South Korea: Seoul

With its misty mountains and hypermodern capital of Seoul, South Korea is one of the most exciting Asian destinations, a country that was devastated by the Korean War but quickly rebuilt itself as economic powerhouse, one of Asia’s four “tigers.”

With a unique cuisine, a tourism infrastructure that works well, and a people who welcome visitors, South Korea is a modern country with a deep history. Things are changing rapidly in South Korea, as old ways give way to a younger generation wired into the Internet, fascinated by gaming, and eager to promote the status of women in Korean society.

History runs deep in Korea. It was a unified and independent nation for 1,300 years until World War I, and of course today the divide between the prosperity of South Korea and the poverty of North Korea is enormous. But visitors can sense the tradition of the country by visiting Buddhist monasteries or viewing one of South Korea’s national treasures such as one of the “three jewels of Buddism,” the Haeinsa (Haynsa) mountain temple. There, the Buddhist canon–hand carved on to more than 80,000 wooden printing blocks—is a stunning sight. Called the Tripitaka Koreana, its words were carved in the 1200s and then the volumes stored in 1398 in the climate controlled storehouse at the Haeinsa Temple where they remain today.

That’s just one of the surprises to be found in South Korea. Put it on your bucket list.