Temlpe Discovery 15 days
- Gyeongbokgung Palace
- National Folk Museum of Korea
- Jogyesa Temple
- Insa-dong Antique Shop Street
- Namdaemun Market
- Unification Observatory
- Kim Ilsung Villa
- Geojin Fishing Port
- Seoraksan National Park
- Naksansa Temple
- Woljeongsa Temple
- North Korean Submarine
- Jeongdongjin Station
- Hwanseongul Cave
- Coal Museum
- Buseoksa Temple
- Ginseng Market
- Bongjeongsa Temple
- Hahoemaeul Village
- Jebiwon Buddha
- Ganggu Port
- Yangdongmaeul Village
- Seokguram Grotto
- Bulguksa Temple
- Gyeongju National Museum
- Cheomseongdae Astronomical Observatory
- Tumuli Park
- Bunhwangsa Temple
- Namsan Cultural Hiking
- Girimsa Temple
- Gameunsa Pagoda
- Tomb of King Munmu
- Tongdosa Temple
- Beomeosa Temple
- Yongdusan Park
- Jagalchi Fish Market
- Unmunsa Temple
- Goryeong Tumuli Museum
- Haeinsa Temple
- Gwanghallu Pavilion
- Hwaeomsa Temple
- Songgwangsa Temple
- Nagan Fortress Village
- Tea Plantation
- Gochang Dolmen Museum
- Jeonju Hanok Village
- Mireuksa Temple Site
- Gwanchoksa Temple
- Jeongrimsa Pagoda
- Bueyo National Museum
- Busosan Fortress
- Songsanri Tombs
- Gongju National Museum
- Oeammaeul Village
- Hwaseong Fortress
Click on the days to access the programs quick
|Days||Visits and Activities||Distance|
|Day 1||Arrive Seoul||60km|
|Day 3||Seoul - Goseong - Hwajinpo - Geojin - Seoraksan||310km|
|Day 5||Seoraksan - Naksan - Odaesan - Gangneung - Jeongdongjin - Taebaek||270km|
|Day 6||Taebaek - Buseok - Punggi - Andong||210km|
|Day 7||Andong - Yeongdeok - Yangdong - Gyeongju||220km|
|Day 9||Gyeongju - Gampo - Yangsan - Busan||150km|
|Day 10||Busan - Cheongdo - Goryeong - Gayasan||210km|
|Day 11||Gayasan - Namwon - Gurye - Songgwang - Suncheon||200km|
|Day 12||Suncheon - Nagan - Boseong - Hwasun - Gimje - Jeonju||220km|
|Day 13||Jeonju - Iksan - Nonsan - Buyeo||170km|
|Day 14||Buyeo - Gongju - Asan - Suwon - Seoul||210km|
Day 1 Arrive Seoul (- - -)
Touching down at Incheon International Airport places you in the heart of Korea. After you clear Passport and Customs control, your tour guide will greet you at the main passenger terminal and transport you to your hotel.
Day 2 Seoul (B)
Your exploration this morning begins with a driving tour of Seoul, featuring sites such as Seoul Plaza, City Hall, Cheonggye Square and pedestrian-friendly Gwanghwamun Plaza that is hemmed in on both sides by rushing traffic and office buildings. The plaza is lined on each side with 365m long streamlets, two centimeters deep and one meter across, the stone bed of the plaza's east side waterway engraved with important events in chronological order from 1392 to 2008.
Standing high on a stone pillar is a statue of Yi Sunsin who had engaged in twenty-three naval battles and emerged victorious in all of them during the Hideyoshi invasion (1592-1598). King Sejong who propagated the Korean alphabet in the 15th century is also honored with prominent statue. On August 16, 2014, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in this plaza to beatify 124 Korean martyrs. Near the southwest corner of the plaza is Korea's Kilometer Zero, marking the distances to 64 cities around the world, including Seoul's antipode, Montevideo, Uruguay, 19,606km.
Step back in time to when life was gracefully slow and discover Gyeongbokgung Palace, a particularly charming spot that represents a colorful and turbulent side of the capital's 500-year history. Depending on timing, you may witness the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony featuring parade, password verification, duty shift and patrolling the gate. Accompanied by a court band with its colorful costumes and royal flags, the ceremony is performed daily basis at 10:00 and 14:00 except Tuesdays, although it is cancelled in case of rain or extremely hot or cold weather.
Up from the gates is a spacious stone-paved courtyard that is fully enclosed by wooden cloisters, and at the center of which runs three footpaths through two rows of rank stones, indicating the positions of the officials with the highest rank being closer to the hall.
Standing majestically on top of a two-tiered stone platform that is lined with detailed balustrades is Geunjeongjeon Hall, where the king formally granted audiences to his officials, gave declarations of national importance, presided over large official functions, and greeted foreign envoys and ambassadors. Check out the royal throne and a large painting, depicting sun, moon, five peaks, streams and pine trees, which was the crucial signifier of the king. And up in the center of the ceiling, the bright golden dragons in bold relief indicate the presence of the king.
At the back of the throne hall is a group of court offices. Displayed in front of the King's official quarters is sundial, conceived in order to catch the shadow of the sun, which tells time and 24 periods of seasonal change from the winter solstice to the summer solstice.
