Friday, August 15, 2014

South Korea in 2 weeks (May/June 2014)

If you're not into tour packages which usually just hops and skips at popular tourist destinations, you can consider my family's customized travel itinerary. 

It's not an extensive coverage of all brochure-worthy tourist attractions but a combination of sights and scenery that caters to our family's interests and budget (and maybe yours, too!), as well as energy. And since we've missed out a fair number of places during our first visit, we are definitely looking forward to returning to South Korea sometime in the future.

The one's with asterisks are places/attractions originally in my itinerary but we were not able to visit either due to bad weather or lack of time or injured companions. I then rearrange the places to see as and when necessary during the trip itself. I hope this one helps you in your travel planning if you are visiting Korea any time soon.

15D/14N itinerary to 3 major cities in South Korea

Seoul - a combination of culture, nature and theme parks in 6 days

Seoul is a very vibrant city with ancient traditions and modern architecture complementing each other. The largest and capital city of South Korea boasts of a wide range of attractions from UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Changdeok Palace and Jongmyo Shrine to entertainment (K-pop and Psy), to name a few. The city has also a number of attractions that made it to the world's list of largest or biggest. Mt Bukhan is the world's most visited national park per square foot. Lotte World is the world's largest indoor theme park. Moonlight Rainbow Fountain is the world's longest bridge fountain. Let's not forget the world famous shopping streets of Myeongdong, Namdaemun and Dongdaemun. With all of these attractions in mind, it was tough to plan an itinerary for less than a week. Here's what I came up with...

Day 1: Familiarization day
Morning - arrived in Busan 

Afternoon - KTX to Seoul, then walked around Yongsan vicinity

Night - bought train ticket cards (T-money is an option) after dinner

* visit KTO office for brochures and maps
* walk along Cheonggyecheon Stream @ night; or visit Banpo Bridge or one of the Dongjak Bridge Cafes for a view of the Bridge @ night 

Day 2: Shrine and Garden tours
Morning - Jongmyo Shrine

Afternoon - Secret Garden tour @ 1:30pm

* Changyeonggung Palace (morning)
* Changdeokgung Palace (afternoon)
* Bukchon Hanok Village (afternoon)
* Gyeongbokgung Palace (afternoon)
* Chongwadae / The Blue House (afternoon)
* Insadong street (night)

Day 3: Cultural immersion 
Morning - Korea House and Namsangol Hanok Village

Afternoon - Deoksugung PalaceCheonggye Plaza, Cheonggyecheon Stream, Ganghwamun Plaza, Kyobo Bookstore

Afternoon till night - Namsan Oreumi, Namsan Cable Car, N Seoul TowerMyeongdong street shopping

Day 4: Themeparks galore
Morning - Kidzania
Afternoon - Lotte World

Day 5: Shopping day
Morning till late afternoon - Paju Premium Outlet
Night - Dongdaemun

Day 6: last-minute shopping and packing
Morning - last-minute shopping at Yongsan Electronics market
Afternoon - flight to Jeju Island

* 63 City (morning / early afternoon)

Jeju Island 
Although there is a relatively good network of buses and trains servicing Jeju Island we decided to rent a car. We saw it as an opportunity for another road trip with the boys. Jeju Island is known to be the Hawaii of Korea or Honeymoon Island. This got us pretty excited to go and see for ourselves why the island was a popular tourist destination. Our recent trip to Hokkaido made us wonder that if somehow the attractions are almost the same as those we've seen there so far (given they are both islands) then we are in for another great road trip. Here was how we spent our 6-day driving tour of Jeju Island....

Day 7: maze, cave and beach galore
- Gimnyeong Maze park
Manjanggul Cave

Gimnyeong Seonsegi Beach
- Hamdeok Seowoobong Beach

* option to go to Seongsan Ilchulbong for sunrise, then to Seopjikoji
* Daheeyon Garden, for tea lovers (afternoon)
* Samyang Black Sand beach (late afternoon) 
* Gwakji Gwamul beach (late afternoon)

Day 8: nature trails on the way to Seogwipo
- Mysterious Road
- 5.16 Road Forest Tunnel

- Sangamburi Crater
- Ecoland

* Hallim Park (afternoon)
* Hallasan national park, for trekkers (afternoon)

Day 9: nature trip

- Oedolgae Rock
- Cheonjiyeon Falls
Saeseom islet and Saeyeongyo bridge 

- Jeongbang Falls
Seopjikoji and Seongsan Ilchulbong


- Seogwipo Stadium
* Pyoseon Beach (afternoon)
* Seongeoup Folk Village (afternoon)
* Trick Art Museum (afternoon)
* Hahyo Soesakkak Beach (afternoon)

Day 10: Jeungmun Resort Complex

- Jusanjeolli Cliff

Afternoon @ Jungmun Resort Complex
ICC Jeju JTO duty free shop
Cheonjeyeon Falls
- Lotte Hotel Duty Free
- Ripley's Believe it or not
- Alive Museum

* Teddy Bear Museum (afternoon)
* Pacific Land (afternoon)
Yeomiji Botanical Garden (afternoon)
* Museum of World Vehicles (afternoon)

Day 11: on the way back to Jeju

Hwasun Geummorae Beach
- Mt Sanbangsan
- Yeongmeori Coast

- Iho Taewo Beach with horse lighthouse
Day 12: last day in Jeju Island

Yongduam Dragon's head rock

- flight to Busan @ 4pm

- Haeundae Beach, Busan

* Gwanggali Beach (night)
* Gwangwan Bridge (night)

This was where our South Korea adventure started and ended. I've read a lot about the beautiful beaches and coastal views of Busan. These types of attractions are what we usually prefer. It was unfortunate though that we didn't have much time to see much of Busan. With the limited 3 days that we have, we were only able to scratch the surface of Busan's attractive city. 

Day 13

Morning @ Taejongdae Park. Ride Danubi train
Afternoon @ Jagalchi Station
Late afternoon till night @ Dadaepo Beach Fountain of Dream
* Gamcheon Village (afternoon)

Day 14: 

Morning @ Shinsegae Centum City
Afternoon @ Gamcheon Village
* Haeundae Beach (morning)
* Haeundae Dalmaji-gil (morning)
* Dongbaekseom Island (morning)
* Narimaru APEC house (morning)
* Yongdusan park (afternoon)

Day 15last day in Busan
Morning flight back to Singapore

There really is so much to see and do given the size of the country and its islands to explore, but there's just so little time. I guess there will always be a next time :)

For now, bear with me as I finish the compilation of photos and day-to-day experiences of our family. I'll be posting them soon!

Travel trips:
  • We've had a number of missed attractions during our visit to Seoul. But I would like to look at them as opportunities to come back to see more of the city. So if you also miss out attractions listed in your itinerary for some reason don't be frustrated about it. There is always a next time.
  • Getting lost is another way (sometimes even a better way) to see a new place. Those unintended detours sometimes pave the way for us to interact with the locals and even fellow tourists, which I think should be an integral part of every journey.

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