What To Expect
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 - Breakfast
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, Insa-dong. It is 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 kilomter 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 - Yeoju - Danyang - Punggi - Andong - Breakfast
Your exploration begins with 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.
Next, 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).
Danyang is a charming city set in the beautiful surroundings. Here, you will see Dodam Sambong rocks representing the typical love triangle of ancient Korea: a husband, his wife and his mistress. Near the rocks is Gosu cave, known as the most beautiful limestone cave in Korea, formed about 400 million years ago. The cave is filled with intriguing shapes of stalactites and stalagmites formed by large quantity of flowing underground water and the consequent erosion. It is virtually an integrated exhibition hall of all imaginable cave resources.
Punggi has been famous for quality ginseng and apples. Visit Punggi ginseng market that has a good smell, better than it tastes. There are small stalls in the building type market, all of which has piles of fresh ginseng roots, ginseng preserved in wine in fancy bottles, dried ginseng, tea, extract, candy, and honey ginseng slices. There are also many shops along the street leading out from the painfully quiet train station. Street vendors sell flowers, fruits, food stuff and home grown grains and vegetables. All these features combined offer a rural ambience of Korea's remote town.
Your journey continues to Andong, the home of Korea's Confucian culture, and visit Andong folk museum offering in-depth information of traditional life and illustrating traditional Confucian culture. The museum exhibits a variety of legacies relating mainly to four cardinal ceremonies, coming of an age, wedding, funeral, ancestral memorial service, as well as dozens of pieces of pottery, utensils, clothing, farming tools and traditional folk games in small models.
Day 4 Andong - Songnisan - Breakfast
You will begin with the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hahoemaeul. Nestled in a bend of the Naktong River, it is the best preserved traditional village portraying and spanning the life of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). It is one of the few remaining examples of a classical Confucian village layout and some 480 Korean traditional houses, both large and small, are still fully functioning. Unlike many Korean villages where all the houses face south, the dwellings in this community are oriented in all four cardinal directions each capturing a unique aspect of the theatre beyond. Graced by raised gates representing the power and social status of the clan, the tile roofed Yangban houses stand serenely and impressively in the central part of the village.
In contrast, the thatched roof huts of the common people encircle them. You cannot possibly miss an old zelkova tree, the home to the village spirit. At the tree's base is where residents still make their wishes. The village is also known for famous Hahoe Mask Dance which gave common people the opportunity to mock those in authority, and in particular the Byeolsingut, a shaman ritual exorcising evil spirits, dating back to the ancient Goryeo dynasty (918-1392). Another striking topographical feature of the village is Buyongdae cliff that rises 64-meters. It is where at one time the ruling class would conduct a poetry meeting as a traditional fireworks display would pop and crack above the river. The village has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage for their cultural value. Queen Elizabeth II came to visit this village on April 21, 1999.
En route, stop off at the traditional workshop to get a glimpse into the world of hand-made paper manufacturing - a painstaking process which hasn't changed much from ancient times. Start with bark from the mulberry tree, then separate the bark from the fibers that would eventually be transformed into paper. After straining the pulp, adding some glue, drying the paper, and cutting or coloring according to need, they get a quality paper that is unique to Andong.
A pleasant two hour journey takes you to Songnisan national park, literally meaning an "escape from vulgar." Near the park entrance, you will see a 600-year-old pine tree, shaped like an open umbrella that is 15 meters high with a girth of 4.5 meters. This tree was granted a ministerial title when it reportedly lifted its branches in order to let king's palanquin pass in the mid 15th century. In recent years several branches were damaged by wind and snow, though what remains is still beautiful.