Sitting on the island in the rectangular lake is Gyeonghoeru. Supported by 48 square and cylindrical massive stone pillars representing the idea of Yin and Yang, this magnificent pavilion was used for many purposes ranging from receptions to national examinations.
Gangnyeongjeon is the king's sleeping and living quarters while Gyotaejeon is the queen's domain containing a number of halls. The noted feature of these main buildings is an absence of a top roof ridge.
Amisan Garden, landscaped with four hexagonal chimneys in orange bricks, is seldom noticed by the hurried visitors. Jagyeongjeon is the queen dowager's residence. Although less colorful, it is worth noting the wall, adorned with floral designs and the chimneys with ten longevity symbols.
Hyangwonjeong features a small pond with a manmade islet that supports a beautiful two-story pavilion. Behind this serene garden is Geoncheonggung, where the king and queen could relax in peace and quiet. It was here that the first electric lights in the country were installed in 1887 after 8 years of Thomas Edison's invention and a tragic chapter in Korea's history was recorded when empress Myeongseong was assassinated by the sword-bearing Japanese assassins in the early morning of 8 October 1895, allegedly under orders from Miura Goro.
Your visit to the National Folk Museum of Korea will familiarize you with wealthy culture of this friendly and picturesque nation. It is an excellent facility to illustrate the history of traditional life of the Korean people from the prehistoric age to the Joseon dynasty. The permanent exhibition features life and work, costumes and ornaments, handicrafts and technology, educations, living quarters, dietary life, oriental medicine, performing arts and games, beliefs and rituals, and socio cultural life.
Drive past Korea's first post office. On the evening of Dec. 4, 1884, a banquet was held here to celebrate the successful inauguration of Korea’s postal system. Ironically, it was this celebration that helped doom Korea’s postal system as well as other early modernizations. The ill-fated “Gapsin” Coup lasted a mere three days but its toll was heavy. It wasn’t until 1895 that Korea again established a domestic postal system. This was followed by an international mail service in 1900.
Squeeze in a stop at Jogyesa, the head temple of Jogyejong the principal sect of Korean Buddhism, emphasizing the Zen orthodox, meditation tradition and the purity of monastic celibacy. The temple does not give off the solemn and traditional air of the other temples located deep in the mountains, but when you enter the temple the frenzy of the city start disappearing. The Main Worship Hall holds triad Buddhas, Sakyamuni, Amitabha and Bhaisajyaraja. The figure in the center is Sakyamuni Buddha who has overcome greed, hatred and delusion. While here it is worth noting the 500 year old lacebark pine and 400 year old locust tree that still grace the property.
Insa-dong is known as the center of traditional Korean art and antiques. Clustered along the main street and alleys are numerous shops dealing in antiques, oriental art supplies, and modern Korean art of all types and styles. Many scour the main street, but the back alleys do spring some unexpected surprises. Here, you may want to buy some souvenirs or simply wander and browse at leisure admiring upscale art galleries, antique shops and cultural ambience.
You will tour the centuries-old Namdaemun Market brimming with well over 11,000 shops selling anything you can imagine. The whole area is a labyrinth of street vendors and buildings. The market is seriously crowded, so be prepared to get bumped around. A fantastic place to haggle over the price to get the best deal on something you want or simply admire the vibrancy of this massive market.
At the western entrance of the market in the middle of a traffic circle stands Sungnyemun. It is a formidable and iconic construct that served as the southern gate of the wall that surrounded Seoul during the period of the Joseon Dynasty.
Day 3 Seoul - Hwajinpo - Geojin - Seoraksan (B) 310km
Depart Seoul early this morning to arrive in Seoraksan national park. As you make your way to the east coast, enjoy the picturesque countryside, tranquil nature and beautiful landscape. At the northern tip of the east coast sits Unification Observatory. With the entry permit and sign to place in the vehicle window ready, continue towards the north, driving past lots of tank traps comprising large lumps of concrete set on either side of the road, all a strange and eerie reminder of the tensions that exist between the two Koreas and the stark reality of the divided country. While there, you will get a glimpse of the much talked about border dividing the two Koreas and see the road and train track stretched side by side ahead across the North Korea.
Hwajinpo is a charming coastal town located by the scenic lagoon edged by sweetbriers and reeds. Stop at Kim Ilsung villa not to glorify him but to learn Korea's complicated history. It is where Kim Ilsung and his family spent their summer holidays until 1950. The villa displays photos and documents chronicling his life and modern Korean history. When the Korean War ended in 1953, the border between the Koreas was redrawn, and the Hwajinpo wound up in the South.
Next, enjoy a short tour of Geojin fishing port where the quaint charm of this coastal town captivates visitors. As you stroll down the quayside, check out the boats sailing in and off, drying fishes in the sun, fishermen tending their nets and, on the sleepy roadsides off the dock, elderly women selling fishes - a delightful treat to a rural lifestyle.
Seoraksan national park is a place that you can definitely find lots of outdoor activities to make it worth while for an extended stay. Rugged peaks, fantastic cliffs, numerous waterfalls, unique rock formations, and scenic valleys altogether make this park and surrounding area some of the most beautiful sceneries on the Korean peninsula, and give this area an unparalleled popularity around the year.
