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. You 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.
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.
Next is a visit to 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 5.8km-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.
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 - Gyeongju - Breakfast
You will take a pleasant two hours journey on a speed train across the picturesque countryside to Gyeongju, an ancient capital of the Silla dynasty (BC 57 - AD 935), often dubbed as Museum without Walls. As leisurely make your way to Gyeongju, you will see Korea's fertile farmland, glistening brooks, sheltered ginseng farms, apple plantations and lovely rice paddies that together forming a patchwork of colors and ever-changing textures of the rural Korean life. Today, you are treated to one of the world's ten most historically significant sites with numerous relics from that era. Temple sites with weathered stone pagodas, royal tombs, Buddhist bas-reliefs, and fortress ruins are scattered throughout this ancient city.
You will begin with Bunhwangsa temple with 10 meter high three-storied rectangular pagoda, the main worship hall with Buddha of Medicine, and legendary well that is said to have saved the kingdom. The nearby open field was once occupied by Silla's largest temple Hwangyongsa. The 67 meter tall nine-storied pagoda made entirely of wood stood here until it was destroyed during the Mongol invasion in 1238.
Next, Gulbulsa site. Although the temple does not exist anymore, the site is more dominated with a rock carved with four sides of bodhisattavas and Buddhas. One single rock with its four sides of the 8th century sculptures is well preserved here. Medicine Buddha is in the east, Sakyamony in the south, Amitah in the west, and Avalokitesvara bodhisattva in the north.
Explore UNESCO world heritage site, Yangdongmaeul. It is a traditional village embracing a simple and unadorned natural beauty. Sheltered by forested mountains and facing out onto rivers and open agricultural fields, rustic tile-roof and thatch-roof homes line the hillsides and valleys in perfect harmony with the natural topography. Yangdong is a clan village which used to be a middle upper-class town during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Over 150 small and large houses and two shrines which were built according to the harmonious theory of Yin and Yang have been handed down from generation to generation in their original and elegant forms. They include the residences of the head families, pavilions, study halls, Confucian academies for learning, and clusters of mud-walled, thatched-roofed houses, formerly for commoners. Most of the houses are still occupied by villagers but some are empty, making it more comfortable for you to examine them. A walk through Yangdong will help you imagine the life of noblemen during the Joseon dynasty.
Day 4 Gyeongju - Breakfast
You will explore two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Seokguram grotto and Bulguksa temple which were both built during the glorious period of the Silla kingdom (BC 57 - AD 935). After taking a twisting ride up around eastern side of Tohamsan and about 10 minute walk through a lovely wood brings you to Seokguram grotto, the home of the serene stone Buddha of the eighth century. The basic layout of the grotto includes an arched entrance which leads into a rectangular antechamber and then a narrow corridor, which is lined with bas reliefs, and then finally leads into the main rotunda. Inside, a white statue of a seated Buddha, in a sublime state of enlightenment, is surrounded by 37 relief figures of Bodhisattvas, disciples, devas, and guardian kings. The Buddha image is sculptured in perfect proportion with stark simplicity while the garments were accomplished by shallow cuts. Curled knots of the head and the sacred jeweled spot on the forehead are evident but not conspicuous. The face is full and round with a comparatively small nose and clearly defined mouth. The eyes are half closed under long arching eyebrows while there is no hint of smile. The ears are long and stretching out. The ears are long and stretching out. The hand mudra symbolizes witnessing the enlightenment. The grotto represents the magnificent harmony of religion, science and the arts of Buddhism, symbolizing the pure land in which Buddha resides.
Next, visit Bulguksa temple. Following the one-pillared gate and the four guardian's gate, you will reach two double level arched stone staircases - the symbolic bridges, leaving the world of sufferings behind and to enter Buddha's land. Up from the bridges on the terraced main courtyard stands the Hall of Great Enlightenment. The hall houses Sakyamuni Buddha who is flanked on the right by Kasyapa and Maitreya Bodhisattva and on the left by Dipankara and Ananda. Before this hall stands a stone carved lantern and two stone pagodas. Three-storied Seokgatap with its calm simplicity of lines and minimal decoration and Dabotap with highly ornate and the noted complexity of the universe stands blending well into the architectural harmony. While here, it is worth noting the carved wood fish and cloud shaped gong hanging from the beams and a large dharma drum resting on the back of a turtle. Behind the main hall stands lecture hall, Museoljeon literally Hall of No Words. The hall gets its name from the belief that Buddha's teachings cannot be taught by mere words alone. At the back of this hall is a steep flight of steps leading you up to the Gwaneumjeon housing an image of the Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of perfect compassion, and stands at the highest point of the complex. Below the Gwaneumjeon sits Birojeon and houses a gilded statue of Vairocana with the gesture of the first wisdom, a combined hand mudra formed with both hands positioned in front of the heart, with the raised forefinger of the clenched or 'vajra-fist' right hand encircled by the closed 'vajra-fist' of the left hand. Enshrined in the Nahanjeon hall is Sakyamuni attended by two bodhisattvas, and sixteen figures of Buddha's disciples sitting in deep meditation. Hall of Supreme Bliss, standing near the main compound, houses the gilt-bronze Amitabha Buddha, the ruler of the Western Paradise Sukhavati. You can hardly miss the boar in front of this hall where many are encouraged to hug and rub it. All sorts of pigs, for that matter, stand for good luck in Korean culture, as the chubbiness of the pig stood for prosperity. After all, only the rich could afford to eat and idle enough to get fat. The architectural design of Bulguksa is one of constrained dignity, peace, and harmony and the temple still remains one of the most remarkable achievements of the ancient Far East.
