Tailor-made Tour 12 days from £4600 per person
Places Visited: Seoul, Seoraksan National Park, Andong (Hahoe), Gyeongju
Just shy of a fortnight in duration, this 12-day tour offers exceptional variety. You’ll begin in the capital, acclimatising with visits to the city’s superb palaces, museums and atmospheric arts enclave of Insadong, with its old-style tea shops, and perhaps a trip out to the DMZ. From Seoul, your tour then swings northeast, delving into the country’s most spectacular mountain landscapes at the Seoraksan National Park, before heading to the central region of the peninsula at Andong, famed for its picturesque thatched villages and traditional hanoks.
Your final halt before returning to the capital for your flight home is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gyeongju, at the foot of sacred Mt Namsan, whose tombs and temples span over a millennium of Korean history. Allow an additional 4 or 5 days for a detour south to the mountain temples and subtropical beaches of Jeju Island.
Fly from the UK to Seoul, the South Korean capital.
On arrival at the airport, you’ll be met by your TransIndus guide and driven to your hotel. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from your journey, perhaps venturing out around late afternoon for a stroll on the plaza surrounding Seoul Tower.
Reached via the Namsan Cable Car, Seoul Tower yields an astounding panoramic view over the city and is the perfect introduction to the awesome scale of the metropolis. Numerous visitor attractions are to be found on its upper floors, from four separate Observation Decks, to restaurants, shops, a teddy bear museum and popular ‘Locks of Love’ installation, where couples hang padlocks as symbols of eternal love.
After breakfast, take your seat for a luxury coach tour of the city’s principal sights: the Chandeokgung Palace, Gyeongbokgung, Gwangjang Market and Insadong.
Most tours kick off with the Chandeokgung, former seat of the Joseon Dynasty, whose gracious apartments hold displays of priceless Korean antiques. Afterwards you’ll be shown around the Gyeongbokgung, Seoul’s largest palace, which served as the Taejo’s principal residence until 1592, and retains beautifully well-preserved audience halls, gateways and paved courtyards. For lunch, head across town to Gwangjang Market for a bowl of ‘bibimbap’ (warm, white rice topped with sautéed vegetables, and soybean paste). Then explore the district of Insadong, home to half of the country’s art galleries and antique shops, as well as some atmospheric old tea houses where you can review your purchases over a pot of restorative quince tea.
Join a full day's tour today of the DMZ or Demilitarized Zone, separating North and South Korea.
For over 50 years, the armies of the two rival states have maintained an uneasy truce along this heavily fortified border, separated by a three-mile-wide buffer zone, which scythes for 160 miles (250km) across the middle of the peninsula. The main showpiece of the DMZ is Panmunjom, an hour’s drive north of the capital, where the Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, and peace talks are still occasionally held. Despite the mines and listening posts scattered across it, the absence of human activity within it has ensured the DMZ is now a biodiversity hotspot. Rare red-crowned cranes and even tigers are believed to inhabit this wild limbo land.
Seoraksan National Park
After breakfast, drive northeast to the Seoraksan National Park, home of some of the Korean Peninsula’s most dramatic scenery and an area boasting exceptional biodiversity.
Seoraksan, in the far northeast of Korea, takes its name from the mountain whose snow-streaked heights form the park’s centrepiece. Renowned as much for its floral diversity as its spectacular landscapes, the sanctuary is especially popular during the autumn, when Koreans flock here to admire the changing colours. Serene waterfalls and Sillia-era Zen shrines are its other attractions. Once you’ve checked in to your hotel, travel to the park entrance at Seorakdong and catch the cable car up the mountain to Gwongeumseong Fortress, site of a ruined castle, from where the views are astounding.
Seoraksan National Park
The sixth day of your tour will be spent entirely within the park, savouring its beautiful forests, gorges, mountains and rock formations, reminiscent of scenes from ancient Chinese ink drawings.
There are plenty of options for hikes in the area, ranging from full-day summit ascents to gentle woodland ambles – your guide will be able to advise you on the best for your levels of fitness. One of our favourites starts at the Sinheungsa Temple, just beyond the Cable Car Base, where a large bronze Buddha flags the start of a beautiful path winding along the banks of a rocky stream of turquoise meltwater. Numerous large boulders provide picnic and sunbathing spots as you ascend the valley to the Geumganggul Cave, a grotto halfway up a rock tower reached via a steep flight of steps.
