An Insider's South Korea

An Insider’s South Korea takes you beyond the glitz of Seoul to show you the greater depths of this complex, enigmatic and underexplored country. Discover the many distinctive voices of a multi-faceted South Korea, away from preconceptions and cliches, and meet the strong local communities at its heart.

At a glance

  • Ride Seoul’s subway from temples to towers
  • Pause in the historic Demilitarized Zone
  • Explore royal tombs and striking temples in Gyeongju
  • Taste traditional bibimbap and Korean BBQ with locals
  • Marvel at the art-covered streets of Gamcheon
  • Learn insider skills from green tea and rice wine artisans
Itinerary
Price & Hotels

Seoul - 3 nights

Landing in Seoul, South Korea’s 24-hour capital city, puts you straight into the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world. A non-stop metropolis of glittering skyscrapers, searing neon, and K-pop culture, Seoul also holds the rich history of an ancient and traditional city, where Buddhist temples, Joseon dynasty palaces and wooden ‘hanok’ houses jostle for space. Weave through the night bars and eateries in one of Asia’s busiest ‘cities that never sleep’, and feed the next morning’s weary body with a comforting bowl of bibimbap in a calm corner.

Day 1 - Arrive Seoul

On arrival in South Korea, you'll be met by your private guide, who will accompany you to your Seoul hotel.

Welcome to Selective Asia! This level of personal service (such as private transfers, private tours etc) is what you can expect throughout your trip. A few services (eg boat cruises) will be shared, but we'll always make sure you're aware of these.

The rest of your day is at leisure to start scoping out the best spots for dinner and drinks.

Day 2 - 'Old & New' City tour, BBQ dinner

Includes:

Sample Seoul’s key highlights with your guide, travelling in local style on the subway. Start at the imposing Gyeongbokgung Palace for a behind-the-scenes glance at the royal guards in traditional costume, rehearsing before the morning’s changing ceremony. Walk ten minutes to the contrasting Bukchon Hanok Village: home to around 900 Joseon dynasty homes, built using wood and clay, with their distinctive curved roofs. Stroll through the narrow streets, stopping for a famed bibimbap one-pot wonder lunch. Visit UNESCO-listed Jongmyo Shrine (Korea’s oldest and best preserved royal Confucian shrine) to see the ‘spirit tablets’ of ancient kings and queens. In the early evening, head out with your guide to get panoramic sunset views from N Seoul Tower - the highest point in the city - and enjoy a traditional Korean BBQ feast among locals at one of your guide’s favourite restaurants.

Day 3 - DMZ tour, Myeongdong shopping street, Gwangjang Market

Includes:

Set out for a tour of Korea’s infamous DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Created in 1953 to separate the North from the South, and the location of the landmark leaders’ meeting in May 2018, this 160 mile strip of land is the most heavily militarised border in the world. Get an introduction to the zone’s history in the briefing room before boarding an official guided bus tour through this highly sensitive area. Stop at the Bridge of Freedom, crossed following the Armistice Agreement, and visit the fascinating (and slightly surreal) Third Tunnel of Aggression under the DMZ that was built by the North, apparently in preparation for an attack. Back in Seoul, get dropped off at the well-known Myeongdong street to enjoy a little shopping, or hop on the subway to Jongro to visit Gwangjang Market. Dating back to the early 1900’s, Gwangjang is one of the largest and oldest traditional markets in the country, packed with stalls selling everything from vintage clothing to vegetables, and is arguably the best place in Seoul for street food.

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Beopjusa Temple - 1 night

Beopjusa is one of South Korea’s most beautiful and culturally cherished temples. Founded in the 6th century, it was rumoured to be home to as many as 3,000 monks during the Silla dynasty. It’s best known for the 100 foot high, gilded bronze Buddha in the centre of the temple compound as well as Palsangjeon, a five storey wooden pagoda that’s one of the oldest in the country; Daeungbojeon, one of South Korea’s three major Buddhist halls; and the Two Lion Stone Lamp statue. Like many of South Korea’s Buddhist temples, Beopjusa welcomes overnight visitors to experience Buddhist monastic life first-hand.