Stop off at Gwaereung, the tomb of the King Wonseong, which dates 798. The tomb is a 7.7 meter high circular ground mound made of piled-up soil with a bottom diameter of 21.9 meters. The stone fence and 12 animals of the zodiac carved around its base are excellent condition. What makes this tomb really significant and unique are the statues carved from granite along the promenades leading up to it - a two sets of lions, a couple of scholars, and a pair of military guards who are clearly Arabs in their clothing and the shape of their eyes.
Onto Gyeongju national museum featuring many thousands of priceless archaeological and historical artifacts including splendid craftworks such as gold crowns, earrings, belts, ornaments, glassware, potteries, clay figures, Buddha statues, tiles and a lot more. The Anapaji hall displays roughly 700 of the 30,000 artifacts dredged up from the Anapji pond including a royal barge. A gigantic Emille Bell from the eighth century is on display and you must certainly stand in awe before the bell with such artistic beauty of design.
Near museum is Anapji, a pleasure garden built to commemorate the victory of Silla, and later used as the recreational area for the Silla's royal family. Then, followed by a relaxed walking tour exploring the ruins of Banwolseong or half-moon fortress where Silla palace and eight fortress gates stood. There is a Seokbinggo, a freezer made of stones. Half of the structure is underground while the other half is above ground with three air vents on top. You can feel the cold oozing out of this simple structure. You will see Cheomseongdae, known as the world's oldest existing astronomical observatory. Near sits Tumuli Park that encompasses 23 huge tomb mounds where Silla rulers were buried. One of the tombs, Cheonmachong, is opened to the public and you can go inside and see how the tombs were made and replicas of the treasures excavated in 1973.
Lastly, visit Poseok bower, a summer pavilion where the later kings of Silla often forgot their loyal duties and spent most of their time with royal banquets. All that can be seen now is the abalone-shaped stone channel through which at one time a cool stream of water was directed into the banquet. The 55th King Gyeongae of Silla killed himself at the party here in 927 when Gyeonhwon, the king of the Later Baekje attacked Gyeongju. The elm, in large trunk and gnarled with age, may have witnessed the final day of Silla.
Day 5 Gyeongju - Busan - Jeju - Breakfast
With time to pack, travel to Busan, a Korea's second largest city surrounded by the ocean on one side, and mountains on the other. Its deep harbor and gentle tides have allowed it to grow into the largest port in Korea and the fifth largest in the world. It is also a center of industry and commerce, a thriving metropolis formed unusually long in shape along its coastal line.
You will explore the bustling Jagalchi fish market located right off the downtown docks. The market offers a wide variety of fish including sea bream, sea bass, snapper, saury, pollack, halibut, corvina, cutlass fish, mackerel, octopus, sea squirt, cuttlefish, frogfish, flounder, abalone, crab, shells, to name just a few. One big draw of this market is its flexible pricing system. Since a wide array of foods from the sea sold here do not have fixed prices, visitors are free to haggle over what they expect to pay. There are also many restaurants selling raw fish at reasonable prices. Trying them here in the market is really a visual and culinary treat.
Across the street from the market is BIFF square, packed with trendy shops movie theaters and even a walk of fame where famous stars and directors have pressed their handprints into the sidewalk. Neighboring block is Gukjesijang, the largest traditional market in Busan, where a variety of items that included cosmetics, accessories, folk art crafts, hats, belts, stationery, bags, clothes, food, kitchen utensils, and more are available at very reasonable and affordable prices. Here, you will discover all that local merchants have to offer, at the same time, enjoying the ambience of this massive market with exceptional offerings.
An hour flight to Jeju, the most famous of the 3,300 islands of Korea. Jejudo, once a place of exile for those who fell out of favor with the Korean Court, has today become the most popular tourist destination.
