Day 1 Arrival in Seoul
Touching down at the ultramodern Incheon International Airport places us at the heart of Korea which is known as the Land of Morning Calm. After clearing immigration and customs, you will be met by a gracious tour guide and escorted to the hotel.
Day 2 Seoul
You will explore Korea's capital city that is full of rich heritage, culture, history and tourist attractions. Your exploration will begin with a driving tour of the city featuring sites such as the Gwanghwamun Plaza and a statue of Yi Sunsin, who had engaged in twenty-three naval battles against Japan and emerged victorious in all of them during the Hideyoshi invasion (1592-1598). The statue of King Sejong who propagated the Korean alphabet in the 15th century is honored with prominent statue in this plaza.
Visit Gyeongbok palace or Palace of Shining Happiness and see its magnificent gates, graceful architectures and lovely gardens, all directly inherited from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Built in 1395, the palace is a particularly charming spot that represents a colorful and turbulent side of the capital's 500-year history.
Standing majestically in the whirl of city traffic is Gwanghwadmun, the main gate of the palace. Following two other gates up, you will get to the Geungeongjeon, a throne hall where the king granted audiences to his officials, presided over large official functions and met foreign envoys. The two-tier edifice stands on a high platform reached by stone steps. At the center of the stone-paved courtyard that is fully enclosed by wooden cloisters is lined with two rows of rank stones, indicating the positions of the officials with the highest rank being closer to the hall and where the court officials are to stand. At the back of this hall is a group of three offices; Manchunjeon, Sajeongjeon, and Cheonchujeon where the king used to meet with his top officials. Gyeonghoeru literally Pavilion of Joyous Meeting, supported by 48 stone pillars set in a lotus pond, was a favored place for the King to entertain visiting dignitaries.
Gangnyeongjeon, a king's main residing quarters with its fourteen chambers, rests on top of a tall stone foundation while Gyotaejeon, the queen's domain with ten chambers sits in the back of the king's quarters. The noted feature of these buildings is an absence of a top roof ridge. You cannot miss Amisan garden landscaped with four hexagonal chimneys in orange bricks and decorative roof tiles, and artistic patterns of brick on the walls of queen's quarters which are seldom noticed by the hurried visitors. Jagyeongjeon is the queen dowager's residence. Although less colorful, it is worth noting the wall of Jagyeongjeon, adorned with floral designs and the chimneys with ten longevity symbols.
Hyangwonjeong features a small pond with a man-made islet that supports a beautiful two-story pavilion and is one of the famous sites in the palace. Behind this serene garden is Geoncheonggung, where the king and queen could relax in peace and quiet. It was here that the first electric lights in the country were installed and a tragic chapter in Korea's history was recorded in 1895 when empress Myeongseong was assassinated by the Japanese. Upon exiting the Sinmumun gate, you will take a few minutes to take some pictures in front of the Blue House, the executive office and official residence of the president of Korea.
Onto the National Folklore Museum showcasing cultural wealth of this friendly and picturesque nation - life and work, costumes and ornaments, handicrafts and technology, educations, living quarters, dietary life, oriental medicine, performing arts and games, beliefs and rituals, and socio-cultural life of the Korean people from the prehistoric age to the Joseon Dynasty.
Visit Jogyesa, the head temple of Jogyejong the principal sect of Korean Buddhism. It emphasizes the Zen orthodox, meditation tradition and maintains the purity of monastic celibacy. The temple does not give off the solemn and traditional air of the other temples located deep in the mountains, but when you enter the temple the frenzy of the city start disappearing letting you explore the main worship hall, pagodas and bell tower. The Main Worship Hall holds triad Buddhas, Sakyamuni, Amitabha and Bhaisajyaraja. The figure in the center is Sakyamuni Buddha who has overcome greed, hatred and delusion. While here it is worth noting the 500 year old lacebark pine and 400 year old locust tree that still grace the property.
Next is Insa-dong, the center of traditional Korean art and antiques. Clustered along the main street and alleys are numerous shops dealing antiques, oriental art supplies, and modern Korean arts of all types and styles. A number of galleries also vie for attention with their exhibitions of works by modern artists. Here, you will look for some souvenirs or simply wander and browse at leisure.
Drive past Cheonggyecheon, a 5.8 kilometer long creek that flows through downtown and under 22 little bridges. At the head of the stream stands a sculpture created by world-renowned artist Coosje Van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg.
Lastly, visit the centuries-old Namdaemun market where well over 11,000 shops selling anything you can imagine. Widely acknowledged as one of the Seoul's best tourist attractions, the market is seriously crowded, so be prepared to get bumped around. One of the most colorful aspects of the market is an endless sprawl of street-vendor stalls that setup in the alleys and walkways between the buildings. As you stroll through the market, you can haggle over the price to get the best deal on something you want or simply admire the vibrancy of this massive market.
