THE LAND OF MORNING CALM
South Korea provides excellent combination of history, culture, scenic beauty and technology. We found the country big but mostly mountainous, which is why cities are densely populated (though does not feel so, being well planned). However, the varied terrains also make the whole country look very scenic, diverse and beautiful, as a whole. Another observation is that almost every place we went to had a rich history or historical significance while scenic beauty was abundant.
TRAVELLED IN 2010
DESTINATIONS VISITED (LINKS BELOW):
- Seoul – Ideal for history seekers and Korean city life experience; 3-4 days should be enough
- Jeju Island – Ideal for scenic beauty lovers, honey-mooners, weekend getaways; recommend 2-3 days
- Airport/transfers: Incheon International Airport is about 40km from Seoul city centre. Well connected by public taxis which are honest/safe.
- Phone connection: Can rent mobile phones from airport for ~US$2 per day. Major hotels also provide mobile phones. Call rates are reasonable to most other countries such as USA, HK etc.
- Money exchange: Incheon Int’l airport has bank exchange counters (such as Busan bank, Woori Bank etc) which are after baggage collection, just before exit from building. Not a bad deal to get it done from them. As usual, private exchangers are more costly.
- Language: Most people, especially young to middle aged ones can speak English. However, we did face some issues with hotel staff in Jeju Island.
- Getting around: We used Seoul city subway (train) for most local travel to locations/attractions and bought their travel pass for convenient travel. Taxis are otherwise another convenient and safe alternative. Jeju Island is well connected through domestic flights from many cities in S. Korea and some international cities directly. See website for details.
- Getting around in Jeju: Within Jeju, either take the tour buses or take a cab, no other way to travel for sightseeing. Taxis/cabs are obviously more expensive but we did find out a way to make the tour cheap and interesting… read on!
- Food: While Korean and Japanese cuisines are easy to find, those having strictly vegetarian diet shall have bit of tough time. We did have precooked food packets with us (my wife was Veg, then), so think those helped. Continental food can be relatively easily found. Indian restaurants are present in Seoul, not Jeju.
P.S. For flights – we think trying Korean Air is worth it for international travel, having amazing service (comparable to Thai Air) and has well maintained/new aircrafts. Asiana Airlines is good as well but we found it bit more pricey. Domestic travel is more coach like in terms of food but service remains Asia-like: warm and decent.
Update 2011: Korean Air has started offering A380 for major routes from Seoul. Do check out the A380 experience. It is as majestic as the airplane itself.
OUR MODEL ITINERARY FOR REFERENCE
- Day 1: Incheon Airport to hotel in city centre. Visit nearby areas and markets, most of which offer local flavor
- Day 2: Visit palaces – one day is enough for cursory understanding of history
- Day 3: Visit shops or relax in morning. Take evening 1.5hr flight to Jeju.
- Day 4: Sight seeing at Jeju – a day long tour is enough for most of Jeju Island while another half day (at least) should be spared to go to top of Seongsan volcano crater (it’s a 5-6 hour trek).
- Day 5: Relax morning away at the many resorts there especially at Seopwipo, which is at southern end of the picturesque island. Take evening flight to Jeju and connecting flight to home city.
What we didn’t see – Seoul outer areas which include Korean Folk (old) Village, Everland. Cities of Gyeong-ju, Busan, Pohang etc. We think they are worth a look.