Day 4 Seoraksan (B)
The word of the day is hiking of varying lengths and difficulty. Only a small walk from the park entrance, you will marvel at a large bronze statues, Unification Buddha, symbolizing Korean people's hope for reunification of the country. A little further on is Sinheungsa temple where Cheonbuldong valley and Ulsanbawi trails begin.
Cheonbuldong valley Trail
It is the most impressive valley in the park, leading to Biseondae, Yangpok waterfalls and finally the peak of Seoraksan (1,708m). One hears many legends of the heavenly nymphs who come down to play at Biseondae while taking a bathe in the placid pools of the valleys that are hidden from the human eyes. Near Biseondae rises Janggunbong majestically and among the crags of it is Geumgang cave with a tiny temple inside. You will head up a very steep incline for 600m from the gentle slope of the trail, and you can scale only by carefully ascending the long, steep, metal stairs bolted onto the sheer cliff face. The hike, although hard, comes with a stunning view of numerous cliffy peaks and mountain valley. From Biseondae, another 3.5km to Yangpok Falls, so spacious yet everywhere you looked you are surrounded by giant mountain peaks.
About an hour and half into the walk from the park entrance is Gyejoam hermitage. Located at the base of Ulsanbawi, and the point at which the trail takes a sharp rise upwards. In front of the hermitage on a spacious stone slab is a huge spherical rock called Heundeulbawi. This rock is so perfectly balanced that it can be shaken with some effort, but nobody gets further than waggling it. Your adventure begins by climbing a massive steep staircase that winds its way up the side of the cliff that angle up Ulsanbawi, a 2.8km-long ridge of naked, gray stone peaks jutting 873m into the sky.
Biryong waterfall Trail
The trail is relatively easy for anyone to enjoy and you will view Biryeong waterfalls at the trail end. About 400m further above the falls, you will be amazed at Towangseong waterfalls cascading down a 320-meter cliff.
There is a cable car that picks you up at the valley floor to the Gwongeumseong. The peak is surrounded by cavernous drop-off cliffs, cloaked in more towering rocky summits. Definitely, you stand in awe on the top: sweeping panoramic views of the park around you, the Pacific Ocean, and the small beachside town of Sokcho. Be careful as always as there is not much room to move about and people constantly going up and down and moving around.
Among the recommendable trails from Sogongwon or park entrance (230m above sea level) are as follow and the given times are based on round trip starting and ending at Sogongwon in a relaxed pace.
1. Biryong Falls (310m) + Towangseong Falls observatory (5.6km): 3 hours 30 minutes - Moderate and Strenuous
2. Biseondae (334m) (6km): 2 hours 30 minutes - Moderate
3. Biseondae + Geumgang cave (495m) (7.2km): 4 hours - Moderate and Strenuous
4. Biseondae + Yangpok (715m) (13.2km): 7 hours - Moderate
5. Heundeulbawi (510m) (6.6km): 3 hours - Moderate
6. Heundeulbawi + Ulsanbawi (873m) (7.6km): 5 hours 30 minutes - Moderate and Strenuous
7. Gwongeumseong (800m) Cable car (3.4km): 1 hour (roughly four minutes each up and down) - Moderate
Sokcho has so much more to offer than just mountains. Daepohang becomes a great attraction when this small alley lit up. You will see a wide variety of fresh seafood harvested from the nearby sea and a number of small restaurants serving sliced raw fish. You will find something to enjoy, from simply feeling the ambiance of this small fishing port to taking picture. And in downtown, there is a colorful market selling fishes, fruits, vegetables, grains and daily necessities, and a little further down is a North Korean refugee village that can be accessible by a hand-pulled boat.
Day 5 Seoraksan - Naksan - Odaesan - Gangneung - Jeongdongjin - Taebaek (B) 270km
Visit Naksansa temple from the 7th century. In April 2005, the temple with all the surroundings was burned to the ground. Today, 12 temple buildings and facilities were restored. Exquisitely decorated, the hall is full of statues of the Bodhisattva in various poses, and you will appreciate the skill of Korean woodcarving. There is a fine 6.2 meter-tall seven-story stone pagoda that is believed to have been erected in the 15th century.
Built on the edge of the cliff, Hongryeonam is among the popular spots in the temple. There is a cap on the floor-open it for an unimaginable sight. You can see the surging waves constantly and mercilessly crushing against the cliff. The sound of waves crashing goes up into the temple and the fresh sea air also fills the temple. Near hermitage is Uisangdae pavilion perched on top of a cliff by the sea, where Uisang used to sit and meditate.
Visit 7th century Woljeongsa temple. You will pass under the Boje-ru, which is adorned with various guardians to gain access to the temple courtyard. Straight ahead, you will immediately notice the nine-story, octagonal shaped, stone pagoda from the Goryeo Dynasty. The uniquely shaped pagoda is not only the main highlight to the temple, but it’s also National Treasure. Wind chimes hang on each corner of the pagoda, while a seated stone Bodhisattva is situated out in front making an offering. Another amazing part of the temple is the 800-meter path arched by tall fir trees. The trickles of stream and fresh yet musky fir trees small add the pleasure of your visit.
