Not only is South Korea well-known for its culture, natural sites and entertainment, but it is also a country that leads in high-speed internet and advanced information and communication technology infrastructure.

Thanks to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), tour operators and media representatives from Thailand had the opportunity to take an exciting five-day tour of five cities in South Korea — Seoul, Yeosu, Suwon, Daegu and Incheon. Throughout the visit, we explored various aspects of advanced technology and tourism.

During the Covid-19 lockdowns, technologies such as virtual tours were developed to entertain people who were confined in their homes. Following the pandemic, the demand for online tools has grown. As a result, the Smart Tourism City Project was born, a collaboration between KTO and local governments of several cities, including Yeosu, Suwon, Daegu and Incheon.

These cities aim to provide tourists with unique experiences through the convergence of resources and technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), gamification and interactive elements. Each local government has developed its own app such as Yeosuen, Touch Suwon, Daegu Trip and Incheon Easy. These apps provide information that helps travellers plan their activities, reserve accommodation, book transportation and review cafés and restaurants. In addition to apps, the cities enhance the tourist experience with AR and VR images at certain locations as well as other services such as chatbots and mobile tourism apps.

MINT D is an autonomous driving system for transportation and logistics delivery. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Unfortunately, Yeosuen is not available in Thailand. To download the app, iOS users are required to create a new account in Apple’s App Store as a resident of an English-speaking country. I tried to download the app on a Samsung with the Android 14 operating system, but received the following message: “This app operates on an older Android operating system and cannot be used on your device.”

Among the five cities we visited, Yeosu was my favourite because of its spectacular beach landscape and beautiful weather. Kim Sun-kyung, our tour guide, told me that Yeosu was at the top of her list of cities she would like to live in after retirement. Besides captivating views, Yeosu, as part of the Smart Tourism City Project, has the perfect combination of nature and advanced technology.

Tourists can travel from Seoul to Yeosu by taking the Korean Train Express, which takes approximately three hours. Our first destination in Yeosu was Multiverse Planet, which is operated by Spring Cloud, a self-driving mobility service provider. At the Multiverse Planet, there is a playground area which allows visitors to experience future models such as robot autonomous vehicles and drones.

MINT D is an autonomous driving system for transportation and logistics delivery which can carry a maximum load of 500kg. OperaKIT is a hardware platform used in electric vehicles that enables autonomous driving features. It includes LiDAR, a camera, a GNSS Global Navigation Satellite System sensor, and an embedded controller. It is designed to be installed in purpose-built vehicles and helps with tasks like recognising objects, making decisions and controlling the vehicle. LiDAR is a core component of autonomous driving. Light waves bounce off objects and return to a sensor functioning like human eyes to detect objects close to the vehicle.

Visitors can enjoy controlling drones and robots at Multiverse Planet’s playground. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Visitors can also enjoy controlling drones and robots or compete against another team. Alongside the robotic machines, there is also a smart farm in a small greenhouse space operated by MANNA CEA. Basil is grown by using LEDs as a substitute for the Sun and cultivated with nutrient-rich liquid. Before leaving Multiverse Planet, we all enjoyed vanilla ice cream served by a robotic arm.

Arte Museum Yeosu is a captivating blend of art and technology where visitors will be mesmerised by the immersive media art exhibition inspired by nature. With admission fees ranging from 8,000 to 17,000 won (215 to 460 baht), the museum offers a remarkable immersive media display that showcases the marvels of nature, incorporating light and sound into the experience. The exhibition is divided into 10 rooms, each presenting different themes of nature.

Many visitors spend a long time at the Beach room where they can immerse themselves in the sound of waves crashing against the shore and experience the illusion of sea waves rushing towards them.

