When the temperature dropped below 20C recently, South Korea was in its full autumn foliage season, which gives rise to visually stunning natural scenes. As our bus set out to Museum San, which is located in the town of Gyeonggi, I noticed that the trees had started to drop their leaves in preparation for winter, resulting in vibrantly yellow, red and orange hues on both sides of the winding hilly roads.
These breathtaking views might bring to mind romantic moments from K-drama series, which have made Korea a popular destination in the autumn. As part of the “Only In Korea, Especially For You” campaign, our media trip was a partnership between the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) and Krungthai Credit Card (KTC) to offer high-end holiday experiences that prioritise rich culture, opulent dining and premium health-related pursuits.
Tucked away in the heart of Oak Valley, Museum San is recognised for its simple but striking designs created by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Visitors can learn about the harmonious coexistence of art, culture and nature while observing seasonal variations in the surrounding scenery.
With the slogan “Disconnect To Connect”, a lengthy path leads to the Sculpture Garden, which is home to an awe-inspiring array of unique artworks set against a backdrop of a shaded pine forest. Visitors will be greeted with a lifelike bronze sculpture, Washwoman, squatting to do laundry. It’s a replica of the 1917 drawings by impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, which he produced in collaboration with his student Richard Guino to showcase his style.
Alongside is the L’Homme De Villetaneuse sculpture, a large thumb-shaped piece by French artist Cesar Baldaccini, who was an iconic figure in the Nouveau Réalisme movement. Crafted in the late 1950s, it’s a mixture of bolts, nuts, rebar and propellers to symbolise imbalanced beauty and is a satire on the industrial culture of the time.
Encircled by China pink blooms, the Flower Garden showcases a sculpture by Mark di Suvero inspired by the poem Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins and produced in the late 1950s. The top portion of the piece sways in the wind to create the impression of a bird soaring aloft and spreading its wings.
Huwon Secret Garden served as a haven of peace for kings and royal family members during the Joseon period.
After just a short walk, visitors reach the Water Garden and are greeted with the crimson, towering sculpture Archway, which was created by Russian-American artist Alexander Liberman, a former chief editor and photographer at Condé Nast. Twelve pieces of pipe, H-beams and a variety of industrial materials were used in its construction to symbolise rhythmic balance and variation, which alters depending on the audience’s position.
The main building stands in the middle of the Water Garden, giving the illusion that it’s floating on waves. The walls are formed of Paju stone and geometric structures represent the philosophy of earth, sky and humanity.
Inside, it houses the Paper Gallery, where visitors may experience a journey in time to the late Han era when Chinese eunuch Cai Lun dreamed up paper.
His paper-making methods were passed down to Korea through Buddhist scriptures before Chinese papermakers were seized in the Battle of Talas between the Arabic Abbsasid Caliphate and the Tang dynasty in 751 AD.
After that, Samarkand, (present-day Uzbekistan) developed its own paper in 757 AD and paper mills were established in Baghdad, Persia and Egypt before many European countries embraced paper-making technology. Replicas of the Spotless Pure Light Dharani Sutra, the Hollander beater — the first device to manufacture paper pulp, built in 1680 — and Nicolas Louis Robert’s roll paper-making machine — which could create wallpaper up to 150m in length — are on show.
Modern artworks and an exhibition on the history of paper-making are on display at Museum San.
Ascending the stairs reveals a unique assortment of intricate paper-crafted antiquities, such as a tablecloth, rain boots, a sewing box, a folding lantern, a hand fan and lanterns in various patterns. A selection of traditional jewellery and everyday items made during the Joseon era are also on display. On the ground floor, visitors can chill out at Cafe Terrace and sip roasted coffee or organic tea while admiring astonishing views of verdant mountainous landscapes.
After an hour-long drive from the museum to the town of Yongin, we pretended to be time travellers exploring the traditional Joseon-era way of life in the Korean Folk Village. Originally designed to be a living museum, the village has gained popularity as a film location. Local and foreign visitors come to see the locations for several popular K-drama series.
In accordance with feng shui, it has 200 traditional Korean-style houses lined by verdant seasonal plantations, all of which face the river and are framed by a mountain. In order to portray everyday life, a number of staff members dress in Hanbok and traditional period costumes and take on various roles such as nobles, villagers, vendors, street entertainers or farmers.
According to Joseon customs, people will stand in front of large stones and worship local deities for a safe voyage before passing the entryway. On the other side, the paths are surrounded with a cluster of carved wood pillars that serve as spirit houses for local deities who watch over the community.
Transported from different regions of the country, the classic Korean-style homes with their straw or tiled roofs are raised off the ground so that residents may light fireplaces to stay warm in the winter, while the lawns are lined with clay jars to make kimchi. The door is thrown open, allowing visitors to witness how people live, mill their rice and create everyday objects out of natural materials.
Myeongdong remains a popular shopping and dining destination.
