You don't tend to hear a lot about South Korea as a tourism destination, which is surprising considering the large Korean population in major U.S. cities and the intertwined 20th century history between the two countries. Seoul gained enormous media attention during the Olympic Games of 1988 and again during the World Cup soccer tournament it co-hosted with Japan in 2002, but has remained relatively quiet of late, especially when it comes to tourism.
South Korea is intriguing in its diversity of attractions. Visitors have the opportunity to experience a thriving modern culture based on ancient traditions with magnificent historic and natural sites. Like neighboring Japan, it enjoys a topography that includes mountains for skiing, volcanic activity and thermal waters in the form of hot springs. It is also a shopping paradise, especially for those astute purchasers who already know that many of the designer brands are actually made here. Whether you make South Korea your primary vacation spot, or use it as a launching pad to Japan or China, consider taking some time to get to know this fascinating country and its people.
Walker Hill (tel. 212/221-1234; www.walkerhill-ny.com), a Korean travel company based in New York, offers a selection of different tours and packages. Their ten-day "Cultural Tour" departs from New York throughout the year and is priced from $2,499 per person based on double occupancy, or $1,099 based on land-only. A single supplement of $650 applies. The trip includes round-trip airfare from New York, eight nights' accommodations, breakfast and dinner daily, two lunches, ground transportation and sightseeing. The cities in the itinerary include Seoul, Andong and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gyeongju, and highlights include a city tours, stops in folk villages, regional markets, historical sites of the Shilla Dynasty, museums and the Bukak skyway.
The nine-day "Korea Highlight Tours" visits Seoul, Jeju, Busan, Gyeongju, Andong and Mt Seorak. The tour includes round-trip airfare from New York, seven nights' accommodations (two-nights in Seoul, two at the Hyatt Regency on Jeju-do, one at the Marriott in Busan, one at the Hotel Hyandai in Gyeongju and one at the Hotel Kensington in Mt Seorak) breakfast daily, six dinners, five lunches, domestic flights from Seoul to Jeju-do and from Jeju-do to Busan, ground transportation and sightseeing. Highlights include the Blue House and the Namdaemun Market in Seoul; Yongduam, Manjanggul Cave, Songsan Ilchulbong, ChonjiyonÂ Waterfalls, Song-up Folk Village, Sangumburi Crater and Moksokwon on the island of Jeju-do; Taejongdae Park and the fish market in Busan; the Royal Tumull, the National Museum and Pulguksa temple in Gyeongju; and the Hahoe Folk Village in Andong. The trip is priced at $2,670 per person based on double occupancy during high season (holidays and summer) and $2,570 is low season. Land-only cost is $1,300 and single supplement is $585 in high season and $485 in low season.
Swain Tours (tel. 800/22-SWAIN; www.swaintours.com) has a "Highlights of Korea" tour that includes domestic flights within Korea, round-trip airport transfers, seven nights' accommodations (three in Seoul at the Hamilton Hotel, one at the Concorde Hotel in Gyeongju, one at the Phoenix Hotel in Busan and two at the Hana Hotel in Jeju) with breakfast daily and passage on the KTX express train from Seoul to Gyeongju. It also includes the following tours: a half-day Seoul city tour, a Gyeongju afternoon temple tour and half day city tour, a Busan half-day city tour (including International Market and Yongdusan Park) and a Jeju Island full day tour (Cheonjaeyeon Waterfall and Sungup Folk Village). The land-only price is $2,109 per person based on double occupancy for departures until March 31, 2007. A single supplement of $447 applies.
Add the following international airfares from Los Angeles, Seattle or San Francisco:
- Now until November 30, 2006: $760
- December 1 to 8, 2006: $800
- December 9 to 23, 2006: $760
- December 24, 2006 to January 11, 2007: $800
- January 12 to March 31, 2007: $760
Tour Plus Asia (tel. 888/248-7095; www.tourplusasia.com) specializes in Korean travel and package tours. Its 12-day "Comprehensive Korea" trip is priced from $2,640 per person based on double occupancy. It departs every Wednesday throughout the year and includes round-trip international airfare from New York to Seoul, all domestic flights during the tour, ten nights' deluxe (five-star) and semi-deluxe (four-star) hotel accommodations, transfers, nine breakfasts, ten lunches, eight dinners, ground transportation, tours and an English-speaking guide. Visit Seoul, Jeonju, Namwon, Suncheon's Nagan Folk Village, Hadong, Danyang, Geoje Island, Jeju Island, Busan, Daegu, Sokcho and Yongin. Highlights include historic temples, palaces, folk villages, caves, waterfalls, mountains, beaches and markets.