Day 4 - Archery at Suwon Fortress, drive to Beopjusa temple

Includes:

Swap cityscapes for countryside as you journey south towards Beopjusa Temple in Songnisan National Park. Stop en route at the ancient city of Suwon, known for its 18th century fortress. Suwon has now outgrown the fortifications, but the UNESCO-listed walls, turrets and observation towers still stand. Watch a demonstration of Gukgung (Korean Archery) before trying your hand at this traditional local sport. Continue to Beopjusa Temple, where you’ll spend the night. After your orientation tour, dine with the resident monks before they begin their evening worship, which you’re welcome to simply observe or participate if you wish, then it’s lights out at 9.30pm!

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Jeonju - 2 nights

The charming city of Jeonju boasts one of the largest collections of traditional ‘hanok’ houses in the country. With the ginkgo trees swaying over their gently curving rooftops, it’s easy to get the impression of having stepped back in time. The city’s deep, cultural heritage, which includes musical pansori performances, calligraphy and lantern-making, continues to draw visitors, and the exciting food scene has been grabbing the headlines since it was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2012. It’s known as the home of bibimbap, the original, comforting, ‘one-pot-wonder’ meal, so enjoy sampling as many variations as you can.

Day 5 - Temple rituals, National Park walk, Jeonju murals and market-stalls

Includes:

For the full monastic experience, rise at 4am and join Beopjusa’s resident monks as they perform their morning rituals, before heading out for a gentle morning walk past the scenic granite mountains and azalea-filled valleys of Songnisan National Park. Set off for Jeonju, and arrive in the early afternoon with plenty of time to start exploring the city at your leisure. If you feel like soaking up a bit of culture straight away, make a beeline for the Jaman Art Village to explore its incredible street art murals, galleries and bohemian cafes. If you’re in Jeonju on a Friday or Saturday, spend an evening grazing on hotteok pancakes, hot pot and other typical Korean dishes from the lively stalls of Nambu Market.

Day 6 - Paper making, Hanok Village tour

Includes:

Visit Jeonju Hanji museum in the morning to try your hand at making Hanji, traditional Korean paper, from the bark of the dak tree. After lunch, stroll through the cobbled lanes of Hanok Village - a settlement of over 800 traditional, curved-roofed houses. Whilst some of the hanok remain private homes, many have been converted into eateries, boutiques and guesthouses which you can visit. Make a stop at Jeonju Korea Wine Museum to taste some traditional wine, and take a wander through the quiet cloisters of the Jeondong Catholic cathedral.

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Yeosu - 1 night

The busy port city of Yeosu on South Korea’s southern tip encompasses the peninsula itself and over 300 islands sprinkled in the bay beyond. It’s a relaxing and diverse place to spend a few days exploring the region’s history and culture. The vibrant fish market is a seafood lovers paradise, where you can choose your own fish to be transformed into a sashimi lunch while you wait, and the lofty cable car affords riders panoramic views over the city and the bay. The colourful lights of Dolsan Bridge illuminate the waterfront every evening and the surrounding seafood restaurants and cafes buzz with chatter from locals and visitors alike.

Day 7 - Boseong Tea fields, Yeosu tour

Includes:

Depart mid-morning for Yeosu, enjoying the views over the jagged coastline on the journey. Stop en-route to take in the beautiful southwestern scenery at the Boseong Green Tea field. Learn about the process of cultivating the area’s finest leaves, taste some homemade green tea ice cream, and sip a variety of freshly brewed green teas on a tasting experience. Continue on to Yeosu, arriving at lunchtime. Walk up to the Hyangiram Hermitage to see the extraordinary statues and colourful carvings, admire beautiful wildflowers on a walking tour of Odongdo Island, and take a soaring cable car ride over the bay.

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Busan - 2 nights

Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, is famed for its beaches and seafood, and frequently referred to as ‘Seoul by the sea’. Though just as rich in historic sites, buzzing markets, ultra-modern high rise architecture and plenty of chic soju bars, Busan enjoys a more laid back vibe than its capital cousin in the north. Head to Haeundae beach and try some fresh seafood snacks, or marvel at the colourfully illuminated suspension bridge across the bay from Gwangalli sands, before finding peace amid the city’s temples and enjoying a night on the town.