Drive past the salvaged North Korean submarine that is on display together with retired Korean navy ship. The three armed guerillas infiltrated into the land on September 15, 1996, to spy on the naval installations in the area while the others were on standby in the submarine. However, it ran aground on September 18. The crew eventually abandoned any attempt to find their way back to the North and split up in several groups. But, one was soon spotted by a civilian who became suspicious and alarmed the authorities. Counterespionage operation was in progress for 49 days and of the 26 North Korean infiltrators, 1 was captured alive, 13 spies were shot, 11 were murdered by their colleagues and 1 reportedly escaped back to North Korea.
After a short break at Jeongdongjin, a tiny village located by the ocean with a quaint railway station of being the closest to the ocean anywhere in the world, explore Hwanseongul Cave. About 30 minute grueling uphill hike from the ticket office or a 6 minute on a mono rail gets you to a cave entrance of overwhelming size in the middle of the mountain. The cave itself is super massive and it would take well over one hour to explore. Be prepared for wet walkways, maneuvered up a narrow corridor with a rapidly flowing creek below it and hung off the side of the cave's walls above the creek. Many waterfalls are actively eroding the floor. Only 1.6km open to the public; yet that section alone will provide unforgettable memories. Cave tour is absolutely at your choice. You could opt out by staying outside, or simply relax..
Day 6 Taebaek - Buseok - Punggi - Andong (B) 170km
Travel to Andong, a stronghold of Confucianism that has deeply influenced the lives of Koreans in all aspects. Taebaek is a highland town once boomed with coal mining until the early 1980s. There is a coal museum showcasing Korea's coal mining with well over 8,000 items including rocks such as silver, ore, fossils, and mining equipments and documents. You will also explore a mine simulation modeled closely after real mine showing how the mining work was like. Taebaek boasts of two river sources. Hwangji pond from which 5,000 tons of water flows daily is the source of the Nakdong River and Geomryongso is that of Han River.
En route, visit 7th century Buseoksa representing the Flower Garland school of Buddhism, that developed as part of the Mahayana branch. The teachings of the Hwaeom sect are based on the Avatamsaka Sutra, that includes Ten Grades of Faith, Ten Stages of Wisdom, Ten Activities, Ten Transference of Merits, Ten Stages of Bodhisattvas, teachings about enlightment, about developing as a Boddhisattva, and about how to enter Buddha's world. Muryangsujeon is the second-oldest wooden structure in Korea and enshrined here is Amitabha Buddha with the earth-touching and evil-expelling hand posture. A stone lantern stands in the front and to the west of the hall at the bottom of a steep bluff, there is a legendary floating stone. To the east is a three-story pagoda behind which is a pavilion dedicated to the Chinese girl who, in the form of a dragon, helped Master Uisang. It is a bit out of the way, but worth the trip.
Visit Sosuseowon from the 16th century, the first private institute established in Korea. It was a birthplace of Confucian education and a cradle of prominent scholars. The compound itself is composed of two sections; academic studies and research, and memorial service. There are several old buildings where scholars learned and studied loyalty, filial piety, manners and knowledge. Although the educational function of the facility has long since ceased, the commemorative ceremonies have been and are still held twice a year.
While in Punggi, a small remote town famous for quality apples and ginseng, you will explore ginseng market with piles of fresh ginseng roots, including variety array of ginseng products. This mysterious root, which has a good smell better than it tastes, has historically been considered an empowering medicine and a cure-all. Street vendors sell flowers, fruits, food stuff and home grown grains and vegetables. With all these features combined creates a rural ambience of Korea's remote town.
Stop at Ichon-dong Stone Buddha or Jebiwon Buddha. The awe-inspiring Buddha statue stands guard over the northern entrance way to Andong for nearly 1000 years. It's a relief-carving of the body on a sheer boulder-side, under a 3D-carved head made from a natural stone found on top of that cliff.
Day 7 Andong - Yeongdeok - Yangdong - Gyeongju (B) 220km
You will explore UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hahoemaeul from the 15th century. It is the best preserved traditional village portraying and spanning the life of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and some 480 Korean traditional houses, both large and small, are still fully functioning. As you take a walk in the narrow alleys, enjoy the rustic and old charm of this unique village. You cannot possibly miss a 600-years old zelkova tree, the home to the village spirit. At the tree's base is where residents still make their wishes. The village is also known for traditional festival, Hahoe Mask Dance which gave common people the opportunity to mock those in authority, and in particular the Byeolsingut, a shaman ritual exorcising evil spirits, dating back to the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392).
Ichon-dong Stone Buddha or Jebiwon Buddha is an awe-inspiring Buddha statue standing guard over the northern entrance way to Andong for nearly 1000 years, in the southeastern foothills of Cheondeung-san. The 2.43-meter-high head of granite Meitreya Buddha rests on top of a 9.95-meter-high and 7.72-meter-wide stone outcropping engraved with the Buddha's body. It's a relief-carving of the body on a sheer boulder-side, under a 3D-carved head made from a natural stone found on top of that cliff. It is now cared-for by a small temple tucked below and behind it.
En route, stop off at Yeongdeok, a charming but quiet town safely removed from the tourist trail. Yeongdeok is highlighted with Ganggu wharf, best known as the trade center of snow crab in Korea. While here, you will get to learn how the crabs are brought into the port to the sight of thousands of them laid out on the ground. This small port is busy every morning with dozens of aquarium cars for live fish available for sale. The alley is packed with many restaurants serving snow crabs. Trying them here is a special treat and an exceptional experience.
