern) to welcome visitors.

Of special interest to visitors is the year-round Welcoming Celebration at Kimpo (Seoul), Kimhae (Pusan), Cheju and the new Inchon International Airports. Each month, from January to November, 180 lucky visitors will win prizes ranging from ginseng tea to round-trip air tickets. An additional 21 names will be drawn in December, bringing the total number of winners to 2001.

Lovers of art and culture should attend the Cheju World Festival for Island Cultures, held May 19 to June 17, on Chejudo. Korea’s largest island, Chejudo dangles like pearl pendant 100 kilometers off the southern tip of the country. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet the people from 50 islands, around the world, and enjoy folk performances by costumed dancers, traditional music and displays of foods, crafts, and products.

From April 28 to May 6, the International Olympic Fair in the Korean capital, Seoul, will feature both cultural and sporting events. Among the highlights are a reenactment of a traditional Korean wedding, street parades, an international folk festival, a sportswear show, cycling races and opportunities to obtain autographs from sports stars.

Ironman Asia Triathlon

Sports fanatics will not want to miss the World Taekwondo Festival, held July 11 to 20, in Chungchongbukdo province, halfway between Seoul and Taejon (site of Expo ‘93). Some 2,000 practitioners will participate in this martial arts festival, which was a medals event at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Visit Korea Year 2001 will also feature other sports including swimming championships, paragliding competitions, the Ironman Asia Triathlon, volleyball contests, the Korea Grand Prix and amateur skiing contests at ski resorts in winter.

There are many events for music lovers, as well. Pusan (Korea’s southeast coast port city) will host an International Film & Music Festival from September 27 to October 25. Visitors will also enjoy singers, dancers, drummers, and musicians, in colorful costumes in Chonju (Korea’s seventh largest city south of Seoul, on the Honam Expressway). It showcases the World Sound of Music Festival from October 20 to November 14.

In April 1999, Queen Elizabeth visited Andong Hahoe Village to view its well-preserved, thatched-roofed peasant houses and tiled-roof noblemen’s villas. During Visit Korea Year 2001, the village will host the Andong Mask Dance Festival from October 5 to 15. Originally, masked dances were rituals to exorcise villages from evil spirits. Later, professional actors traveled from village to village, using the stylized dances to satirize the elite classes. Hahoe Village, one of the last vestiges of old Korea, is the perfect setting for these musical dance dramas.

Food Festivals Galore

No visit to Korea is complete without enjoying its diverse cuisine. Although tourists can sample pulgogi (barbecued beef), kimchi (spicy pickled vegetables) and dozens of seafood, noodle and rice dishes at Korean restaurants, gourmands will want to visit the World Food Festival October 18 to 29. Held in Kwangju and Chollanamdo province, in southern Korea, the event features plenty of cooking and tasting opportunities.

Ginseng is Korea’s best-known food / medicine. The World Ginseng Festival will be held from August 25 to September 3 in Kumsan (just south of Taejon, in central Korea). Besides viewing a Miss Ginseng beauty pageant, a lantern ceremony and a mask parade, visitors can participate in the ginseng harvest and preparation. After sampling dishes like chicken cooked with ginseng, they can shop for medicinal herbs and other health foods.

Shopping Discounts for Visitors

Shopping will be a highlight of Visit Korea Year 2001. In April, more than 200 stores will offer discounts of 10 to 60 percent to foreign visitors. VISA card holders will receive additional savings. Nonresidents, who make purchases greater than US$ 40 at Tax-Free Shopping outlets, can request a refund of the 10 percent Value Added Tax.

“In addition to its many special events, Visit Korea Year 2001 offers tourists the opportunity to tour its many attractions, from folk villages and beautiful temples, to scenic lookouts and colorful markets. Best of all, it will enable visitors to meet the friendly Korean people who will undoubtedly welcome them with smiles and open arms,” says Mr. Jo Young Kim, director of the Korea National Tourism Organization’s Canadian office, based in Toronto.

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