Since South Korea is still a mystery to most travelers, there aren't that many specialized tours offered. However, some show off specific areas of the country's cultural kaleidoscope.
Aju Incentive Tours (www.ajutours.co.kr) has a 5-day culinary tour of Seoul, which includes a cooking class, an opportunity to sample temple fare, and a cultural performance. They also offer an interesting qi ("chi" in Chinese) tour exploring different aspects of Oriental medicine, including foot massages, a visit to the traditional herbal market, and a direct experience with acupuncture. Their other tours highlight different aspects of South Korea's arts and culture or explore the country's historical religions; they also offer ski tours, and even a bird-watching tour. Although bird-watching is a relatively new hobby in the country, Birds Korea (www.birdskorea.org) offers guided tours to see migrating fowl and birds unique to the region.
The KTO (tel. 02/729-9497, ext. 499, or the 24-hr. travel info hot line tel. 1330; http://english.tour2korea.com) will help you arrange seasonal and themed tours to specialized regions in the country.
Travel into North Korea is closed for the moment (after an unfortunate incident in which a South Korean housewife was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier). The closest you can get is to the Panmunjeom at the DMZ, which you can access via a day tour from Seoul. Plan your trip at least 3 days in advance.
Many of the major cities in South Korea also offer city tours. You can tour Seoul, Busan, Gyeongju, Daegu, Daejeon, Incheon, Suwon, Gongju, and Ulsan by bus.
Academic Trips & Language Classes
Major universities in Seoul offer semester- or quarter-long language programs for learning the basis of Korean. The most popular programs are, of course, during the summer months, but classes area available year-round. Ewha University (fax 02/3277-2855 http://elc.ewha.ac.kr:1004/en/template/info01.asp) has 10-week and intensive 3-week courses. Yonsei University (www.yskli.com) has a popular summer language program. Seoul National University (tel. 02/880-5488; www.useoul.edu/admission/adm0601.jsp) provides a 5-week summer program, but has classes year-round. Korea (Goryeo) University (tel. 02/3290-2971 or 2972; http://kola.x-y.net/english/lecture.htm) has quarterly language programs.
Sogang University (tel. 02/705-7887; http://summer.sogang.ac.kr) offers a "master class," a 6-week workshop where well-known Korean artists, filmmakers, writers, or musicians provide insight from their experiences in their particular field of expertise. You can also enroll in their regular 10-week language courses year-round.
Adventure & Wellness Trips
Adventure Travelers (www.adventure-travelers.com) offers specialty tours of South Korea, including a week of tae kwon do training, a 2-week trip with hands-on ceramics, and trips focusing on watersports or skiing. One of the best tours from an Australian operator is by The Imaginative Traveller (tel. 1300-135-088; www.imaginative-traveller.com), which provides a 15-day "adventure" tour that hits the major destinations as well as Seoraksan and the caves in Samcheok.
Food & Wine Trips
Unfortunately, no tour company offers regular culinary tours in South Korea. However, special tour packages are offered from time to time, usually in conjunction with a special event.
Traditional food classes are offered at the Institute of Traditional Korean Food at the Tteok Museum (tel. 02/741-5447). For W70,000, you can choose two dishes to cook from a list of traditional recipes. They require a minimum of two people and reservations at least a week in advance. There are no programs on Sunday.
Yoo's Family (tel. 02/3673-0323; www.yoosfamily.com) opens up their hanok (traditional house) in Bukcheon Hanok Village in Seoul to offer a couple of hands-on cooking classes. They have kimchi-making classes for W45,000 and a bulgogi and ddeokbokgi class for W60,000. There's a minimum of two people and reservations should be made at least a day in advance. Classes aren't offered on Sundays or national holidays.
Volunteer & Working Trips
Habitat for Humanity (tel. 02/2267-3702, ext. 403; http://eng.habitat.or.kr) has special volunteer trips to help build homes for poor South Koreans. No special skills are required, just a willingness to learn and roll up your sleeves. They have a home-building opportunity in Chuncheon from July 3 to 17, 2010. The trip costs US$1,990, which includes accommodations, meals, local transportation, and trip insurance. Airfare is not covered. Check their website for other volunteer trips.
CADIP (the Canadian Alliance for Development Initiatives and Projects; www.cadip.org) has several volunteer opportunities working with schoolchildren in areas like Muju, Namwon, Uiryeong, or even Busan. Most of their programs cost $590 Canadian dollars (about US$470), but that covers shared accommodations and three meals daily. They also provide W100,000 of pocket change per month. Visit their website for details and to apply.
If you've found yourself engrossed in the latest Korean drama offering, tissue in hand, yelling at the screen, you may want to tear yourself away to see some of the locations in person. Good Morning Tours (tel. 02/757-1232; goodmorningtours.com) has several 1-, 2- or even half-day tours centered on specific dramas. My favorite is the "Autumn in My Heart"/"Winter Sonata" combo tour, which takes you to Hawjimpo, Sokcho, Nami-do, and Chuncheon. The W320,000 includes hotel, all admission fees, and an English-speaking guide.
Ichon Tour (tel. 82-31-631-3302; www.ichontour.com) has a pottery-based tour with hands-on experiences in Icheon city, South Korea's ceramics center.
Escorted General-Interest Trips
Escorted tours are structured group tours, with a group leader. The price usually is all-inclusive.
All4uKorea (tel. 010/7576-0018; www.all4u-korea-tour.com) is a group of tour operators based out of Seoul that offer customized tours with private drivers. You can also contact them about designing your own tour. Root Travel Ltd. (tel. 02/549-8605; www.roottravel.co.kr), also based out of Seoul, provides 12- to 20-day general tours spanning Seoul, Busan, and Gyeongju.
Alumni Travel (tel. 02/9290-3856; www.alumnitravel.com.au), based in Sydney, offers a specially guided tour of South Korea that spans 17 days. Tour East Holidays (tel. 416/929-6688; www.toureastholidays.com), a Toronto-based company, offers a brief South Korea tour that hits the three major cities. AffordableTours.com (tel. 800/935-2620 or 281/269-2600) offers a handful of general and cultural tours that hit the major cities (usually breakfasts and lunches are included, but you're on your own for dinner). R&C Hawaii Tours (tel. 808/942-3388; www.rchawaii.com) offers summer and autumn tours. A.T. Seasons & Vacations Travel (tel. 91-11-22794796; www.visitsasia.com), based in New Delhi, offers 4- to 7-day general tours of South Korea, starting from Incheon airport. The KTO (http://english.tour2korea.com) also provides a list of travel agencies in your home country that can arrange escorted tours to fit your needs.