Dynamic • Traditional


Seoul: city tour & the DMZ; Mt Seorak: craggy peaks, waterfalls, forests, hiking trails, mysterious temples; Haeinsa Temple: Buddhist treasure; Gyeongju: royal tombs, temples, palace sites, fortress ruins; Busan: city tour

Full Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive in Seoul
Arrive in Seoul / Incheon, South Korea and transfer to our hotel.

Seoul is a city of contrasts. In this rapidly evolving metropolis, the traditional exists with the modern in a state of harmony. For over 500 years the seat of Joseon Dynasty kings, Seoul is now the beating heart of modern Korea, the centre to which all else in the country is drawn.

Overnight in Seoul.
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Seoul: City Tour
Today we tour Seoul, including the National Folk Museum, North Seoul Tower, War Memorial, and Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Of all the tourist attractions in Seoul, the Joseon Dynasty Palaces and, particularly Gyeongbokgung Palace, are the most tangible link between modern Korea and its not-too-distant monarchical past. Not merely inert relics, they are symbols of a deep history and rich culture. Although substantially reduced in number, the remaining palace buildings provide a glimpse of traditional architecture and the overall organization of a palace grounds.

General Yi Seong-gye (King T'aejo) ordered the construction of Gyeongbokgung-gung ("Palace of Shining Happiness") in 1394, two years after founding the Joseon Dynasty. In its original form, it is said to have had about 500 buildings. For the next 200 years, Gyeongbokgung-gung was the seat of government and the royal residence of Joseon Dynasty kings.

Overnight in Seoul.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Seoul - the DMZ - Mt Seorak
Today we travel along the Jayuro (Freedom Road) to Imjingak, the northernmost point bordering North Korea. On the way, we will be able to view barbed wire fences and military guards on duty all the way along the river, as well as serene rice paddies and the North Korean propaganda village over the confluence of the Han River and the Imjin River. At Imjingak, we visit the Mangbaedan memorial ritual altar which was established in 1985 for those who were separated from their families or displaced from home during the Korean War. It is a symbolic spot used to hold traditional memorial services for ancestors or to pray for separated family members living in the North and for reunification of the country.

We will see the Freedom Bridge, the very locale where 12,773 Korean War prisoners walked to freedom to South Korea in 1953. We then board a tour bus that will take us to the 3rd infiltration tunnel dug up by North Koreans. On the 20-minute ride to the tunnel, we pass through the check points, military camps and mine fields.

Before going down to the tunnel, we will view a short video presentation and visit exhibition hall for information on the divided Koreas. A seven-minute tram ride (if available) or a walk down a steep access through a narrow and steep interception tunnel, leads us to the lower platform, a point where we are only 170 meters from the Military Demarcation Line.

Our next stop is the Dora Observatory where we can see the whole expanse of the Demilitarized Zone, North Korean propaganda village, Gijeong-dong, where the world's largest flag hangs on a 160 meter-tall flagpole, South Korea's northernmost village of Daeseong-dong and Panmunjom where the armistice that ended Korean War was signed.

Finally, we visit the functioning northernmost railway station Dorasan, located 700 meters from the Southern Limit Line of DMZ. Here, the mile marker "Seoul 56km/Pyeongyang (the North Korean capital) 205km" still stands tall for all to see.

We continue to Mt Seorak through the picturesque countryside to the vicinity of Seoraksan National Park, with its towering craggy peaks, waterfalls, forests, hiking trails, mysterious temples, and remote hermitages.

Overnight Mt Seorak.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 4 Mt Seorak Area
We depart for Mt Seorak National Park where we take a cable car to one of the peaks for panoramic views of Mountain Seorak. Seoraksan's aerial tramway runs 1100 metres (3,608 feet) from the valley floor to the ridge above. The 5-minute ride offers a bird's-eye view of the Outer Seorak area.