You will explore UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yangdongmaeul, a delightful journey to the traditional clan village which embraces simple, unadorned natural beauty. There are some steep hills to climb but also easier streets. Over 150 homes as well as two shrines are in perfect harmony with the natural topography, presenting different angles where walls ascend a hill interspersed with tiled roof houses or thatched roof buildings.
Gyeongju is one of the ten most historically significant sites in the world with ancient temples, weathered stone pagodas, royal tombs, Buddhist bas-reliefs, and fortress ruins. Today, you are treated to an ancient capital of the Silla dynasty (BC57-AD935) often dubbed as Museum without Walls.
With time to visit, travel to Gyeongju, an ancient capital of Silla (BC57-AD935), often dubbed as Museum without Walls. Today, you are treated to one of the ten most historically significant sites in the world with ancient temples, weathered stone pagodas, royal tombs, Buddhist bas-reliefs, and fortress ruins.
Day 8 Gyeongju (B)
With a full day to further explore the delights of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Seokguram grotto. It is the home of the serene stone Buddha of the eighth century. Inside, a white statue of a seated Buddha in a sublime state of enlightenment, is surrounded by 37 relief figures of Bodhisattvas, disciples, devas, and guardian kings. The grotto represents the magnificent harmony of religion, science and the arts of Buddhism, symbolizing the pure land in which Buddha resides.
A short ride leads you to another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bulguksa temple, where you will witness the impressive gates, symbolic bridges leading up to the world of Buddha, graceful architectures, Three-storied Seokgatap and highly ornate Dabotap blending well into the architectural harmony. At Gwaneumjeon hall, check out the image of the Avalokitesvara who is referred to as the Bodhisattva of Compassion and has a thousand hands, and eyes in each so as to reach out to those in need of help. You will see a gilded statue of Vairocana with the gesture of the first wisdom, Sakyamuni Buddha along with sixteen figures of Buddha's disciples sitting in deep meditation, and a gilt-bronze Amitabha Buddha who is the ruler of the Western Paradise Sukhavati. The architectural design of Bulguksa is one of constrained dignity, peace, and harmony and the temple still remains one of the most remarkable achievements of the ancient Far East.
Visit Gyeongju National Museum for a great insight into Silla culture and history. The first thing that you will notice is The Bell of King Seongdeok, the largest extant bell in Korea. You must certainly stand in awe before the bell from the 8th century with such artistic beauty of design. The bell is distinguished not only for its outstanding beauty but also for its long reverberating sound, the incredibly precise casting technique, in addition to the sad legend surrounding it. On entering the museum, you will marvel at the priceless archaeological and historical artifacts including splendid gold crowns, earrings, belts, ornaments, glassware, potteries, and clay figures as well as a royal barge.
Afterwards, explore Donggung palace and Wolji pond, a pleasure garden built to commemorate the victory of Silla, and later used as the recreational area for the Silla's royal family, then followed by a relaxed walking tour covering the ruins of Banwolseong or half moon fortress where Silla palace and eight fortress gates stood. There is a Seokbinggo, a freezer made of stones. Half of the structure is underground while the other half is above ground with three air vents on top. You can feel the cold oozing out of this simple structure. Near fortress is Gyerim, literally meaning Rooster Forest. It is a sacred woodland area where progenitor of the Gyeongju Kim family, Kim Alji, was supposed to have been born.
Then, check out the world's oldest existing astronomical observatory, Cheomseongdae. Each stone used in the observatory bears symbolic meaning; the same number of the days of the year by lunar calendar, the number of the major stars, the months of the year and the numbers of the seasonal divisions. Nearby Tumuli Park encompasses 23 huge tomb mounds where Silla rulers were buried. One of the tombs, Cheonmachong, is opened to the public and you can go inside and see how the tombs were made and replicas of the treasures excavated in 1973.
The tour also covers Bunhwangsa temple with 10m-high three-storied rectangular pagoda, the main worship hall with Buddha of Medicine, and legendary well that is said to have saved the kingdom. The nearby open field was once occupied by Silla's largest temple Hwangyongsa. The 67m tall nine-storied pagoda made entirely of wood stood here until it was destroyed during the Mongol invasion in 1238.
Day 9 Gyeongju - Gampo - Yangsan - Busan (B) 150km
Busan is Korea's second largest city surrounded by the ocean on one side, and mountains on the other. Its deep harbor and gentle tides have allowed it to grow into the largest port in Korea and the fifth largest in the world. It is also a center of industry and commerce, a thriving metropolis formed unusually long in shape along its coastal line.
En route, visit Girimsa was once the largest temple in the area. Today, much of its grandeur has been lost, the temple still retains its unique architectural significance and gives a solemn and tranquil atmosphere of the ancient temple. Enshrined in the main worship hall is Vairocana triad Buddha made of clay and in its front on the courtyard stands weathered 3-storied stone pagoda.
Stop at Gampo to see Gameunsa Twin Pagodas. These immense pagodas have a three-story body on a two-tier foundation. Stair step effects are seen under the eaves of the roof while the roof line has a gentle slope and is comparatively broad-brimmed. You will marvel at these true masterpieces of Korean architecture.
