Did you know that the Republic of Korea has 10 designated UNESCO World Heritage sites? Did you know that the Korea Tourism Organization gives free passports to collect stamps for these sites? (Do you already see where this is going?)
A few weeks ago, an acquaintance was moving away from Korea. (The farewells have been happening very frequently this summer!) She offered up her folder of Korea brochures and tour guides, and I jumped at the chance to go through the literature. Among the promotional pamphlets I found a brochure listing the UNESCO world heritage sites in Korea. My mind immediately leapt to the idea of checking off all the places on the list. I have always liked UNESCO sites, and Jared and I have stumbled upon so many through our travels. Jared was a history major, I have an old soul, and modern things generally confuse us. I have been tempted many times to buy books that feature all of the UNESCO sites, but the list is updated so often that it doesn’t seem practical.
Back to the original brochure. It was a little outdated (2011), and I wanted to see what other information the tourism organization had. When we were out in Seoul one day, I convinced Jared to stop by the KTO headquarters so I could browse through their pamphlets and see about places to visit in Korea. (Yes, Mom, I know that this behavior is shockingly close to what you would do.) I had expected to find an updated UNESCO site brochure. I did not expect to find the PILGRIMAGE TO KOREA’S WORLD HERITAGE SITES CAMPAIGN. (Chaucer knew the truth: “people long to go on pilgrimages.”)
KTO has put together an entire program to promote these special sites. At the KTO office you fill out a form stating how many sites you plan to visit. You are given a guidebook and a passport to complete your pilgrimage. The passport comes with a map of all the sites, a visa sticker to affix to your passport, and heritage stickers “to attach freely to a place of your choosing.” Each of the designated sites have a special stamp to use on your passport stating that you have visited. Once you have completed the campaign, you take your passport back to KTO, and they give you a pony. Ok, maybe not a pony. I don’t know what the gift is, but they give you something. I’m not too concerned with the gift, because it’s difficult for me to imagine anything better than collecting stamps in a passport.
You can choose your registration level based on how many sites you see.
Obviously, I’m going for Level 1.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites include:
Dedicated blog readers might recognize some of those places. We have already visited a few! Of course, we will be returning to Chandeokgung and the Suwon Fortress for our stamps. Also, Namhansanseong was just added to the list in 2014 and is not included in the pilgrimage; we have visited it multiple times (here and here). Also, the UNESCO website lists ROK as having one natural site- Jeju Island’s lava tubes. Been there! Some of these sites are lumped together in the UNESCO system, but are actually in different locations. For example, the Ganghwa Dolmen (large stone burial monuments) are located in the north of the country, but the Gochang and Hwasun Dolmen are found in the southwest. UNESCO considers them as all one cultural entity; I consider them as three separate challenges.
Oh my! It’s the best project ever. I’m ridiculously excited about it. We’ve already visited one of the sites since getting our passports (that will be the next post), and I am making itineraries for visiting the others. I was trying to describe this campaign to my friends, and one said, “this sounds like a very Bethany thing to do.” Since UNESCO sites are awesome and stamps are awesome, I heard that as, “that sounds like an awesome thing to do.”