Tourists see some festivals, rituals for the first time
South Korea is celebrating 1998 as the 'Year of Historical and Cultural Tourism' with a host of festivals, rituals, sporting events and performances welcoming tourists for the first time.
Both serious runners and joggers from Hong Kong are being invited to join the Cherry Blossom Marathon on April 11 in Kyongju.
Five and 10-kilometre races, a half-marathon and the full marathon will be run over one of the world's most delightful courses, with packages being organised by the local agency, Travelux Ltd.
'In the past, we have welcomed Japanese runners, who enjoy the cherry blossom,' Hong Eun-mee, assistant director at the KNTO in Hong Kong, said.
'But we are sure many athletes from the SAR will enjoy the event as well.' The Tulip Festival, from April 1 to May 10 at Seoul's Disneyland-style entertainment complex, Everland, is another attraction. There are five different theme parks as well as a speedway and 'Caribbean Bay', the world's first indoor and outdoor water park with its own surfing pool and beach.
Those who prefer to experience the monastic lifestyle can visit Seoul's Pongwonsa Temple, which will be opening its doors to visitors for the first time and featuring a re-enactment of Buddha's teachings and a Buddhist 'dining ceremony' every weekend.
Another 'first' is the promotion of tours to South Korea's own version of the Miracle of Moses - a dramatic but relatively unknown tidal phenomenon which parts the sea at Chindo Island twice a year, from April 7 to 9 and from July 20 to 22.
More than 100,000 Koreans traditionally converge on the island for the Yongdungje Festival to take part in shamanistic ceremonies and walk across a 2.8-kilometre 'land bridge' created by the freak of nature.
It involves a 50-minute flight to Mokpo, close to the Korean Peninsula's southern tip, followed by a two- hour bus ride. The only accommodation is in traditional yokwan inns.
The Poryong Mud Festival, from July 16 to 19, and the 'World Festival for Island Cultures', from July 18 to August 13 on Cheju Island, are also planned.
Meantime, five historic monuments are now listed by UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage sites. Three were listed in 1995 - the world famous Pulguksa Temple and Sokkuram Grotto in Kyonju, the Tripitaka Koreana wooden printing blocks at Haeinsa Temple, and Chongmyo, the royal ancestral shrine in Seoul.
Two more were listed by UNESCO this year - Changdokkung Palace in Seoul and the 18th century Hwasong Fortress, built on a rounded hill to defend the city of Suwon.