Wandering about, visitors can take in more sights such as the provincial government office, educational institutions, a medical institution, religious buildings and a fortune-telling establishment. At the heart of the village, visitors may imagine that a group of men are congregating in a pavilion situated in the public park, while a troupe of local artists takes over an outdoor stage nearby to perform traditional Korean music and dance, as well as a comedic show narrating the Tale Of Chunhyang.
The next morning in Seoul, our trip began at the Sulwhasoo Dosan Flagship Store, which is situated in Gangnam district, where we enjoyed an 80-minute treatment that included sound healing, facials and shoulder massages to soothe our minds. Ideal for those wishing to pamper their skin in winter, this programme uses high-quality products that are tailored for preventing dryness, calming the skin and restoring its natural moisture balance. A white porcelain massager enhances the benefits.
After replenishing our batteries, we strolled to the nearby Dosan Neighbourhood Park, built as a tribute to Dosan Ahn Chang who devoted his life to improving Korea’s education system. Located on Dosan Boulevard, this almost 30,000m² park is home to 35 different types of native and exotic tree, making it the city’s green lung where residents and tourists can unwind during the day.
After lunch, we headed to Leeum Samsung Museum of Art in Itaewon, which is operated by the Samsung Foundation. Owing to time limits, we paid attention to the Traditional Korean Art area, which showcases a wide collection of astonishing artworks that reflect the rich historical and cultural heritage from prehistoric times to the Joseon Dynasty.
Changdeokgung Palace was contructed in the reign of King Taejong.
Starting on the 4th floor, we were taken on a journey back in time to the 12th and 13th centuries, when China and Korea were significant celadon makers. Goryeo celadon pottery was distinguished by intricate designs, a mysterious green glaze and a range of creative techniques. It was highly regarded for its craftsmanship and creativity.
The 3rd floor is devoted to a display of buncheong ware and white porcelain of the Joseon Dynasty with the theme “Journey Of White Light”, while the 2nd floor is adorned with a series of eye-catching paintings and calligraphy that symbolise the “Taste And Appreciation” of people from the past.
Under the theme “World Of Authority, Faith, And Splendor”, the 1st floor is a peaceful sanctuary filled with intricate Buddhist artworks, exquisite metal crafts and mother-of-pearl inlay pieces.
On our final morning, we visited the Changdeokgung Palace, which was added to the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites in 1997 to honour its exceptional architecture that fits well with the surrounding environment.
Erected by King Taejong in 1405, this is the second palace of the Joseon Dynasty before it was destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion of 1592. It was rebuilt in 1610 to serve as the primary residence for the 13 monarchs and royal families.
Injeongjeon Hall at Changdeokgung Palace formerly functioned as the throne hall.
Spread over 462,000m², the compound sits at the base of a mountain and houses Injeongjeon Hall, which once functioned as the throne hall for hosting various state events, coronation ceremonies and foreign receptions. The king’s bedroom and temporary workplace is located in Huijeongdang Hall, while Seonjeongjeon Hall served as the ruler’s council chamber.
Moving on, the Huwon Secret Garden was first constructed as a retreat for kings and other members of the royal family, but it is currently a popular spot for travellers wearing hanbok to take photographs against verdant scenery.
The park occupies nearly 60% of the royal palace and features the two-storey Juhamnu Pavilion, which King Jeongjo built in 1776 to be a royal library and reading room. Then, visitors can cross the Bulromun Gate, which is symbolic of longevity and health, to reach Aeryeonji Pond and Uiduhap Pavilion, which Crown Prince Hyomyeong built as a place for reading and study.
Upon leaving the palace, we went on Samcheonggak, whose complex of five hanoks has been transformed into a cultural centre so that visitors can experience authentic Korean cuisine and traditional performances.
We enjoyed hanjeongsik, a traditional Korean full-course dinner based on royal traditions that includes over 10 seasonal delicacies, such as seafood salad with abalone porridge; grilled abalone; and grilled fish served with clear clam soup.
Our journey would not have been complete if we had not visited Myeongdong to check out the newest winter fashion trends.
It is a hotspot for shopping, with hundreds of stores offering stylish clothing, skincare goods, and accessories from international and local brands, as well as food carts luring patrons in with an array of mouthwatering local delicacies and ice cream.
Long life and good health is granted to anyone who walks through Bulromun Gate.
Seonjeongjeon Hall was used as the ruler’s council chamber.
The Juhamnu Pavilion was constructed in 1776 by King Jeongjo as a royal reading room and library.
Uiduhap Pavilion was used by Crown Prince Hyomyeong for reading and studying.
The Korean Folk Village is a wonderful example of the traditional way of life.
Sulwhasoo Dosan Flagship Store offers a wide range of relaxing spa treatments. KTC PR
Leeum Samsung Museum of Art celebrates first-class Korean craftsmanship.
Dosan Neighbourhood Park.