Their nine-day "Eastern Korea" tour includes round-trip international airfare from New York to Seoul, domestic airfares during the tour, seven-nights' of four or five-star hotel accommodations, airport transfers, most meals, ground transportation, tours and an English-speaking guide. The tour takes in Jeju Island, Busan, Daegu, Sokcho and Seoul and is priced from $1,970 based on Saturday departure.
Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) has a "Seoul Special" priced from $849 plus taxes per person based on double occupancy. This price is valid for travel from now until December 5, 2006 and from January 1 to February 15, 2007. Other December 2006 departure dates are priced between $1,099 and $1,399. The package includes round-trip airfare to Seoul from San Francisco, airline fuel surcharges, five nights' accommodations at the Best Western Hotel in Seoul, hotel taxes and service charges. Add $70 from Los Angeles, $190 from Denver or Seattle, $400 from New York, Chicago, Detroit or Washington, D.C. and $450 from Miami or Atlanta. Purchase deadline is October 5, 2006.
There are a few U.S. based travel agencies that provide packages to South Korea but you may find that you'll have to phone them as their websites are exclusively in Korean. One such company is New York based Dongbu Tour (tel. 718/939-1000; www.dongbutour.com). It features a "Korea East and West" tour that is priced from $1,665 for a nine-day trip that visits Seoul, Busan, Jeollabuk-do, Gyeongju, Jeju-do, Gangwon-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do. This price includes round-trip airfare from New York, eight nights' accommodations and all ground transportation with departure dates on Tuesdays and Saturdays between now and March 1, 2007.
If you do decide to book a trip through a U.S.-based Korean company, perhaps they can assist you with booking a Korea Rail Pack (www.korail.go.kr). Unfortunately this website is only in Korean. The Pack is a rail pass which includes accommodation and sightseeing services as well as the train tickets. Packs are available for two, three or five days and include a free pick-up and drop-off service for major hotels in downtown Seoul, hotel accommodation with breakfast and an English speaking guide throughout. Routes covered include: Seoul to Gyeongju, Seoul to Gyeongju to Busan, Seoul to Andong and Busan to Seoul. Children under three travel free and children under ten get a 30 per cent discount.
Seoul-based Hodo Tour (tel. 82/2-753-3550; www.travellersinkorea.com) has several one and multi-day tours including ski trips and excursions to the border and the de-militarized zone that separates South and North Korea. Its "Muju Resort and Spa (Duksan Spa Castle)" trip is priced at $444 per person and includes shuttle and local bus transportation from Seoul, two nights' accommodations (one at a pension and the second at the Duksan spa), a BBQ dinner, one evening and one morning ski pass at Muju Resort (www.mujuresort.com), rental of skis, boots and poles, an afternoon spa and an English speaking tour guide. Their "Yongpyong Resort and Spa (Mt. Seorak)" tour is priced at $418 and includes shuttle and local bus transportation from Seoul, two nights' accommodation', a BBQ dinner, one evening and one morning ski pass at Yongpyong Resort, rental of skis, boots and poles, a spa session at Waterpia, a Mt. Seorak tour and an English speaking tour guide.
Its "WOW Â? 4 in 1 package" is priced from $232 per person for a multi transportation trip that includes an express KTX train trip from Seoul to Mokpo, a cruise from Mokpo to Jeju Island, a flight from Jeju to Seoul, one-day bicycle rental and a one-day Jeju bus tour. It also features two nights' accommodations at a beachfront hotel in Jeju with breakfast daily, one lunch, travel insurance and an English-language map of Jeju for your bicycle day. Add $37 for Friday departures.
Several airlines service the transpacific route from the U.S. to Korea including non-stop flights on Korean Air (tel. 800/438-5000; www.koreanair.com) and Asiana (tel. 800/227-4262; www.flyasiana.com). U.S. carriers -- United, Delta, American Airlines, Continental and Northwest -- also fly to Seoul. In general, fall 2006 round-trip airfare prices range from approximately $600 to $1,200 plus taxes from Los Angeles depending on route, stops and airline. But of course there are cheaper deals out there, like those on Fly Cheap Abroad (tel. 800/421-7689; www.flycheapabroad.com). It currently lists a round-trip fare from L.A. to Seoul for $490 plus taxes for flights departing and returning before October 30, 2006. November, 2006 flights on the same website are $716 including taxes. And spring travel is equally affordable with March 2007 flights priced at $861 including taxes.
For more information on traveling in Korea, visit or contact the Korean National Tourist Office (tel. 888/854-3899; www.kntoamerica.com).
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