Visit Beopjusa temple dating back to AD 553. The temple boasts of three national treasures and numerous cultural assets. Palsangjeon that houses eight paintings of different stages of the Buddha's life is the five story wooden pagoda constructed in early 17th century, and is a very rare and unique Buddhist architectural structure. Gazing down at the Palsangjeon is a 33 meter high and 160 ton Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha of the Future. The giant iron pot whose diameter is 2.7 meters that may well had been used to feed 3,000 priests in the early 12th century is on display in the temple courtyard. A stone carved lantern supported by twin lions standing face to face is a rare example of the magnificent Silla sculptures. A stone water cistern shaped like an open lotus flower is considered unique for beauty and design. This stone lotus blossom from the 8th century is supported by a round short stone carved like a mushroom. Nearby are two stone pillars which once held the temple banner pole. An excellent carved relief called Maaebul also can be seen.
The temple holds a Dharma bell striking ceremony at sunset, and you will also have a chance to see it. The bell, which almost all Korean temples are equipped with, is one of the four Dharma instruments together with Dharma drum, wooden fish, and cloud-shaped gong. Hearing it reverberating through the universe, you will reflect upon the profound symbolism of the instruments. It is a great vow to save, or enlighten, the creatures in the universe including those on land, in the sea, in the air and in hell.
Day 5 Songnisan - Asan - Suwon - Seoul - Breakfast
With leisurely time to pack, on to Asan and explore Oeam village, one of the traditional clan villages exuding old and rustic charm. The village entrance is marked by stone bridge, pine forest and totem poles. This village with more than 400 years of history has about 70 traditional houses, and is highlighted by 6 kilometer long stonewall paths ringing the village and the amazing artificial water system that goes through the entire village for gardens and agriculture. As you stroll along the pathway, you will see thatched cottages and tile roof houses representing typical village layout of central Korea and at the same time feel the rural ambiance and peaceful atmosphere. Of the entertaining features of the village is Korean rice cake. The steamed glutinous rice prepared in advance is placed on the board, and the visitors are delightfully welcomed to pound hard on the white rice in turn with a mallet doing the same. When the pounding is done, you will get to cut it with the rim of a plate and is fully coated with finely powdered dried beans - the delicious does not seem to come so easy. Activities including traditional straw crafting, classical music performances, and house thatching demonstrations are some of the treats of the late October.
Next, explore Hwaseong fortress from the 18th century. Although relatively small in scale, it is well acknowledged as the best structure of its kind ever built in Korea. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its unique value, a 5.74 kilometer long fortress is parapeted with crenels and merlons and highlighted by four main gates, lofty observation towers, command posts, floodgates, sentry posts, gate guard platforms, crossbow platforms, beacon tower, and secret gates leading down to the dark labyrinths. The two remaining observation tower named Gongsimdon, meaning "tower with empty interior," are among the most distinctive structures among all facilities of the fortress. A walk through the whole fortress could take several hours but it is well worth making an hour's walking tour to enjoy the splendor of the fortress.
Your walking adventure starts at the Paldalmun gate that sits in the middle of a busy main road. Following the stairs up you will encounter with a lookout tower sitting on the turret that extends a short distance perpendicularly from the wall. The rampart runs on a flat terrain and you will see the area outside to the north and east. After the sentry post sits beacon tower with its five chimneys for making different signals with fire and smoke: one for peace time; two when the enemy has been spotted; three when the enemy is approaching; four when the enemy has made its way into the city; and five when combat has started. As you move on you will see more sentry posts, turrets, Changyongmun gate, a crossbow platform, a gate guard platform, an observation tower, a secret gate, and an exquisite L-shaped pavilion with an ornate roof. The pavilion stands on a hill with beautiful willow trees overlooking a lotus pond with an artificial islet. Below the pavilion sits northern floodgate, a stone bridge with seven arched sluices topped by an elegant open pavilion and brick-built parapet. After a short walk from here you will finally reach Janganmun, the north gate of the fortress.
Day 6 Departure - Breakfast
With time to reflect on your experience of Korea, transfer to the airport for our onward flight.
National Folklore Museum
Antique Shop Street
Andong Folk Museum
Full coverage of accommodation (sharing basis, 4* hotel)
Meals as per itinerary
Full coverage of transfers and transportation as per itinerary
Optional activity costs
Tips and gratuities
German, French, Spanish or Russian speaking guides are available at an additional cost
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5 days / 4 nights
2 days / 1 night