A short ride from the ancient temple site of Gameunsa dedicated to the Dragon Spirit of King Munmu (626-681) is an unusual Underwater Tomb of King Munmu, about 200m off the coast. The king wished his body to be cremated and buried at sea so he could protect his kingdom even after his death as a spirit of the sea. In the center of the calm sea a large rock marks the site. About 20m long rocky islet has a small pond at the center and at the bottom is a granite stone of 3.6m long, 2.9m wide and 0.9m high. At low tide, the top of this oval rock is almost visible above the sea surface.
Visit famous Tongdosa, representing the Temple of the Buddha. The approach to the temple is completely entrancing. Magnificently set by a lane of pine trees dancing in the wind and beside which a mountain stream sings a babbling song, a distinctive and exalting place. The main worship hall is unique in that it does not contain a statue of the Buddha, but rather a window looking out onto the Diamond Precepts Altar with a bell-shaped stupa that contains the cremated remains of the Buddha himself. You will find the temple more like a museum as it houses many local treasures and cultural properties.
You will tour the 7th century Beomeosa showcasing Korea’s traditional Buddhist architecture. Since it is built on a mountain slope, the temple buildings are arranged on three elevations, but the setting is very peaceful and serene. Passing One-Pillar Gate, Four Guardian's Gate, and the Gate of Non Duality gets you to get to the spiritual world of the Buddha. Learn about the Buddhist culture and temple’s history as you explore the compound, including halls, pagodas, stone lamps, and Brahma bell pavilion holding four dharma instruments. In the nearby valley is a mass of wild wisteria trees that have curled around each other, every year in late spring, their lavender blossoms create an extraordinary sight, unseen anywhere else in Korea.
Day 10 Busan - Cheongdo - Goryeong - Gayasan (B) 210km
You will tour Yongdusan Park where people of all ages gather for recreational activities. Sitting on top of the hillock of a steep slope is Busan tower topped by an observatory, overlooking the hilly terrain of this mountainous coastal city and the harbor in a breathtaking view. At the smack dab in the middle of the park stands the statue of Yi Sunsin, who is credited with the perfection of the first iron-clad warship in history. You will also see a flower clock and a Busan citizen's bell that they ring on New Years' Day, March 1 and August 15.
Just off the park is Gwangbokro Street, full of shops selling everything from bargains to luxury items. Adjacent is a maze of small streets alive with color, sidewalks sprinkled with unique shops and local eateries. Enjoy the vibrant ambience as you leisurely make your way to the BIFF square, another area packed with trendy shops, movie theaters and food stalls. The square is Busan’s modern movie district which was originally little more than a pair of cinemas that were built over half a century ago. However, major renovations took place ahead of the first Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), and the newly transformed district was named BIFF Square on August 14, 1996.
Across the street from the square is a fascinating Jagalchi fish market, a great attraction located dockside. Here you will find a diverse array of seafood on display as you walk along the narrow alleys of street vendors. A nearby indoor market features live fish in the tanks and the upstairs are dried fish along with many restaurants selling raw fish at reasonable prices. The market is really a visual and culinary treat.
Travel to Cheongdo for a visit of the 6th century Unmunsa temple. This ancient temple features seven treasured artifacts including an old pine tree and a stone lantern. Unmunsa is the largest Buddhist nunnery in Korea, maintaining a capacity of roughly 260 nuns who practice Buddhism for four year periods. The nunnery is entirely self-sufficient with no dependency on laypeople or outsiders. These women come out as dharma warriors, very strong from the rigorous discipline. The weeping red pine in the precincts of Unmunsa Temple has branches drooping downwards and is very rare and valuable, but its age unknown. It is 6m tall and has a girth of 2.9m.
On the way, visit Goryeong Tumuli Museum featuring a perfect replica of the Jisan-dong Tomb No. 44 itself and learn about the ancient sacrificial burial custom a funerary practice. About 40 persons were presumably entombed together. Such examples of massive human sacrifice have not been found in other ancient tombs of the era of the Three Kingdoms. Visit also includes Daegaya Museum exhibiting a huge collection of artifacts excavated in Goryeong.
Journey continues to the 9th century Haeinsa. Renounce each of 108 worldly desires of the mind as you climb 108 stairs. Within the Hall of Great Peace and Light, you will see Vairocana Buddha attended by Bodhisattvas and highly detailed and rather unusual wall paintings of the Buddha's life. And on the outside walls are a fair number of paintings portraying Buddhist stories. At the back of this hall is a group of four depositories or Janggyeong Panjeon from the 15th century. Housed within the depositories are 81,258 wood-blocks of Tripitaka Koreana, the world's oldest and a complete collection of the Buddhist sutras as well as an offering to the Buddha for national protection from the looming Mongol forces. The printing blocks are some 70cm wide, 24cm long and 2.8cm thick on the average. Each block has 23 lines of text, each with 14 characters, on each side. Each block thus has a total of 644 characters on both sides. Some 30 men carved the total of 52,382,960 characters in the clean and simple style. The characters are perfectly carved as if from the same hand. They were completed in 1251 after 16 years of work on Ganghwado and were transported here for safekeeping. The Mongol forces eventually took over the Goryeo Dynasty but the wooden blocks remain preserved today having survived other invasions, wars and fire. Even more amazing aspect is that neither birds built nests nor spiders make webs on these buildings. Check out two long depositories are designed to have natural ventilation by facing different size windows in the front and rear of the building. Tripitaka Koreana and Janggyeong Panjeon have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage for their artistic as well as religious value. In order to control the temperature and humidity within the depositories and protect the Janggyeon Panjeon and woodblocks from fire, full-time security guards and a 24-hour surveillance system are in place.