Day 6 Jeju - Breakfast
Your packed day begins with Bunjae Artpia. It is the first art park of its kind ever built in Korea and one of the most frequented stops on the island. This spirited Garden is the world's largest botanical garden, which is rich with trees as old as 300 years and as young as 30 years including an assortment of maple trees, wisterias, pine trees and about 100 species of rare trees. It also boasts of its 10,000 Jeju wild flowers, orchids and other various garden trees and plants forming unique scenic harmony.
Next, Jeju Peace Museum. It sits on the site of Gama Oreum, a lasting memorial to life under occupation and those forced laborers who constructed the tunnels. Personally financed by Lee Young-Geun, the museum complex features a theater, where you will see a film about the horrific events that took place on Jeju under the Japanese occupation, and a labyrinth of stacked over tunnels dug in the final stage of World War II, with 17 entrances which are practically invisible from the outside. The Japanese were taking a final stand on Jeju to defend their homeland, however, an allied forces invasion never came and with the surrender of the Japanese forces in 1945, 113 Japanese military tunnels constructed by forced laborers on the island were largely forgotten. You will explore the darkened claustrophobic tunnels that sprawl away for kilometers underground and discover a hidden world of war, brutality and destruction, but those who suffer from asthma, claustrophobia or a weak heart cannot enter the tunnel. Not far from the tunnel is Altteureu airfield where Japanese fighter flights made their sorties to Shanghai during the China-Japan War in 1937.
Next, onto Sanbangsan, a magnificent trachyte cone abruptly rising 395 meters by the sea that lacks crater on its summit. As you approach, you will enjoy a breathtaking view of sheer rock of this mysterious hump in the distance. There are lovely temples on the lower grounds with a golden Buddha statue and a series of prayer wheels. A short climb up the steep slopes of Sanbangsan brings you to the tiny cubbyhole of the 10 meter cave with a small pool and a stone Buddha surrounded by burning candles. The grotto's aura is enchanting with the welcoming scent of incense hanging heavily and the sound of water steadily dripping into the pool. The views from the grotto over the coastal fields, offshore islands, and the ocean are absolutely stunning.
Tide permitting, you will also explore Yongmeori Coast, a tuff ring outcropping into the sea showing the sedimentary structure of volcanic ash that was formed from hydrovolcanic eruptions. Following a steep natural staircase down, you will come across the rippled cliffs of brown and gray stone appeared to undulate towards and away from you. The contours of the high cliffs are unique, and their appearance is also interesting. This rare cliff formation along the coastal line, taking a shape of a dragon with its head up plunging into the ocean, offers a fascinating view with its seaside promenade of soaring, weather-blown cliffs along with the sea caves, vertical joints, bluffs and hollows. The Dutch ship was wrecked nearby coastal waters on August 16, 1653 and of the 64 crew members only 36 survived. A duplicate of Dutch East India Company VOC-ship, The Sperwer with its rare exhibits, is on display on the dry land and the Hendrick Hamel Monument was erected where he came ashore. He was the first Western to write about Korea "The Journal of Hendrick Hamel" the improbable adventures of the surviving crew members of The Sperwer, giving the first detailed description of Korea that was unknown land to Europe.
Then, visit Cheonjeyeon cascade falling in three different stages. The first waterfall cascades down a cliff 22 meters and plunges into a deep Cheonjeyeon pond from where water goes to the second waterfall and falls 30 meters and continues to the third waterfall. Up from Cheonjeyon Falls is a large arch bridge, having 7 fairies carved on the side, allowing visitors a spectacular view of the falls. During the winter months, this waterfall may be nothing more than a mere trickle, but the nature itself is still beautiful. A short ride from the fall is Jisatgae, the spectacular 1 kilometer stretch of coastline with hexagonal rock columns, bizarre formations resulted from rapid cooling and contraction of lava. The surging waves crashing into the rocks are remarkably refreshing. On your return, you stop off at the road what the locals call "Dokkebidoro" or a more terrifying name "goblin's roads." It is a mysterious road where cars in neutral appear to go up a hill, as do bottles or any other easily rolled objects. In fact, the road has a 3 degree downward slant but looks to go uphill because of the surrounding terrain that creates the optical illusion. So, you will check whether the roads really go down.
Day 7 Jeju - Breakfast
Today, you are treated to UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites; Manjang Cave, the world's longest lava tube which has a known length of 13.4 kilometers. Be prepared for the damp and the difference in temperature. On entering the cave, you are likely to be greeted by a cold breeze oozing out of the lava tubes, and the cave's ceiling tends to drip at times. Although the floor is full of puddles and the lighting inside is dim, you can easily cover up to 1 kilometer by walking, exploring the weirdly shaped stalactites, stalagmites, flow ledges and finally lava stone pillar. One of the major attractions inside the cave is the Stone Turtle, which many believe is shaped like Jejudo.
