Go beyond the western perception of South Korea as an economic tiger and instead unveil the history, and culture of the “Land of the Morning Calm.” Discover a magical multi-dimensional world of ancient palaces, spiritual temples, cloud kissed mountains, green valleys and the legacies of dynasties long gone but never forgotten on this customizable journey showcasing one of Asia’s best kept secrets. A perfect fit for those adventurers looking for a startling mix of eco-adventures, cultural immersion, spiritual encounters and ancient Korean history. Expert private local guides present this often overlooked destination at her finest. Travel by hybrid automobile, the scenic sea train, novel rail bikes, foot and public transport as you tour Seoul, Donghae Samhwasa, Gyeongju, Jeju Island, Suncheon Ecological Park and Gokseong.
Travel back centuries as you ironically visit the historic temples, imperial palaces and “forbidden” gardens of the high speed and hi-tech capital, Seoul. Leave the hustle and bustle of the big city behind as you are immersed in time honored Korean traditions. Meet talented embroiderers, potters and painters. Watch artisans make good luck charms and visit authentic hanoks (homes). Treat your mind, body and soul while gaining a better understanding of Korean Buddhism as you overnight at a temple and participate rituals as yebul (ceremony), chamseon (Zen meditation), and barugongyang (monastic meal). Dress in the historic national clothing Hanbok and then take part in darye a 1000 year old tea ceremony with a local family. A visit to Korea is never complete without an encounter with the country’s martial art, taekwondo. Spend a morning with taekwondo master and learn the basics of the discipline. Please your palate with mouth-watering Korean culinary courses, visit a soju distillery, sample rice wines and dine alfresco during gourmet rural picnics. Unlock the secrets of Muism, the country’s indigenous beliefs, practices and superstitions as you attend a mask making class and explore the role of the talismans that you’ll see on Korean people everywhere.
Give into the “call of the wild” as you spend a couple days exploring Korea’s breathtakingly beautiful coast, national parks, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, rural UNESCO sites and bucolic green countryside. Hike, trek and bicycle your way through volcanic Jeju Island, Hallasan National Park, Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, the Red Clay Eco Healing Trail (note you do this one trail barefoot!) and more.
Nights are spent at a diverse collection of properties, from mountain top Buddhist temples and a family run hanok to locally owned boutique hotels and a traditional guesthouse. Complete with private local guide, chauffeur, hybrid vehicle, some meals and everything you need, this cultural and outdoor adventure will open any traveler’s eyes and minds to the true beauty of South Korea.
Arrive into Seoul and transfer by private vehicle to your downtown hotel.
Seoul is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. The Seoul Capital Area, which includes the surrounding Incheon metropolis and Gyeonggi province, is the world's second largest metropolitan area with over 25.6 million people. Situated on the Han River, Seoul's history stretches back more than 2,000 years when it was founded in 18 BCE by Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. It continued as the capital of Korea under the Joseon Dynasty. Seoul boasts five UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeok Palace, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine, Namhansanseong and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty. Seoul is surrounded by mountains, the tallest being Mt. Bukhan, the world's most visited national park per square foot. Modern landmarks include the iconic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Lotte World, the world's second largest indoor theme park, and Moonlight Rainbow Fountain, the world's longest bridge fountain. Today, Seoul is considered a leading and rising global city, resulting from an economic boom called the Miracle on the Han River which transformed it from the ashes of the Korean War to the world's 4th largest metropolitan economy with a GDP of US$774 billion in 2012 after Tokyo, New York City and Los Angeles. A world leading technology hub centered on Gangnam and Digital Media City, it boasts the world's sixth largest number of Fortune Global 500 multinationals such as Samsung, the world's largest technology company, as well as LG and Hyundai-Kia.
