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Korea is a unique country.  As an example, you will find a magnificently beautiful capital city where just hard-line party members are allowed to live.  This country also excludes the elderly and pregnant women, who must live in beautiful Paekdusan, which borders China.  However, Korea is a beautiful country with gorgeous national parks and amazing countryside.  The history of the Cold War also draws people in from around the world, eager to experience the long history and the current day beauty of this country. 

Historians estimate that the first Koreans were born around 2333 BC although some scientists insist their history dates back to around 30,000 BC when central and northern Asia tribes came to the peninsula.  Regardless, the tribes of Korea felt tremendous pressure from China so in the 1st century, the Koreans banded to create a kingdom called Sillia.  This kingdom was quite impressive, including pleasure gardens, pagodas, and palaces, which actually helped influence the culture of Japan. 

Then in the 13th century, the Mongols came to Korea.  When their empire collapsed, the Choson Dynasty took over control, developing a Korean script.  Then in 1592, Korea was invaded by the Japanese, followed by China at which time the Manchu Dynasty ebbed in.  With this, Korea closed itself off from the outside world until the early part of the 20th century.  At that time, the peninsula was annexed by Japan.  Interestingly, Japan did not want to let go of their control and even today, they have a strong presence in North and South Korea. 

When the war finally ended, the United States occupied the southern portion of the peninsula with the USSR taking over the northern region.  A young Korean officer by the name of Kim II-Sung was sent by Stalin, who trained the Red Army to take control of communizing the north.  He soon made his way in rank but when the south declared independence, North Korea invaded.  This war continued until 1953 and because it fell between World War II and the Vietnam War, it is often called the Forgotten War. 

Once this war ended, more than two million people had lost their lives.  Making matters worse, the north region of Korea was virtually destroyed by United States Air Force bombings.  It was at this time that the peninsula was officially divided but interestingly, North Korea’s economy actually developed and rebuilt much quicker than South Korea.  In addition, North Korea created industries, taking great strides in the social realm by offering clinics, schools, labor rights, recreation facilities, and food reserves. 

Sadly, the end of the war also brought significant strain between North and South Korea.  By the beginning of the 1990s, the leader, Kim was reverenced with portraits seen all over North Korea.  When he died in 1994, which was followed by an intense famine, the country did not waiver.  However, prior to his death, Kim put a hold on the nuclear program and met with South Korea’s president at a summit, which never occurred because of his death.  With this, his son, Kim Jong, brought in a new period for the Koreans.  For six years, he held his ground, refusing to meet any dignitaries.  Even so, with time Kim Jong finally broke down, leading Korea into a new era. 

Both Kim II-Sung and Kim Jong were great supporters of arts and culture.  Today, you can see many wonderful exhibits that include both traditional and modern pottery, paintings, sculptures, and architecture during tours.  Music is also a large part of modern day Korea, which has an emphasis on strings, much like China and Japan.  Folk dancing, monk dances, mask dancing, and spirit-cleansing dances called Salpuri, are also a very important aspect of the Korean lifestyle. 

When visiting Korea, you will have the opportunity to see impressive museums and Buddhist temples.  The food served in Korea is wonderful and abundant.  Typically, when on a tour, your guide will order the food for the group.  Most meals include staples of fish and poultry although you can find vegetarian dishes as well.  The drink that everyone loves is called Insam-Ju, which is Korean vodka infused with ginseng root although Korean beer is also delicious. 

Some of the great places to visit while in Korea include P’yongyang, Haeju, and Kuwalson.  In P’yongyang, you will have a unique chance to see the culture of Korea.  Build around the Taedong River banks you can enjoy wonderful mid-river fountains that spew high into the air.  There, the Tower of the Juche Idea is found, a needle on the east bank that stands 557 feet tall.  Another great aspect of P’yongyang is the Arch of Triumph, which is a memorial of sorts where Kim II-Sung rallied the people. 

Haeju is a lovely port city about two hours from P’yongyang.  There are beautiful sandy beaches and offshore islets.  Suyangsan is a mountain where a fort was built to include statues and slogans of Kim II-Sung.  Then, Kuwolsan has one of the most spectacular peaks anywhere on the west coast.  In addition, there are hot springs, old fortress walls, lush valleys, hot springs, and ancient shrines. 

Keep in mind that these are just a few of the places in Korea where you can visit.  For example, Kaesong is home to around 200,000 people but hit by many wars, there are numerous places in ruins.  Paekdusan is on the China/Korea border where an extinct volcano is found.  This area includes vast wilderness and a beautiful mountain peak.


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