Today you’ll drive down the peninsula’s scenic east coast before heading inland to the Andong area, a bastion of old-world Confucism boasting a wonderful crop of traditional manor houses, or hanoks.
You’ll be spending the night in a particularly fine hanok, sleeping on an old-fashioned mattress laid out on under-heated floors – a uniquely Korean experience. Pass the remainder of the day wandering around the pretty lanes and field paths of Hahoe village, home to a fine assemblage of thatched period properties.
In the morning, visit the Dosan Confucian School – a gem of traditional Korean architecture occupying a serene location on a forested hillside – then head back to Andong, where you’ll catch the train to Gyeongju.
Gyeongju, half a day’s journey southeast of the capital, was the seat of the powerful Sillia dynasty, who ruled over the region between 57BC and 935AD. An exceptional crop of monuments survives as their legacy, the most impressive of them dating from the 7th and 10th centuries. Comprising temples, pagodas, ancient burial sites, statues and gardens, they stand in the shadow of Mt Namsan, Korea’s most sacred peak, whose many shrines can be viewed from the pilgrimage paths ascending its sides.
Get up as early as you can bear to for a visit to the sublime Seokguram Grotto just after sunrise, then explore the nearby Bulguksa Temple, followed by the National Museum after lunch.
It’s worth a bleary-eyed start to savour the view from the Seokguram Grotto as the sun rises over the distant East Sea. The cave itself is home one of the great treasures of oriental stone sculpture: a sensuously carved Sakyamuni Buddha. An even more spectacular vestige of Silla rule, the Bulguksa Temple further down the mountain conveys the great power and sophistication of ancient Korea, and is a good place to watch the current population at play and at prayer. In the afternoon there will ample time to visit the National Museum, with its superb collection of priceless artefacts unearthed at the site, which include solid gold crowns, ornamental weapons and the huge ‘Emille Bell’.
Continue your explorations of Gyeongju with a visit to the Royal Tumuli Park, in which the enigmatic grassy mounds holding the tombs of the Silla Kings are enclosed. Spend the afternoon enjoying the forests and minor tomb sites of Namsan mountain.
Highlights of the Tumuli Park include the Cheonmachong, the only ancient tomb in the country you can enter, and Tomb of King Michu (262–284AD). Anyone wishing to tackle longer, more challenging walks will be spoiled for choice with the network of ancient pilgrims’ trails winding through the pine, peach, plum and cryptomeria trees on the lower slopes of Mount Namsan. Your guide will be able to advise you on the most rewarding options.
Today you’ll travel back to the capital by train, arriving in time for a spot of last-minute shopping. Our top tip for authentic souvenirs is the Modern Market Place, where quality arts and crafts from the country are sold in an elegant old Korean hanok.
Fine textiles, traditional tea-making paraphernalia, artisanal ceramics, brass spoon sets, hand-carved stamp seals and exquisite rice bowls are the stock in trade of MMP, which occupies the mansion of a former lacquer master on Gyedong-gil. It stays open until 8pm.
It’s time to say farewell to South Korea as you head for the airport to catch your flight back to the UK.
Tailor-made Tour 12 days from £4600 per person
✓ International flights from London
✓ 10 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Places and Experiences in this tour
A megalopolis of over 10 million people, Seoul feels like a city on a mission. Modernity is undoubtedly the capital’s keynote, but recent years have seen efforts to reconnect with...
Seoraksan National Park
Seoraksan, in the far northeast of Korea, takes its name from the mountain whose snow-streaked heights form the park’s centrepiece. Renowned as much for its floral diversity as it...
Andong & Hahoe
The region northwest of Gyeongju, around the provincial town of Andong, has long been one of the most conservative in Korea. Many of the Confucian elite of the Joseon era maintain...
Gyeongju, half a day’s journey southeast of the capital, was the seat of the powerful Silla dynasty, who ruled over the region between 57 BC and 935 AD. An exceptional crop of mon...
Often dubbed ‘Korea’s Hawaii’, Jeju is the country’s main honeymoon destination and a popular playground for Seoul’s jet set. But the island boasts some spectacular scenery too. ...
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