From the December 2015 issue of The Rotarian
The summer before I got married, my parents suggested taking a bus tour of Korea as a last family hurrah. My sisters and I agreed, reluctantly. The thought of spending seven days on a bus in close quarters with not only our parents but also a bunch of strangers was not our idea of a vacation.
But after hundreds of miles, hours of bus karaoke, and many bowls of steaming bibimbap, those strangers had turned into friends, and we walked away with a newfound appreciation for our parents’ homeland.
Korea is a small country, but whether you travel by bus, train, or plane, there’s a lot to see and experience. The 2016 Seoul Convention Host Organization Committee is offering an extensive selection of tours before and after the convention, which runs from 28 May to 1 June. The excursions are for Rotarians and their guests, and include the opportunity to meet with Korean Rotary members at tour stops.
If you’re interested in seeing some of the most well-known attractions around the country, the Highlights of Korea tour has you covered. This seven-day, six-night journey starts on Jeju, an island off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, dominated by a dormant volcano. Visit Manjanggul Cave, part of the island’s extensive lava tube system, and climb to the top of Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak; you can stand on the ridge of its bowl-like crater. The tour continues to Busan, the busiest trading port and second-largest city in Korea. Wander through Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, a rare example of a temple on the coast, set along the blue waters of the East Sea. And you can appreciate Gyeongju, the ancient capital of Korea’s Silla Dynasty. Gyeongju is famous for its historic sites, including the Daereungwon Tomb Complex, which contains the large hill-like tombs of ancient kings and queens, and Seokguram Grotto, a stone temple with a unique shrine to Buddha.
Korea is called the Land of the Morning Calm, and when the sun filters through the mist over the Seorak mountains, you can see why. The three-day, two-night Mount Seorak tour will take you to the rocky region in the northern part of the country. The trip includes a cable car ride up the mountains to Gwongeumseong Fortress, site of castle ruins with a spectacular view. You’ll also visit Naksansa Temple, with its towering statue of Buddha gazing out to sea.
Experience a different kind of calm through the Yongjusa Temple Stay tour. Over two days and one night, you can immerse yourself in monastic life and participate in activities such as lotus lantern making, a tea ceremony, and meditation. Men and women stay separately in simple dorms on the soothing grounds of this temple, built in 1790.
If an overnight trip does not fit into your schedule, consider the host committee’s day tours and half-day tours.
To hit the major cultural attractions in and around Seoul in one day, the World Cultural Heritage Site tour is a good choice. Two UNESCO World Heritage sites will bookend your outing: You’ll stop first at Changdeok Palace, one of five royal palaces in Seoul, and end at the Hwaseong Fortress, with its 3.5 miles of massive stone walls that surround the center of Suwon, a city outside Seoul. In between, you’ll visit the Korean Folk Village, a reconstructed traditional village that showcases the music, art, culture, food, and lifestyle of Koreans during the Joseon Dynasty, from 1392 to 1910.
If you are traveling with children, consider the Samsung Electronics Tour. Start the day with a visit to the Samsung Innovation Museum, an interactive experience with high-tech displays, and end with a trip to Everland, Korea’s largest theme park.
Check out some of Seoul’s greatest evening attractions with the Seoul Night Tour. The N Seoul Tower on Namsan Mountain offers a sparkling view of the city at night, and every evening, the tower itself lights up in different colors in a stunning show. The tour also includes a visit to Cheonggyecheon stream, which was hidden by a highway overpass for decades and restored in 2005. The 7-mile stream is a fantastic example of a successful urban renewal project and is particularly beautiful at night, with its many illuminated structures. The evening also will include a stop at the night markets of Dongdaemun.
Know before you go
- Tours will be in English. For groups of more than 20, other language services can be arranged, including Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, and French.
- Accommodations will be hotel rooms, except for the temple stay.
- Find tour prices, learn about other excursions, and buy tickets on the Host Organization Committee website.
- Register for the Rotary convention by 15 December for the best rate. Go to www.riconvention.org.