Head out this morning to explore some of Seoul’s most recognized temples and palaces, alongside your knowledgeable guide. The first stop we will make is at the Changdeokgung Palace, one of the "Five Grand Palaces" built by the Kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Due to its location east of Gyeongbok Palace, Changdeokgung, with Changgyeonggung, is also referred to as the "East Palace.” Changdeokgung was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
Next, we will make head way to Bukchon Hanok Village, the perfect destination for those seeking to learn about and enjoy the beauty of “Hanok” or traditional Korean-style houses. Interestingly, Bukchon is not an official municipal name; rather it is simply meant to describe that this location lies to the north of Cheonggyecheon as in the stream and Jongno, the downtown area of Seoul. This area used to be the high-end residential district for royal family members and high-ranking government officials. Surrounded by Gyeongbokgung (Palace), Changdeokgung (Palace), and Jongmyo (Royal Shrine), the Bukchon area is a traditional residential area in Seoul that boasts 600 years of history. Its location reflects the views of neo-Confucianism, regarding the world and nature, during the Joseon Dynasty. A stop for shopping is also planned in Samcheongdong and at the Namdaemun Market.
A private vehicle with driver will provide you a transfer from Seoul to Pocheon to enjoy some touring.
This morning you will travel 1.5 hours by local train to visit Paju, and the Traditional Liquor Museum Sansawan. You may sample authentic local food like rice cakes, Sanghwa dumplings, pickled vegetable soaked in rice wine leftovers, and rice punch. The museum displays over 1,000 historical documents on traditional liquor as well as liquor brewery devices such as yakteul, nureukteul, gyeobogary, and sojugori. Moreover, the traditional brewing process, as seen in the folktale 'Mrs. Kim's Brewery' is recreated using the actual tools and devices from the traditional brewing process. The museum also features the process and culture of Gayangju (homemade liquor) with puppets and dolls. Visitors will leave the facility with a deeper appreciation of the devotion of ancient Korean brewmasters and the art of traditional Korean liquor. At the Gayangju Class, operated by Sansawon, anyone who wants to know more about traditional liquor may have a chance to learn about liquor ingredients, liquor-related folktales, and the brewing process. You can even learn first-hand how to make traditional liquor. You may either take your alcohol home with you after the class or leave it at the museum and stop by for it later.
After touring, a return transfer back to Seoul is provided.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art. It combines combat and self-defence techniques with sport and exercise. Gyeorugi, a type of sparring, has been an Olympic event since 2000. Taekwondo was developed by a variety of Korean masters during the 1940s as partial combination of taekkyeon, Okinawan karate, and other traditions. The name taekwondo was coined by Choi Hong Hi (of the Oh Do Kwan). The World Taekwondo Federation claims that taekwondo development was a collaborative effort by a council consisting of members from the nine original kwans, while the International Taekwon-Do Federation credits Choi Hong Hi solely. Today, enjoy a Taekwondo lesson from an expert. Upon completion of your lesson, you will be presented with a certificate of completion.
Later this afternoon, you will attend a thorough Korean Cooking Class. An expert Chef will conduct a lesson, informing you all about the basic regarding Korean cuisine. After you've listened to his instruction, it's cooking time. The dishes you create include traditional Beef Bulgogi and Panjeon or Seafood Pancake. Upon completion of the class, you will be presented with a certification as a memory of this interesting evening outing.
This evening enjoy an authentically Korean experience - a traditional Korean Tea Ceremony. A Korean Tea Ceremony or Darye is a traditional form of tea ceremony practiced in Korea. Darye literally refers to "etiquette for tea" or "day tea rite" and has been kept among Korean people for an over a thousand years. The chief element of the Korean tea ceremony is the ease and naturalness of enjoying tea within an easy formal setting. Traditional costume will be worn this evening by your hosts. Tonight, sit back and enjoy this aromatic experience while socializing with your family and friends.
A privately driven vehicle will provide you with a transfer from Seoul to Donghae.
Today you depart for Samhwasa Temple, which is located near Mt. Dutasan. En route, you will have the opportunity to stop for some light trekking amongst the rivers, valleys and mountains of this naturally stunning region. Arrive late morning to your home for the evening, the one-thousand year old, small but historical temple named Samhwasa. The temple is far away from the bustle of Seoul, and operates a school teaching Buddhism. Gain a unique insight into the serene experience that is Korean temple life.
