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South Korea: Attractions

South Korea's UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Jongmyo (Royal Tombs) -- The oldest Confucian royal shrines left in the world are housed in the Jeongjeon in Seoul. Originally built in 1395 (during the reign of King Taejo), the Jeongjeon had seven rooms and was one of the longest buildings in Asia at that time. More and more rooms were added until there were a total of 19 shrine rooms -- one to house memorial tablets for each of the Joseon kings. Destroyed by invading Japanese forces during the Imjin Waeran (1592-98), a new complex was rebuilt in 1601. Each of the rooms is simple in design, as is standard for Confucian shrines. Memorial ceremonies are held here every year, usually on the first Sunday in May.

Changdeokgung -- The best preserved of Seoul's palaces, it dates to the 15th century. The Biwon, or Secret Garden, is an elaborate flora lover's dream, located behind the main palace in the back of the complex, and is a must-see.

Haeinsa and the Tripitaka Koreana -- This lovely temple on the slopes of Gayasan houses the Tripitaka Koreana, the world's most complete collection of Buddhist scriptures. Engraved in Chinese script on over 80,000 wooden blocks, the birch-wood blocks date from 1237 to 1248. The temple is located in Gyeongsang-do and can be easily accessed from Busan or Ulsan.

Seokguram and Bulguksa -- The Seokguram grotto is part of the Bulguksa temple complex in Tohamsan, just outside of downtown Gyeongju. Built in the 8th century, this Buddha statue and its surrounding Bodhisattvas and arhats (Buddhist saints) are impressive in their domed grotto.

Gyeongju -- The entire city of Gyeongju, the former capital of the Shilla Kingdom, is a historic sight. It includes temples, palace ruins, royal tombs, pagodas, Buddhist art, and the world's oldest observatory.

Hwaseong -- This large 18th-century military fortress once surrounded the city of Suwon. Built to protect the tomb of King Chongjo's father, it still sits majestically overlooking the now-modern city.

Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites -- The hundreds of dolmen (stone tomb markers) found at the prehistoric burial grounds near Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa, are the largest concentration of such dolmen in the world.

Jeju-do and Lava Tubes -- On the volcanic island of Jeju, there are a number of natural lava tubes originating from the Geomunoreum volcano. Also part of the natural heritage designation is Seongsan Ilchulbong, a peak formed by a volcanic eruption about 100,000 years ago.

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