Day 3 Seoul - Goseong - Hwajinpo - Geojin - Seoraksan
The day is quite packed. You will enjoy a pleasant journey across the picturesque countryside to Goseong. The journey continues to the most northern tip of the east coast. Less convenient to get to, the route offers much more pleasant countryside scenery and remote tranquility. Visit the Unification Observatory. It was established in 1983 to console pains of division, nostalgia and inscribe unification will. With the entry permit and sign to place in the vehicle window ready, you continue towards the north, driving past lots of tank traps sat on either side of the road, all a strange and eerie reminder of the tensions that exist between the two Koreas and the stark reality of the divided country. These structures will interlock and create a road block to prevent an advance of the North's tanks and artillery vehicles into the South. Here, you will get a glimpse of the much talked about border dividing the two Koreas and see the road and train track stretched ahead across the North Korea, and soldiers patrolling the beach as well as some nearby islands.
Next explore Hwajinpo, a charming coastal town located near the military demarcation line and by the scenic lagoon edged by sweetbriers and reeds, and visit Kim Ilsung villa. Situated at the foot of a small mountain by the beach, it is where Kim Ilsung and his family spent their summer holidays until 1950. When the Korean War ended in 1953, the border between the Koreas was redrawn, and the Hwajinpo wound up in the South. The villa displays photos of Kim Ilsung and documents chronicling his life and modern Korean history. The museum is not to glorify him but to show Korea's complicated modern history.
On to Geojin to explore an exotic fishing village. As you stroll, you will take in the view of boats sailing in and off, drying fishes in the sun, skillful hands repairing fishing nets and, on the sleepy roadsides off the dock, elderly women selling fishes - a delightful treat to a rural lifestyle.
Then, head on to the Seoraksan national park. The rugged peaks, fantastic cliffs, numerous waterfalls, unique rock formations, and scenic valleys altogether make this park and surrounding area some of the best scenery on the Korean peninsula, and give this area an unparalleled popularity around the year. The spring brings full of blooms and the summer creates lush green slopes and crystal clear streams tumbling over the cataracts. Fall changes foliage into brilliant colors and even in the winter, the snow blankets the hushed landscape, bringing serenity and a quiet beauty.
Day 4 Seoraksan
The word of the day is hiking of varying lengths and difficulty. Entering park and past one-pillared gate, you will see a huge Unification Buddha that was built to symbolize the Korean people's hope for reunification of the country. The statue sits on a lotus pedestal, which is flanked with 16 inscribed panels describing the entire path of Buddha's enlightenment. A little further on is Sinheungsa which claims as the Korea's oldest Zen temple that sits at a fork in the scenic trails. As your approach, you can hardly miss trail signs.
Following the left fork leads you to Cheonbuldong valley, the most impressive valley in the park, leading to Biseondae, Yangpok waterfalls and finally the peak of Seoraksan (1,708 meters). One hears many legends of the heavenly nymphs who come down to play at Biseondae while taking a bathe in the placid pools of the valleys that are hidden from the human eyes. You will follow the path along this valley which is most well-known for its breathtaking view.
Near Biseondae rises Janggunbong majestically and among the crags of it is Geumgang Cave with a tiny temple inside. The trail maintains a relatively gentle slope until reaching the base of this peak, where it immediately turns arduous as it heads up a very steep incline for 600m. Even though there are stairs with guardrail the climb up can still be steep and exhausting. You can scale only by carefully ascending the long, steep, metal stairs bolted onto the sheer cliff face. The hike, although hard, comes with a stunning view of numerous cliffy peaks and mountain valley.
The right fork is Ulsan Bawi trail. At the foot of the Ulsan Bawi sits Gyejoam hermitage from the 7th century in front of which on a spacious stone slab is a huge spherical rock called Heundeul Bawi. This rock is so perfectly balanced that it can be shaken with some effort, but nobody gets further than waggling it. Next, your adventure begins by climbing a steep metal stairs that angle up Ulsan Bawi, a 2.8 kilometer long ridge of naked, gray stone peaks jutting 873 meters into the sky from the rock's base.
Biryong waterfall trail is relatively easy for anyone to enjoy and you will see a very pretty waterfall at the end that is fairly unusual, long and thin. And for non hikers, there is a cable car that picks you up at the valley floor to the Gwongeumseong while enjoying the panoramic view of the entire valley. The peak is surrounded by cavernous drop-off cliffs, cloaked in more towering rocky summits. Definitely, you stand in awe on the top: sweeping panoramic views of the park around you, the Pacific Ocean, and the small beachside town of Sokcho. Be careful as always as there is not much room to move about and people constantly going up and down and moving around.