Day 8 - Travel to Busan, Gamcheon Culture Village tour

Includes:

Set off along the coast towards the seaside city of Busan. In the early afternoon, pause at the famously Instagram-ready Gamcheon Art Village. Known for the rainbow-hued houses stacked across its rolling hillside, interspersed with striking public artworks, Gamcheon has become a well-known hub for artists and photographers. Grab a map and wander through its winding streets, between the galleries, murals and sculptures, pausing to take photos, discover hidden gems, and snack on a sweet hotteok pancake or two from a nearby stall.

Day 9 - Tour of Busan’s highlights

Includes:

Visit Beomeosa Temple on the picturesque slopes of Mt. Geumjeongsan to explore this designated National Treasure, still home to around 150 monks, and soak up the tranquil atmosphere. Next, make a contrasting stop at the Jagalchi Fishery Market: a noisy, frantic place with a mind-blowing array of freshly caught seafood, where you can enjoy lunch at an eatery recommended by your local guide. Pause at BIFF Square, the original location for the prestigious Busan International Film Festival, then take a high-speed lift up the 390-feet high Busan Tower to enjoy panoramic views over the city. Your last stop of the day is Taejongdae, where you can stand on the rocky clifftops and gaze across the sea towards Japan’s Tsushima Islands.

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Gyeongju - 3 nights

Often referred to as South Korea’s cultural heart, Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla dynasty for close to a thousand years and contains more temples, tombs, pagodas and palaces than anywhere else in the country. The area is well known for its abundance of ‘tumuli’ (huge grassy mounds under which lie ancient royal tombs from the Silla era), and the 7th century Cheomseongdae Observatory is reputedly the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia. Wander through the historic streets, buying seasonal fruit from local vendors, and venture into Gyeongju National Park to find hidden treasures in the mountainous landscape.

Day 10 - Rice wine brewery visit, Gyeongju exploring

Includes:

Depart for Gyeongju in the morning, stopping en route at Ulsan to visit a family-run rice wine brewery. This micro-brewery was set up by a husband and wife who were keen to champion the traditional wine-making methods taught to them by his mother, and the reputation for the high quality of their product quickly spread. Learn about the process of creating authentic Makgeolli - a traditional, unfiltered, carbonated rice wine made using Nuruk, a Korean fermentation starter - and taste the finished product. Continue to Gyeongju, and spend the afternoon at leisure meandering through its layers of evocative history.

Day 11 - Tour of temples, tombs & historic sites

Includes:

Take a full day tour around Gyeongju’s highlights. Start your tour at Daereungwon Tomb Complex (also known as Tumuli Park), where you’ll find over two dozen large tombs said to hold the remains of ancient kings. Step inside Cheonmachong tomb, the origin of astonishing treasures including a gold crown, to see the impressive wall paintings of horses. Move on to the 7th century Cheomseongdae Observatory, reputedly the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia, then on again to Banwolseong, the site of the palace fortress during the Silla dynasty and now an attractive park area with a handful of atmospheric ruins. The nearby Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond were originally part of the palace complex. A treasure-trove of ancient relics, from exquisit roof tiles to gilt bronze Buddha figures, have been discovered beneath the waters. Finally, stroll through Gyeongju’s excellent National Museum, viewing archaeological treasures and royal artefacts that bring South Korea's history to life.

Day 12 - Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple, Yangdongmaeul Village

Includes:

After breakfast, make an early start for the UNESCO-listed Seokguram Grotto. Located on Mount Toham overlooking the Sea of Japan, this 8th century Buddhist cave temple houses a 3.5 metre tall, seated Buddha statue constructed from white granite, as well as 37 other sculptures of bodhisattvas and disciples. From the grotto, walk downhill to visit Bulguksa Temple: a 6th century Buddhist temple complex comprising wooden halls, pagodas and shrines on raised stone terraces, which is still a practising place of worship and home to Buddhist monks. In the afternoon, explore another UNESCO World Heritage Site at Yangdong Folk Village. This traditional clan village is a beautifully preserved example of 15th century Korean culture. Climb the steep hills and amble through the streets past over 150 preserved homes and two shrines, built in perfect harmony with the natural topography.

Day 13 - Fly home from Busan

Includes:

Transfer to Busan airport for your onward flight.

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We only provide privately guided holidays - meaning that you will not be expected to share guides or transport for the duration of your visit. You can also start on any day you choose.