Today you will start your day on the Sea Train, which travels over 58km and connects Gangneung, Donghae, and Samcheok. Running along the beautiful East Coast, every seat is tailored to see the ocean and windows are larger than those in regular trains for visitors to overlook the majestic waves, elegant beaches, and the emerald-blue ocean. Revamping three passenger cars, the Sea Train boasts a unique façade, seamlessly intermingling with the surrounding coast. This is a unique, and rarely travelled tourist route.
Then end your excursion and transfer to Gyeongju in the afternoon
Namsan Mountain in Gyeongju is home to many temples and shrines and was considered sacred by many during the Silla Kingdom. This mountain boasts nearly 40 valleys and other peaks.
It is a veritable open-air museum with 100 temples, 80 stone Buddha statues, and 60 stone pagodas. Mt. Namsan is also famous for its scenic landscapes in addition to its cultural heritage. It features numerous valleys, unique rock formations, and beautiful trails.
Gyeongju is a small city with a population of 300,000 people, and the downtown area is just the right size to explore on bicycle. The areas marked ‘Downtown Area’ have the greatest concentration of cultural assets, 133 in total. Next in terms of historic sites is the ‘Namsan Area’ (with 65 cultural attractions). Together, these two areas comprise the Gyeongju Historic Areas listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. The first thing you want to see is Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto. The temple is considered as a masterpiece of the golden age of Buddhist art and the grotto exemplifies some of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world.The ‘Gyeongju Historic Areas’ are vast and culturally unique, and make for an excellent day of exploring on bike!
Gyeongju is called 'the museum without walls' because it has so many historic sites. The historic town of Gyeongju was capital during the mighty Silla Dynasty and as such provided Korea with many cultural developments. The town is a virtual open air museum, housing a seemingly endless array of tombs, temples, shrines, castles and gardens. Further inland, the mountains are surrounded by thousands of Buddhist statues and frescoes. Due to a history of more than 1,000 years as the residence of Korean rulers it holds a rich heritage of sights and remains of that period. The city undertakes a lot of effort to preserve that heritage. Today's Gyeongju has a population of around 260,000, but retains a small-city feel and is fairly easy to get around by foot.
Travel by train today to Busan.
In Busan, you will spend some time exploring two important markets. Gukje Market is the largest traditional market in Busan, and it's history dates back to 1950, and the Korean War. Even today, the area is bursting with the old-fashioned marketplace spirit. Also visit this port cities seafood market, the largest in all of Korea. Uniquely, this market is made up of 'Jagalchi Ajumma,' 'ajumma' meaning middle-aged or married women.
After the morning of touring, you will make route to the airport for flight to Jeju.
A short regional flight takes you off mainland Korea to Jeju Island.
Jeju-do is the only special autonomous province of South Korea, situated on and coterminous with the country's largest island. Jeju-do lies in the Korea Strait, southwest of Jeollanam-do Province, of which it was a part before it became a separate province in 1946. Its capital is the city of Jeju. The island contains the Natural World Heritage Site entitled Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes.
Hallasan (Halla Mountain) rises up proudly from the center of Jeju Island and is perhaps one of the island’s most memorable landmarks. Also called Mt. Yeongjusan, meaning ‘mountain high enough to pull the galaxy,’ Mt. Hallasan is widely acknowledged by scholars for its research value. Designated as a National Park in 1970, there are 368 parasitic mountains called ‘Oreums’ (peaks) around Halla Mountain. Mt. Hallasan is famous for its vertical ecosystem of plants that results from the varying temperatures along the mountainside. Over 1,800 kinds of plants and 4,000 species of animals (3,300 species of insects) have been identified; today you will explore the mountain's treasures by following one of the well-developed mountain hiking trails.
Depart your accommodation this morning and head to the airport for your flight to Suncheon.
Today, you will tour the Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, where you will explore Korea's diverse Upo Wetlands. Created 140 million years ago, dinosaurs once roamed this part of the country. The bottom of the swamp is shallower than 1m and there are over 1,000 species living in its murky waters. It has a primitive atmosphere with 100 kinds of plants. You will view the reed flats up close on a cruise that takes you deep into the waterways, then traverse on foot the 1.2M long reed deck and see migratory birds at ground level. View the entire ecosystem from the observatory, and tie it all together with an educational experience at the Sounds of Nature Center.