Day 11 Gayasan - Namwon - Gurye - Songgwang - Nagan - Suncheon (B) 260km
Namwon is a time honored charming city dotted with many historical spots and visitors attractions. Namwon is better known as the home of Chunhyang, the legendary faithful maiden whose story has been often compared to the Romeo and Juliet. There is a park in the center of the town in which stands the Gwanghallu pavilion where the lovers are said to have first met, and there is a bridge built on a pond that is supposed to ensure connubial bliss to any couple that steps on it.
While in Gurye, visit the 6th century Hwaeomsa. The temple is dedicated to the vairocana Buddha, the cosmic head of the Hwaeom trinity. First, One-Pillar Gate standing at the lower part greets you and leads you up to the second and the third gate - from the secular world into the spiritual world. On the second level, there is the Bojeru, the Save All Beings Hall, beside which stands bell and drum tower and two magnificent 5-story stone pagodas from Silla period. Gakhwangjeon has a double storied roof, and houses seven figures on its altar. Sakyamuni Buddha sits in the middle attended by Amitabha and Prabhytaratna, as well as Avalokitesvara, Samantabhadra, Manjusri, and Ksitigarbha.
A magnificent stone lantern and an impressive stone pagoda supported by four fierce looking lions adorn this hall. On the hill behind Gakhwangjeon stands the most uniquely designed three-story stone pagoda supported by four lions each of which represents the four primary human emotions: love, sorrow, anger, and joy. Here, you will enjoy the intricacies of this masterpiece as there are numerous other designs etched onto the pagoda.
Next up is Songgwangsa temple representing Buddha's followers, monks and laity. In the Main Hall, the three main statues are the past Buddha, Dipankara, the present day Buddha Sakyamuni, and the future Buddha, Maitreya. Two bridges span a picturesque stream that flows in front of the temple entrance, the architecturally unusual. It is quite a trek to reach, but you will be rewarded with both a fabulous view of the surrounding foliage and some brilliant red and gold murals representing a range of religious figures.
Explore Nagan Fortress Village which has survived time and modernization. Entering the village, you could feel as if you have gone back to the centuries past. Surrounded by 1,410-meter long fortress which was built into a mud rampart in the 14th century to repel Japanese pirate raids, the village features nearly 90 traditional thatched roof houses presenting a peculiar townscape in harmony with the rectangular stone rampart. One unusual aspect of the town is that it was inhabited by a number of different clans rather than having one dominant one. Part of the fortress wall arches over the hill and you will today take in a great view of the entire village as well as the traditional housings, cultural landscape, time old customs and rituals representing the agricultural society of Korea while strolling around the small alleyways within the village.
Day 12 Suncheon - Boseong - Gochang - Jeonju (B) 260km
En route stop at Boseong, known as the home of tea, hemp clothes and Sori or a Korean traditional genre of singing. A number of tea plantations where the carefully trimmed tea trees stretch endlessly over steep mountain slopes - a lush green carpet that is a sight to behold. A short walk along the path lined with cedar trees that had been planted to block the wind leads you to the tea plantation delightfully accommodating visitors. The tea bushes rising in regular curves are great. Here, you will freely roam the hills, walk between the rows of bushes and take pictures of each other at every bend.
Next up is Gochang Dolmen Museum providing a comprehensive information about Dolmen with its theme park featuring a life-size village replica. It is an excellent facility that gives visitors an idea of Bronze Age culture, including quarry, transportation, construction, burial and tomb formats, rituals, relics excavated in Gochang, and life of the pre-historic people. Near the museum is UNESCO World Heritage site of Dolmen Park, the largest concentration of dolmens perhaps anywhere in the world. A total of 447 dolmens of various types are scattered at the foot of a series of hills. Generally, the capstones of the dolmens are around 1 to 5.8 m in length and may weigh up to 225 tons.
Jeonju is a time-honored tradition as well as significant cultural and artistic heritage. You will explore Jeonju Hankok village, a Korean House complex retaining much of their perfection intact. Near the entrance of the complex stands Gyeonggijeon that holds the portrait of founder king of Joseon dynasty, featuring him seated in a magnificent red chair with three gold-foiled dragons on his royal blue robes. And on its front is a beautiful Jeondong Catholic church of Byzantine and Romanesque architectural design. Completed in 1914, it is one of the oldest and largest Western-style buildings in the region. It was designed by master church builder Victor Lousi Poisnel, the Norman priest whose work in Korea includes Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul. Just west of the church is the stately Pungnammun gate, where three Catholics paid for their religion with martyrdom on December 8, 1791, marking the first time in Korea.
Day 13 Jeonju - Iksan - Nonsan - Buyeo (B) 170km
While in Iksan, you will tour UNESCO Heritage sites of Mireuksa temple site with its 7th century stone pagoda and Wanggungri palace site that recalls the glory of the ancient kingdom. The temple has been a symbol of spiritual guidance and support for Baekje, and in Wanggungri you will witness the five-story stone pagoda standing alone on a vast archaeological site.
