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A Guide to Visiting South Korea, and the Country’s Impact on the Offshore Oil Industry

Located in the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula stretching into the Yellow Sea, South Korea has nearly 51.5 million people living in 38,691 sq. mi of mountainous range. The residents of the country have managed to build closely knit high rises to accommodate its heavily dense population, roughly 10 million of which reside in its capital, Seoul.

A view of Seoul, South Korea with the Namsan Mountain at its center.

Historical Landmarks

Home to technological innovations, architecture, history, K-pop and staple East Asian food such as the Korean BBQ, an abundance of various cultural attraction can be found in Seoul. Begin your morning with a stroll through history at the Bukchon Hanok Village, a 600-year-old preservation of what once used to be the residential quarter of government officials and nobility during the Joseon Dynasty in the 14th century. In its narrow streets and alleys, you will be surrounded by clusters of original Hanoks or traditional Korean houses distinguishable by its tile roofs and stone and brick walls.

Complement your trip to the Bukchon Hanok Village with some Samgyetang, an authentic, South Korean ginseng chicken soup served in many of the restaurants there. The dish consists of a rich and flavorful broth with a tender and moist chicken stuffed with sticky rice, ginseng, garlic and an assortment of various herbs. Not only is the Samgyetang delicious, it is packed with nutritional benefits.

Walking distance from the Buckshon Hanok Village is the Gyeongbokgung Palace, a must-visit location in South Korea for its rich historical context. Founded and built by the first king of the Joseon Dynasty in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace served as the main royal palace until it was destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion of the Imjin War (1592–1598) and again by the Imperial Japan in the early 20th century. Today the restoration of the palace to its original form is nearly complete and can be enjoyed by tourists and locals. Inside the palace are several halls and pavilions which visitors can walk inside to see the interior designs of the 14th century. Surrounding the palace are traditional guards dressed and equipped as they were during the Joseon Dynasty and a ceremony takes place each day between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm when the guards rotate shifts. Be sure to get there on time to catch the show.

Visitors entering the Gyeongbokgung Palace as guards in traditional garments keep watch.

Modern Tour Sites

For an experience of modern architecture, you can spend an afternoon at the Han River which flows through the center of Seoul. You can rent bikes or longboards and ride through the parks along the river for a view of the surrounding high rises and bridges. One building you may instantly notice is the 63 Square skyscraper (also known as the 63 Building), which encompasses an exterior made up of 14,000, 24-carat gold coated glass panes. Inside is an observatory deck accompanied by the world’s highest art gallery located on the 60th floor, a perfect spot for sunsets and after sundown when the city lights begin to sparkle. The observatory deck provides a 360-degree view of the Han River and its surrounding districts, allowing for visitors to truly see and appreciate the dense family of buildings that make up Seoul. You will also get the chance to view many of the 27 bridges crossing the Han River; see how many you can spot! For those thrill seeking, you can also visit the observatory deck on the top floor of the 1,821-ft, 123-stories tall Lotte World Tower on the South side of the Han River. The construction of the Lotte World Tower was completed in 2016 and is currently the fifth largest building in the world.

Busy streets and crowded buildings may be intimidating to some; however, it is the norm in South Korea and a big part of the culture everyone should experience. Take the subway to Hongdae in Seoul, a district heavily influenced by the nearby Hongik University and its prestigious fine arts college. You will hardly have a moment of silence as the streets are filled with artists and performers of all genres, as well as rows of shopping centers, cafes, art museums, Korean BBQ restaurants, karaoke bars, and clubs.

Busy streets of Hongdae, Seoul. Source:

South Korea’s Role in the Petroleum Industry

Since its partition in 1948, South Korea has developed into one of Asia’s most affluential countries. Amassing massive conglomerates such as Samsung and LG, today South Korea is the world’s leader in technology and is considered the most innovative country in the world. Much of this is credited to the country’s consistent dedication toward research and development as its capital investments in R&D are the highest in the world relative to national income.

South Korea has also become one of the world’s top importers of oil and gas, fifth largest in crude oil and third largest in LNG as there are no proven oil and gas reserves in the country as of today. Naturally, there are many large-scale refineries but only one exploration and production (E&P) company, the Korea National Oil Corp., owned by the government and operated across the globe. With such abundant technological capabilities and nearly non-existent number of oil and gas companies, where, if any, does South Korea make its footprint in the oil and gas industry?

The answer is offshore engineering. Founded in 1972, under the South Korean conglomerate, Hyundai Group, Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) leads the global shipbuilding industry. Boasting an impressive shipyard stretching over 2.5 miles along the coast of Ulsan (191 miles Southeast of Seoul) and the world’s largest offshore yard covering 292 acres, HHI has delivered more than 2,191 ships to 324 shipowners in 52 countries. Aside from serving as a “licensed National Defense Industrial Shipbuilder and engineering consultant” for the Republic of Korea Navy, HHI massively contributes to the offshore industry through production of offshore constructions such as floating units (floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) units; floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) ships; floating processing units; tension-leg platforms; spars; and semi-submersibles), fixed platforms (topsides, jackets, piles, modules, quarters), and pipelines and subsea facilities, all of which make offshore E&P possible. Here are some feats accomplished by HHI:

  • Delivering the then world’s largest Jacket, a fixed offshore platform supported by steel frames, in 1989 to Exxon

  • Delivering the Kizomba A FPSO in 2004 to ExxonMobil

  • Lifting North Rankin B, the world’s largest offshore platform, in 2011

  • Delivering the world’s largest cylindrical FPSO, Goliat FPSO, in 2015


Alongside HHI is Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and Samsung Heavy Industries, together known as the “Big Three” shipbuilders, which have accomplished feats of their own. In 2015, Daewoo constructed the world’s first LNG carrier featuring an LNG-powered engine, and Samsung has developed a new ship concept, FLNG, which allows for production of LNG at sea. Samsung completed the first FLNG, the Prelude, commissioned by Royal Dutch Shell and the largest offshore facility to ever be constructed, in 2017.

The first ever offshore LNG producing ship, Prelude, was built
by Samsung Heavy Industries for Royal Dutch Shell. Source:


In its short history of independence, South Korea has evolved remarkably as a nation, establishing a global position in economy, technology, and the oil and gas industry, allowing a rapid and tremendous growth of cities such as its capital, Seoul. The busy and intense streets of Seoul co-exist with the calm and refreshing nature of its mountainous range and the Han River, making it a unique destination and one that everyone should experience at least once. Dive into the history, enjoy the architecture, music, art, and as always, eat well.

Joon Lee recently graduated from the University of Houston with a BS in petroleum engineering and is working as a research technician at ExxonMobil in Baytown, Texas. Lee volunteers as a professional advisor for the science and engineering society, MAES, at the University of Houston and hopes to impact young college students in achieving their professional and personal goals. He can be reached through email.

[The article was sourced from the author by TWA editor Vikrant Lakhanpal.]



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