Suncheon is a city in South Jeolla Province, South Korea. It is a scenic agricultural and industrial city of around 250,000 people near Suncheon Bay. It is located in the southeastern corner of Jeollanam-do, just over an hour south-east of Gwangju. Forty minutes south of Suncheon is the port city of Yeosu, and twenty minutes to the east of Suncheon is Gwangyang. It is currently experiencing strong development due to being included as part of the Gwangyang Bay Free Economic Zone, one of three newly created Free Economic Zones (FEZs) in South Korea due to open within the next decade.
Transfer this morning to Gokseong where you will ride a steam engine train that was built to be an exact replica of the one that used to run in the region. The train runs 10km between the old Gokseong Station (Seomjingang River Train Village) and Gajeong Station. Passengers can enjoy the scenic view of lush greenery along the Seomjingang River and flowers alongside the roads at springtime. You will also bike the region, which offers yet another unique and beautiful Korean landscape rarely seen by North American travellers.
The Gyejoksan Mountain Red Clay Trail is an eco-healing walking trail which can be found on the nation’s first mountain with a barefoot walking theme, Mount Gyejok. Visitors can walk on red clay and breathe in the fresh aroma of pine trees while enjoying a view of downtown Daejeon from Gyejoksanseong Fortress, which was built during the time of the Three Kingdoms. The trail helps restore the health of the body and soul and gives visitors a therapeutic and unique experience. This 14-kilometer long trail is situated at an altitude between 200 meters and 300 meters above sea level. In autumn, the mountain is bustling with bikers who come to enjoy the splendid landscape of Mount Gyejok. Next you will head onward to Seoul, stopping en route at Icheon Ceramics Village, which was the hub of Korean pottery for 500 years.
A transfer to Seoul is provided this afternoon.
Transfer today back to the international airport in Seoul for your homebound flight.
Hotel MANU is located in Namdaemun-ro, the heart of Seoul. The property is three minutes’ walk from Namdaemun Market and five minutes’ walk from Myeongdong, where you can feel the liveliness of the vibrant downtown. The interior design features natural wood furnishings with distinctive textures, and beige, soft green and wood brown colors. The angles of the two asymmetrically protruded windows in every room offer kaleidoscopic urban views. Choose from Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French and Middle Eastern dishes in the Hotel MANU Restaurant. Recreational amenities include a 24-hour fitness room and massage services.
Located in the center of Jongro, only a short walk from Myeongdong and Namdaemun, and superb public transport connections, the Moon Guest House provides guests with an ideal base to explore Seoul. The hotel offers complimentary wireless internet access in public areas, laundry service and a gift store.
This evening enjoy an authentically Korean experience at the hotel - a traditional Korean Tea Ceremony. A Korean Tea Ceremony or Darye is a traditional form of tea ceremony practiced in Korea. Darye literally refers to "etiquette for tea" or "day tea rite" and has been kept among Korean people for an over a thousand years. The chief element of the Korean tea ceremony is the ease and naturalness of enjoying tea within an easy formal setting. Tonight, sit back and enjoy this aromatic experience while socializing with your family and friends.
The Gyeongju Suite Hotel is situated in the Gyeongju Bomun Tourist Complex, next to the Teddy Bear Museum, surrounded by green spaces and in close proximity to Bomun Lake. The onsite dining venue La terrace Restaurant offers Korean and Western cuisine. Hotel facilities include a karaoke bar, a business center, park golf, a swimming pool with lap lanes and a sauna.
Kasantobang is located right under the Halla Mountain and allows guests to experience the fresh scent of the surrounding trees and soil. At Kasantobang the beauty of the Korean traditional rooms allows for a very restful experience. The details of the beautiful wood trim and the style in each room is luxurious. Room Amenities include air conditioning, a fridge, a TV, a dressing table, and bathroom.
Designed for both business and leisure travel, Ecograd Hotel is ideally situated in Suncheon; one of the city's most popular locales. From here, guests can enjoy easy access to all that the lively city has to offer. With its convenient location, the hotel offers easy access to the city's must-see destinations. Ecograd Hotel also offers many facilities to enrich your stay in Suncheon-si. While lodging at this wonderful property, guests can enjoy the restaurant, coffee shop, concierge, fitness center, and indoor pool.