In the Star room, visitors are surrounded by numerous lamps which alternate colours. The Moon room, with its huge rabbits illuminated in white light, creates a serene atmosphere. Visitors who appreciate art will have a great time drawing fish at the Life Sketch Book. After placing their drawing in a machine, their fish will swim on the giant screen alongside other aquatic creatures. Garden and Whale were two of my favourite rooms. Garden depicts wildlife in a forest within a large room, while Whale presents the sound and image of a whale in an ocean within a small room. Both exhibitions made me feel small. Personally, I believe that nature is the greatest creator and nothing is greater than its beauty.

An immersive digital exhibition at Arte Museum Yeosu. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Taking a cable car ride provides an excellent opportunity to admire a breathtaking view of Yeosu. Despite my acrophobia, I still enjoyed the spectacular view and ride since the cable car moved steadily and slowly.

Visitors can take Subway Line 1 from Seoul to Suwon, which takes approximately 1.5 hours. Before visiting Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of samgyeopsal (grilled belly pork) at Heodam Pork Grill Hanjeongsik. The palace has been featured as a film location in popular TV dramas like Moon Embracing The Sun (2012), Rooftop Prince (2012) and Dae Jang Geum (2003). The surrounding area is a charming neighbourhood adorned with mural art and cute stores. Prior to entering Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, we had the pleasure of witnessing a martial arts performance which was also used as a practice drill by the royal guard troop.

At Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, our tour guide Sun-kyung told us the tragic story of Crown Prince Sado, the second son of King Yeongjo of Joseon. King Yeongjo, being the son of a concubine from a lower class, had experienced pressure himself and therefore, tried to push his son, Prince Sado, to be perfect. Poor Prince Sado never received a compliment from his father, but was often humiliated by the king, even in public. Under such pressure, Prince Sado developed a mental illness, attacked many people in the palace and eventually murdered one of his consorts. In a horrifying turn of events, King Yeongjo ordered the 27-year-old Prince Sado to be locked in a wooden rice chest and left him to starve to death.

Wildlife in the Garden room. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Hwaseong Haenggung Palace also served as the temporary residence for King Jeongjo, the son of Prince Sado, whenever he visited his father’s nearby tomb. Within the palace, there is a wooden rice chest which visitors can enter to experience how Prince Sado felt.

After touring the palace, we boarded the XR Bus Memory To 1795 ride which transported us back to the year when King Jeongjo travelled to Suwon Hwaseong Fortress to visit his father’s grave in Hwaseong. This journey coincided with the 60th birthday celebration of King Jeongjo’s mother, Lady Hyegyeong. During the eight-day royal procession, King Jeongjo allowed people to freely approach and observe the procession.

As we rode the bus, the windows transformed into screens displaying an animation with an English soundtrack that narrated the story of King Jeongjo, his royal procession, his memory of Prince Sado and his witnessing of Prince Sado’s horrific punishment. The animation also highlighted the advanced science and technology of the Hwaseong Fortress construction, a structure made of piled stones and bricks.

Riding the bus around the palace made us feel like we were following the same route that King Jeongjo and his royal procession once took. A free ride, the XR Bus offers the perfect journey and an excellent example of the Smart Tourism City project, which seamlessly combines technology with historical storytelling.

This is the first of the two-part Korean Smart Tourism City series which explores the cities of Yeosu and Suwon. The remaining cities will be covered in the next episode.

The cityscape of Yeosu from the cable car ride. Main photo: Sarawuth Jitchuen

The ‘Touch Suwon’ app provides information about the city to tourists. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Samgyeopsal (grilled belly pork). Suwitcha Chaiyong

Hwaseong Haenggung Palace. Suwitcha Chaiyong

The windows of the XR Bus Memory To 1795 transform into screens displaying the story of King Jeongjo. Suwitcha Chaiyong

OperaKIT was created by Spring Cloud. Suwitcha Chaiyong

A smart farm operated by MANNA CEA. Suwitcha Chaiyong

The Beach room at Arte Museum Yeosu. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Colourful lamps in the Star room. Suwitcha Chaiyong

Yeosu at night. Suwitcha Chaiyong

The area surrounding Hwaseong Haenggung Palace. Suwitcha Chaiyong

A martial arts performance. Suwitcha Chaiyong

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