We later proceed to Sinheungsa Temple. A short, easy stroll from the park plaza brings you to Sinheungsa ("Divine Undertaking Temple"), the principal temple of Seoraksan. At the junction of two major valleys below high peaks, this small compound has one of the most spectacular settings of any temple in Korea. It was established in 653 as Hyangseongsa Temple by the monk, Chajang. We have time for an optional afternoon hike to the Gyejoam Hermitage -- a religious site for Buddhist monks still practicing in the area.

Overnight in Mt Seorak.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 5 Mt Seorak - Haeinsa
Our tour continues to Haeinsa Temple, one of the most important Buddhist treasures in Korea. Haeinsa Temple features the famous Korean cultural treasure, Tripikata Koreana, built during the Goryeo Dynasty to protect the country from the invasion of Mongolian troops. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tripitakana Koreana consists of over 80,000 pieces of inscribed wooden plates carved during the Goryeo Dynasty. It took more than 15 years to complete this incredible work.

Overnight in Haeinsa.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 6 Haeinsa - Gyeongju
Today we drive down to Gyeongju, Korea's ancient cultural city and the capital of the once great Silla Kingdom. It is to Korea what Kyoto is to Japan. During its 1979 meeting in Thailand, UNESCO selected Gyeongju as one of the world's most important ancient cultural cities, both for its position in the historical and cultural development of East Asia and for its role in the formation of the Korean nation.

Around Gyeongju there are hundreds of royal tombs, temples, palace sites, fortress ruins, pagodas and rock sculptures. Finely crafted gold and silver ornaments, skillfully shaped clay figures and pottery, metal utensils and weapons and an astonishing number of other objects discovered here are now displayed in the Kyongju museum which we visit. We also observe scraps of Silla Literature and the legends that are preserved in ancient books and annals.

Overnight in Gyeongju.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 7 Gyeongju: Area Tour
We will spend a whole day sightseeing in Gyeongju with visits to Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, Tumuli Park-Royal Tombs. While many important sites are scattered in the vicinity, Gyeongju, as the heart of the former Silla Kingdom, still has the largest concentration of remains. Mounded tombs, the most obvious remnant of the city's past, dominate your view as you approach this historic city. Many of the early tombs were constructed near the Banwolseong Palace site-- then undoubtedly the city centre but now at the edge of downtown. Later others were constructed outside the city, in the midst of flat farming fields and at the foot of the low hills that rim this valley.

Over the centuries these mounds have, by and large, been left un-plundered. Some informal excavation was done in the early 1900's, but the first government-sponsored excavations were authorized by the Japanese during the occupation.

Overnight in Gyeongju.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 8 Gyeongju - Busan: City Tour
Our journey continues to Korea's second largest city, Busan (formerly Pusan). The city's name derives from two place names: Suwon, which means "water source" -- the land depression that the city occupies was for centuries known for its clear-water wells. High above the city rises P'aldal-san, a tall hill at its height of beauty in the spring, with its slopes awash with the colour of pink cherry blossoms. In the late 1600's the military established a garrison here as one of the five principal fortifications set up to protect the approaches to Seoul. Intending to move the official capital from Seoul to Suwon, King Chongjo the 22nd Joseon Dynasty King, had the fortress wall constructed in 1794. Battlements and palace buildings were erected, but the king died before he could initiate the move. Although there were great plans for this city, they never had the opportunity to mature, as the decision was made to keep the capital at Seoul.

Our tour continues with a visit to Kukje Market and Jagalchi Fish Market. We will also visit the impressive UN Cemetery and head up Busan Tower for impressive views. We finish with the Gamcheon Cultural Village, spread out in a panorama of endless rows of low-rise cubicle homes climbing up the steep hillsides, earning it the nicknames "Santorini of the East" and "Lego Village." The cheerful blue, yellow and pink hues a delight to the eye. Narrow stone and concrete alleyways wind their way through the homes, yielding something new at every turn. The village used to house the city’s poorest people, but during the Korean War, refugees fled their homes for Busan, which was the only area which was free from fighting.

Overnight in Busan.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 9 Busan - Seoul - Depart
Today we return to Seoul via the "KTX" high-speed train direct to Seoul-Incheon Airport and connect with our homeward flights.


Meal plan: breakfast