Visit a small but excellent Haenyeo Museum featuring women diver's harsh work and life. Typically, they dive from September to May, and rest of the month work on their farms all while taking care of their children and domestic duties. The display includes the tools, diving outfits, as well as diving techniques, various implements used to collect seafood and a full-size replica of a traditional women diver house including a primitive log raft that once used for fishing.
Explore Seongsan Ilchulbong, another UNESCO site, known as Sunrise Peak. It is the island's largest tuff cone which is surrounded on three sides by the ocean rising 182 meters strait from the water. Your adventure begins by climbing this steep cone up to the spectacular crater surrounded by 99 basalt pinnacles which looks like crown from a distance and reflects marvelous scenery.
Visit Seongeup folk village which was once a hub of local administration in the period of Goryeo dynasty (918-1392) and where nearly 400 traditional thatched houses are still fully functioning. Standing tall near the entrance to the village are about 1,000-year-old Zelkova tree and 600-year-old hackberry trees that may well speak to the village history. Scattered among the village are many houses that you can enter yourself and look around. Jeongnang gates are some of good examples that represent a beautiful tradition and culture of this friendly people with No Thief, No Beggar, and No Gate. Water pots set in bamboo baskets, which were carried by women on their backs, and huge jars to keep the water from a distance are on display along with an idea of harvesting rainwater from the trees. Tongsi is a combination of a traditional outhouse privy, pigpen and manure factory. Although they have now disappeared, you will see a duplicate of Tongsi that was still used a few short decades ago. While not overly exciting, the tour gives you a chance to get a glimpse into some of Jeju's unique culture.
You will see a spectacular Sangumburi, the only Maar in Korea that is on flat ground, in which grows at least 420 species of sub-tropical, temperate and alpine zone plants. This crater is very easy to enjoy. Before heading on to the crater, you will see Bangsatap, a stone tower constructed to protect islanders from evil, and on the nearby grounds, a group of low trapezoidal sturdy stone wall-enclosed graveyards in Jeju fashion that present an experience like no other. A short walk finally brings you up to the main viewing area. The crater measures well over 2 kilometers in circumference, about 650m in width and 100 meters in depth in that it could be easily mistaken for a circular stadium. The views in every direction are absolutely breathtaking with sprawling eulalia fields, stunning panoramas of the ocean, and volcanic cones dotting the island's landscape.
Day 8 Jeju - Seoul - Breakfast
Visit Oedolgae to see a needle rock topped with pine trees standing alone off the cliffy coast that creates stunning scenery. Onto Cheonjiyeon waterfall. Though they sound similar, they have two different scenic pictures to offer. Cheonjiyeon waterfall, which involves a short walk through lovely woods, cascades down a cliff 22 meters into a tropical pool inhabited by giant eels, and surrounded by lush vegetation. Next, explore Jeongbang waterfall, which claims to fall directly into the ocean. In fact, the water from Jeongbang actually falls into a small, sheltered cove, and not directly into the ocean. Still, the 23 meter falls are very picturesque with the cliffs, the sea, and several small islands offshore. It is truly worth the walk to the falls.
Onto Jeju Folklore and Natural History Museum. At the entrance, you cannot possibly miss the fancy looking volcano bombs. The museum is an excellent facility featuring a significant collection of crafts, tools and equipment as well as geological features, marine organism, plants, animals and minerals native to Jeju Island - the perfect way to learn about the history and culture of Jeju. In the folklore exhibition hall, you can experience the traces of Jeju's ancestors with traditional thatched houses, boats, agricultural tools, and a variety of other implements used by women divers who live a hard life diving for seafood. Outdoor exhibition is highlighted by millstones, grave guards, tombstones and various stone tools used for daily living. With all these features combined, the tour gives you a fascinating insight into the tenacious and independent lifestyle of Jeju islanders.
A short walk from the museum is Samseonghyeol literally three clan hole, a very symbolic spot to the islanders. According to legend, it was here that three demigods emerged from the holes in the ground to become the founding fathers of Tamna and its people. There is an exhibition hall where you can trace the birth of Jeju. In 1526, an altar was built and wall was erected around the holes, and the descendants began offering spring and autumn memorial services. Since that time, they continue to uphold the traditions and still perform twice a year on the 10th of April and October. Even more amazing aspect is that moisture from rain and snow do not penetrate the holes and the surrounding old trees face them at an angle as if they are worshiping three founders. You will return on a flight to Seoul late afternoon.
Day 9 Departure - Breakfast
With time to reflect on your experience of Korea, transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
National Folklore Museum
Antique Shop Street
Gyeongju National Museum
Half Moon Fortress
Jagalchi Fish Market
Jeju Peace Museum
Seongeup Folk Village
Jeju Folklore and Natural History 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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4 days / 3 nights
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