Holiday Inn Gwangju is situated just 290km from Seoul, and directly opposite the Kimdaejung Convention Centre. The hotel provide the services that business travelers need, while also offering a comfortable atmosphere where everyday guests can relax, kick back and be themselves with amenities such as room service, swimming pools and comfortable lounges. With nearly 1,400 hotels worldwide, Holiday Inn® Hotels and Resorts is the most recognized lodging brand in the world.
Olive Ramchand ,
June 03, 2014
"I have to admit, this was the BEST vacation I ever had. The tour was nothing less than Fantastic! The hotels were great, the guides were great, the transportation was great, the places were great, the people were great, the food was great and last but not least China, itself was out of this world. I'm so glad I booked this tour and would recommend this to anyone. Thanks so much for all your help, your interest and your recommendations. Steve in China was so attentive, he called constantly to make sure everything was fine. We really had a fabulous time and even my jaded husband who normally only seems to care about where the nearest golf course is, was impressed and had a wonderful time.
Thanks again, and unto the next vacation (although I don't know how we would top this one!!)
Jeanne Tarvin ,
April 21, 2014
"The tour was absolutely fabulous. It all started with the planning. Kathryn graciously accommodated our tight schedule and multiple needs, including a mid-trip change in plans. The tour guides and drivers were all great and extremely knowledgeable. The accommodations and meals were fantastic. I was apprehensive about going to China not knowing the language but it worked out great!"
January 15, 2014
"We just returned on Monday from our wonderful trip to South Korea, Bangkok and Phuket. I wanted to thank you for all of your hard work in planning our tours and adventures. Everything was spot on, from our arrivals at the airports, to the guides and the tours. I would not hesitate to recommend you and your company. It was truly a wonderful vacation. Thank you again.
Bob Feldman ,
November 19, 2013
"I wanted to let you know that our trip to China was great! Everybody enjoyed themselves. When planning a trip I am always concerned about the itinerary, the vehicles and the guides. All 3 of these were great. The guides were particularly good and in this case really made the trip a pleasure. Overall a great trip. Thanks for all you did."
Gloria DeWeese ,
October 10, 2013
"A wonderful trip and everything went like clockwork. Thank you so very much for all your assistance. I hope I will have a chance to work with you again."
Wayne Gavioli ,
September 04, 2013
"We just returned from our thailand/cambodia trip. It was fantastic. You did a great job. The guides were excellent as was the drivers. We loved the Victoria Hotel you selected in Siem. Wish we had more time. Thailand met our expectations but our expectations for Cambodia were low and they exceeded them. Loved the places selected for the included lunches. Certainly would use Kensington again"
Santo Filice ,
August 30, 2013
"Thank you for arranging our guided trip to Thailand - Vietnam. It was a memorable, and pleasant trip - a 1st for us with Kensington tours and a most enjoyable one. We found that we were able to maximize our visit of the the area without the concern of booking hotels, airline, finding parking and understanding the local language. "
Tim Mesarch ,
August 02, 2013
"Alexis helped us fit in all of the sites we wanted to see on our trip to Thailand and Cambodia, and suggested some more. It was valuable talking with someone who had been there and done that. The planning went pretty smoothly, and so did the trip. The local guides were all top-notch! "
July 25, 2013
"I highly recommend Kesington Tours. The planning of our trip to Cambodia was outstanding. Our advisor Alexis Mayer was unbelievably patient, knowledgeable and responsive. We planned the trip in every possible detail and Alexis was extraordinary during the whole process. Once we were in Cambodia, we had a tiny issue with the car. I was able to get in contact with Alexis right away and the problem was instantly solved. The trip itself was fantastic. Everything was very well planned and perfectly organized. The local guides and drivers were great. The hotels were very well chosen.
Great trip. I would definitely travel again with Kensington Tours."
Pennie Quintana ,
August 07, 2013
"Thank you so much for the amazing trip we enjoyed!! All our guides were fantasy. Joseph in Jakarta, July in Jojakarta and Deon in Borneo!! Wow!! Bless you for all your attention to detail and the outstanding communication to all my questions. You made me feel so taken care of and tended too!! "
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