En route, stop at Gwanchoksa boasts the Korea's largest free-standing stone Buddha image from the 10th century. It is an extraordinary statue with a head disproportionately large in relation to the body, and wearing a lofty mortar board hat on top of its headpiece with wind chimes hanging from its four corners. The image features seem jolly and complacent, though perhaps not so intended.
Today, you will explore archaeological sites and ancient historic areas, which were collectively named as a UNESCO World Heritage sites. Gungnamji is the Korea's oldest artificial pond dating back to 634. Ringed by weeping willow trees, it creates a colorful spectacle with its stock of water lotuses in summer. Jeongrimsa temple site with its five-storied stone pagoda recalling the glorious past is one of the city's most distinctive and outstanding landmarks.
At Buyeo National Museum, you will feel the spirit and the essence of the brilliant Baekje culture as you appreciate the beauty of the archaeological relics. A beautiful gilt bronze incense burner is impossible to miss. Crafted over 1,500 years ago, it shows a graceful dignity and the elaborate skills of Baekje craftsmen.
Stroll up paths to Busosan to explore Baekje fortification. At the top of the hill sits Yeongillu pavilion where the king once came to watch the sun rise over his kingdom. A little further down the trail, you will see a pavilion called Baekhwajeong perched at the top of the rock beside which locates Nakhwaam, literally meaning Falling Flower Rock, on a bluff overlooking the Geum River at the bend called Baekma. As enemies swarmed into the capital, the court ladies flung themselves into the water from this bluff rather than suffer the shame of submitting to atrocities of the conquering enemy armies.
Day 14 Buyeo - Gongju - Asan - Suwon - Seoul (B) 210km
Gongju is a charming city that once served as the Baekje's capital for 63 years from 475 to 538. Songsanri Tombs are a group of royal tombs that just look like a cluster of grassy knolls. The tomb which belongs to King Muryeong (462-523) and his wife, the queen was found completely intact since it was sealed in the early 6th century. The actual tomb was permanently closed, but you will see an excellent, albeit miniature duplicate. Visit Gongju National Museum and get a glimpse of the fascinating archaeological articles from Baekje era, and artifacts excavated from the royal tomb of King Muryeong (501-524), one of the last rulers to reign in the capital of Gongju.
Oeammaeul is one of the traditional clan villages exuding old and rustic charm. The village entrance is marked by stone bridge, pine forest and totem poles. This village with more than 400 years of history has about 70 traditional houses, and is highlighted by 6km-long stonewall paths ringing the village and the amazing artificial water system that goes through the entire village for gardens and agriculture. As you stroll along the pathway, you will see thatched cottages and tile roof houses representing typical village layout of central Korea and at the same time feel the rural ambience and peaceful atmosphere.
You will also visit Hyeonchungsa dedicated to the Korea's greatest naval hero, Admiral Yi Sunsin. This shrine keeps the spirit of Yi Sun-sin. The complex features the house where the admiral grew up, an archery range where he practiced, a museum containing a pictorial story of his life and an example of his famous turtle ship. The museum also contains his war diary and sword he carried.
Later, you will explore UNESCO World Heritage site of Hwaseong Fortress from the 18th century. Though it is relatively small in scale, it is well acknowledged as the best structure of its kind ever built in Korea. A 5.74km-long fortress enclosing both flatland and hilly terrain is parapeted with crenels and merlons and highlighted by four main gates and well over 50 structures including temporary palace where the king sought refuge during war and found rest during times of peace. A walk through the whole fortress could take several hours but it is well worth making a short walking tour to enjoy the splendor of the fortress, including the Korea's largest Janganmun Gate.
A walk through the whole fortress could take several hours but it is well worth making a short walking tour to enjoy the splendor of the fortress. Start the tour with a visit to Paldalmun gate, an imposing two-storey wooden pavilion standing on top of a stone structure with an arched entrance, which is shielded by a semicircular chemise built of brick and flanked by gate guard platforms on either side. As you make your way to the fortress, you will see Suwon’s main commercial district with its conventional market retail outlets where the hustle and bustle of people shopping for food, vegetables, fish, meat, household items, clothing and tools. Then, explore sentry post perched on the edge of the turret, beacon tower which possesses five chimneys to create different smoke signals, and Changryongmun gate where builders names carved into the walls are evident. Beside the gate stands 6.8m tall watch tower in oval shape, having an internal spiral staircase leading up to the top. On the archery field, visitors hone their skills with a bow and arrow. A basic lesson is given in Korean archery or Gukgung before they try shooting on their own.
Check out command post and secret gate leading down to the dark labyrinth. Inconspicuous and hidden out of sight, it was used by people and animals and to bring war munitions into the fortress. An exquisite pavilion called chasing after flowers and floating along with willow branches is located on a hill that overlooks a lotus pond surrounded by beautiful willow trees. Below the pavilion sits northern floodgate, a stone bridge with seven arched sluices topped by an elegant open pavilion and brick-built parapet, and a little further on is the Korea's largest Janganmun Gate.
Day 15 Departure (B) 60km
After this wonderful trip exploring Korea and with time to reflect on your surprise in your experience, you will return to the airport in time for your flight. By boarding, you are already high above Incheon heading for home.