South Korea: Ancient Pagodas, Native Villages & High-Tech Capital City
In Seoul, South Korea’s capital city, life moves at a dizzying speed. There are more than 10 million citizens here, and they make their home among futuristic skyscrapers that house the headquarters of major tech companies. Bullet trains zoom at hundreds of miles an hour. Even the speeds of broadband Internet connections in Seoul manage to exceed those of most cities in the world, if not all of them.
On the city’s outskirts, there's a little less of the neon glow and more of the city’s ancient temples and UNESCO World Heritage sites, which help lend a more spiritual, tranquil atmosphere. Seoul embodies the duality of South Korea's culture, a mix of ancient Buddhist traditions and space-age tech savvy, and this megalopolis is one of the highlights on the itinerary of your 10-day, 8-night tour of South Korea.
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From San Francisco International Airport (SFO), you’ll depart for Seoul via Singapore Airlines, losing a day as you cross the International Date Line. After touching down at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, you'll transfer to the Hamilton Hotel, situated in the heart of the capital city’s shopping district.
Day 3 After a hearty breakfast, you'll head out for a half-day tour of Seoul. The group will stop at the Korean president’s headquarters, Cheongwadae, alternatively known as the Blue House for its distinctive cobalt-blue roof tiles. You’ll be able to witness the traditional Royal Guard-Changing ceremony, where music, brightly colored flags, and choreography herald each shift change for soldiers guarding the palace.
Your next stop is Gyeongbok Palace, which was originally built in the 14th century as one of the country’s Five Grand Palaces. The elaborate palace is a stunning example of restored Korean architecture; it has more than 7,000 rooms spread throughout hundreds of ornate buildings. After checking out the prehistoric and contemporary artifacts on display at Seoul’s National Folk Museum, you’ll have the rest of the day to roam the city on your own.
Day 4 The city of Daegu, home to Gayasan Mountain National Park, is popular with tourists for its flowing streams, scenic mountainsides, and colorful wildflowers. In one of the park’s lush valleys, you'll find the Haeinsa Temple. It features more than 80,000 wood blocks etched with Buddhist scriptures that once served as Lincoln Logs for the Buddha himself. Come nightfall, you’ll head back to the elegant Daegu Grand Hotel.
Days 5–6 Your group will get up bright and early to journey to Gyeongju for a tour that spotlights some of South Korea’s most impressive ancient architecture. One example is Bulguksa Temple, which is surrounded by wooden bridges and stone terraces and dates back to the sixth century. Various national treasures are kept in this temple, including a number of Buddhist sculptures. A large statue of the Buddha is the centerpiece of Seokguram Grotto, which looks out on the East Sea from Mount Toham. The ancient granite temple is decorated with bas-reliefs and intricate carvings of lotus flowers and other sacred symbols.
After a night at Gyeongju Chosun Hotel, you’ll be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime view at Cheomseongdae, a stone astronomical observatory from the seventh century at Anapji Pond.
You can also get some great views at Busan Tower, albeit in an entirely different atmosphere. The tower, which resembles a pillar, is a modern structure perched atop a steep hill that stands more than 100 meters tall. You can get panoramic views of the ocean and Busan’s cityscape from the top. Before retiring to Busan Hotel, you’ll visit a native fish market near Taejongdae Park, which also features a lighthouse, an amusement park, and oceanside bluffs.
Day 7 Suncheon City has a picturesque, unspoiled ecology of waterfalls and wetlands. On an eco-tour, you'll pay a visit to the Seonamsa Buddhist temple and trek to Naganeupseong, the walled fortress that once protected against Japanese pirates. It's now home to a small village, and the original castle is also in relatively good shape.
Days 8–9 On the drive back to Seoul, you’ll stop at a Korean folk village and get a glimpse into traditional South Korean culture.
The following day, you’ll wrap up the trip with a visit to the demilitarized zone, the treaty line that separates North and South Korea.
Day 10 Travel back to the airport to board a Singapore Airlines flight for same-day arrival at San Francisco International Airport.
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