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Travel Tips in Korea

The Land of Morning Calm

Korea, which has managed to preserve its unique character and cultural identity through almost 2,000 years of foreign meddling, still remains very much off the track for most Western travelers. Even in cosmopolitan Seoul, Western travelers are still regarded with some curiosity. However, this situation is changing fast. So if you want experience for yourself this still unexplored Asian gem, head out soon to the Land of Morning Calm.

Here are my tips:

The best way to get around Seoul is the subway. The cars are often crowded but it beats near gridlock traffic on the streets. The basic ride charge of about 500 won covers most of the city ($1=W1,085).

South of Seoul, near Suwon, the Korean Folk Village is a functioning community where artisans and craftsmen live and preserve traditional culture down to the smallest detail. Every aspect and object of traditional Korean life is represented here: farm houses, blacksmith shops, open-air markets, pottery shops, and fortune tellers. The best way to get there is the Seoul subway line 1 south to the last stop at the “Suwon Station Plaza.” Across the street is the ticket office and free shuttle bus. Admission is W8,500 for adults.

The cheapest tours to P’anmunjom are offered by the USO ($35), located at 104 Galwol-dong in Yongsan-gu (near Yongsan Army Base) in Seoul (795-3028/3063).

Soraksan, often touted as the most beautiful of South Korea’s many national parks, is a spectacular land of high craggy peaks, lush pine forests, enormous waterfalls, boulder-strewn whitewater rivers, and old temples and hermitages whose roots date back to the seventh century. About a 4-hour ride (W17,300) from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal, the park is near the city of Sokch’o on the northeast coast. I stayed in the Mt. Sorak Tourist Hotel within the park for several nights, enjoying their off-season rates (W63,000 per night). The park entry fee is W2,200 per person. Several restaurants and open-air markets serve traditional

Korean meals

Kyongju for almost 1,000 years was the capital of the ancient Shilla Dynasty and for several centuries, during the golden age of Korean history (57 BC to 935 AD), the capital of the entire Korean peninsula. Today the reconstructed Pulguksa Temple is a place of pilgrimage for many Buddhists. The best way to get to Kyongju from Seoul is by train (only W26,300). I stayed at the Han-jin Jang Yogwan, a hostel at 173-1 Rose-dong, close to the express bus terminal, for W25,000 per night with in private bath.

Chejudo is a windswept volcanic island 85 kilometers off the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Isolated for centuries, it developed its own history, culture, dress, architecture, and language. The subtropical climate, isolated location, and black lava landscape have combined to create a unique culture. Chejudo even has its own Easter Island-like stone men. I caught a Korean Air flight from Pusan to Cheju City for W48,500 and stayed at the Hwangkum-jang Yogwan (phone 582440) off Sanjiro Street for only W25,000 per night.

Singapore Airlines seems to have the best deals for nonstop return flights from San Francisco to Seoul’s Kimpo Airport. I paid $589. Korean Air and Asiana also offer good fares.

WADE EAKLE wrote about climbing in the Caucasus of Russia in the September/October 1998 issue of Transitions Abroad and about El Peten in Guatemala in the November/December 1997 issue.

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