Among the recommendable trails from Sogongwon or park entrance (230 meters) are as follows and the given times are based on round trip starting and ending at Sogongwon in a relaxed pace.
1. Biryong waterfall (310 meters) (4.8 kilometers): 2 hours - Easy
2. Biseondae (334 meters) (6 kilometers): 2 hours - Easy
3. Biseondae + Geumgang cave (495 meters) (7.2 kilometers): 3 hours and 30 minutes - Easy + Normal
4. Biseondae + Yangpok (715 meters) (13.2 kilometers): 6 hours and 30 minutes - Easy
5. Heundeulbawi (797 meters) (6.6 kilometers): 3 hours - Easy
6. Heundeulbawi + Ulsanbawi (base elevation 810 meters) (7.6 kilometers): 4 hours 30 minutes - Easy + Normal
7. Gwongeumseong (800 meters) Cable car (3.4 kilometers): 1 hour (roughly four minutes each up and down)
After trekking, you will explore Daepohang. It becomes a great attraction when this small alley lit up. You will see a wide variety of fresh seafood harvested from the nearby sea and a number of small restaurants serving sliced raw fish. You will find something to enjoy, from simply feeling the ambiance of this small fishing port to taking picture.
Day 5 Seoraksan - Pyeongchang - Yeoju - Seoul
En route, stop off at Pyeongchang for a visit of the 7th century Woljeongsa temple. You are treated to a scenic drive along the Jingogae road creating wonderful colors as the season changes - Pink azaleas decorating the valleys, the thick forest and crystal clear stream water cooling off the summer heat, the fantastic autumn foliage putting on a brilliant show of color and the snow creating a sublime scenery. Enshrined in the Main Hall is a statue of Sakyamuni, but the more important statue is a Bodhisattva, 1.8 meters high, probably a Medicine Bodhisattva. Said to have been found in the Diamond Pond to the south of the temple, the statue is offering something. The head is covered with a hat, the face is long and the ears are slightly hidden by long hair. Around the neck there are three lines which are so beautifully carved hat they look like necklaces. The elbow is resting on the head of a young boy. Next to the Bodhisattva is an octagonal nine-story pagoda which stands 15.2 meters high and is representative of the many-angled, many-storied stupas of the Goryeo Period. Another amazing part of the temple is the 800-meter road arched by 1,700 tall fir trees. You will stroll the path listening to the trickles of stream and smelling the fresh yet musky fir trees.
On to Yeoju and visit Silleuksa, an unusual temple from the Silla dynasty (BC 57 - AD 935). Most Korean temples were built high in the mountains to avoid worldly noise and trouble. But, it is a rare temple that is perched on a riverbank amid an attractive waterfront whose cove forms a snug and cozy enclosure for this ancient sanctuary. The temple houses Amitabha Buddha, Samantavhadra, the Boddhisattva of Practice, and Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Judgement hall with Ksitigarbha and the ten kings of the Hell. Attending the kings are various servants and behind them are the pictures of the different hells with their tortures. Incense burning in the temple and sights and smells mixed offer visitors a really magical experience. To the east of the monastery is a hill on which a seven-story brick pagoda stands. It is a 9.4 meters high and is the only existing Goryeo brick pagoda (918-1392).
Lastly, Yeongneung. It is one of 119 royal tombs of Joseon dynasty. The tombs have different names of 42 Neung, 13 Won and 64 Myo, which were given based on the status of their owner. Yeongneung is a tomb of royal couple of King Sejong, who promulgated Korean Alphabet in the 15th century. This tomb is the first one to have separated rooms for each coffin inside. First, you will enjoy seeing the celestial globes, equilibrium sundial, armillary sphere, water clock, gnomon, rain gauge, and many other inventions by the king including a fascinating museum that features his life. The entrance to this tomb is phenomenal. You enter through an avenue of trees and climb up to the tomb. Near the tomb and all around it are life-sized statues of warriors and horses, put here to protect the King. UNESCO bestowed the honor to the 40 Joseon Dynasty Royal Tombs in Korea as World Heritage sites.
Day 6 Departure
With time to reflect on your experience of Korea, transfer to the airport for our onward flight.
- Gyeongbok Palace
- National Folklore Museum
- Antique Shop Street
- Namdaemun Market
- Unification Observatory
- Kim Ilsung Villa
- Geojin Fishing village
- Seoraksan National Park
- Yeongneung Tomb
- Full coverage of accommodation (sharing basis, 4* hotel)
- Meals as per itinerary
- Full coverage of transfers and transportation as per itinerary
- English-speaking guide
- Entrance fees
- Optional activity costs
- Travel insurance
- Tips and gratuities
- Personal expenses
- German, French, Spanish or Russian speaking guides are available at an additional cost.
- Rates for 3 pax and up are available. Please inquire.