Please click on the hotel category buttons below to view hotel details. These are recommended properties only - we have many alternative options for you to choose from if you would prefer. You can mix hotel categories throughout your holiday.

Hotel class Price per person (based on total # travelling)
2 persons 3 - 4 5 - 6
First Class £4,491US$5,883 £3,363US$4,406 £2,640US$3,458

Crown Park Hotel

The Crown Park is a hotel with the feel good factor, as part of its profits are reinvested in providing scholarships for Korean students, through the Kwanjeong Educational Foundation... See more

Beopjusa Temple

The well-organized Temple Stay programme at Beopjusa Temples is a unique way to experience first-hand the life of a Buddhist monk, and offering the opportunity to rest your busy mind and take a step away from the stresses of everyday life.

Ramada Jeonju

Ramada Hotels, one of the world’s most recognisable hotel brands, are the first international chain to open a property in the historic city of Jeonju... See more

Utop Marina Hotel & Resort

The Utop Marina Hotel towers over the marina from its waterside setting within walking distance of many of Yeosu’s highlights...

See more

Ibis Ambassador Busan

This is an ideal choice if your goal is to get out and explore the city of Busan. It’s reasonably priced and centrally located, without all the bells and whistles of the more costly city hotels... See more

Traditional Guest House

Enjoy a stay in a traditional 'hanok' guesthouse for a taste of traditional South Korean life. Facilities are simple - the sleeping arrangements are a traditional mat and pillow - but you'll receive a warm welcome. 

Gyeongju GG Hotel

The Gyeongju GG Hotel enjoys a central location near the tumuli park region, within walking distance of shops and restaurants. See more
Superior £4,624US$6,057 £3,496US$4,580 £2,773US$3,632

Courtyard Marriott Namdaemun Hotel

This contemporary city hotel boasts one of the best locations in Seoul for travellers wishing to visit attractions such as Namdaemun Gate and the Seoul Museum of Art. A short walk from the nearest metro... See more

Beopjusa Temple

The well-organized Temple Stay programme at Beopjusa Temples is a unique way to experience first-hand the life of a Buddhist monk, and offering the opportunity to rest your busy mind and take a step away from the stresses of everyday life.

Ramada Jeonju

Ramada Hotels, one of the world’s most recognisable hotel brands, are the first international chain to open a property in the historic city of Jeonju... See more

Utop Marina Hotel & Resort

The Utop Marina Hotel towers over the marina from its waterside setting within walking distance of many of Yeosu’s highlights...

See more

Avani Central Busan

Newly opened in 2019, the Avani Central Busan offers excellent value for money...

See more

Traditional Guest House

Enjoy a stay in a traditional 'hanok' guesthouse for a taste of traditional South Korean life. Facilities are simple - the sleeping arrangements are a traditional mat and pillow - but you'll receive a warm welcome. 

Commodore Hotel

The Commodore makes a comfortable base for exploring the historical city of Gyeongju, boasting an enviable location on the edge of Lake Bomun, within easy access of the Silla tombs and Gyeongju’s other historic sites... See more
Deluxe £5,308US$6,954 £4,176US$5,470 £3,452US$4,522

The Shilla

The Shilla’s location in a quiet area of the bustling city of Seoul couldn’t be more convenient and is one of its many appealing factors. The hotel may be set within Jangchungdan Park... See more

Beopjusa Temple

The well-organized Temple Stay programme at Beopjusa Temples is a unique way to experience first-hand the life of a Buddhist monk, and offering the opportunity to rest your busy mind and take a step away from the stresses of everyday life.

Ramada Jeonju

Ramada Hotels, one of the world’s most recognisable hotel brands, are the first international chain to open a property in the historic city of Jeonju... See more

Sono Calm

The Sono Calm is a striking looking property, rising like a glass sail from its waterside setting on the eastern tip of Yeosu city... 

See more

Paradise Hotel Busan

This large, luxury hotel certainly lives up to its name. There’s the sands of Haeundae Beach on its doorstep, a dedicated play areas for kids, a casino for the high-rollers, and an infinity pool with ocean views... See more

Traditional Guest House

Enjoy a stay in a traditional 'hanok' guesthouse for a taste of traditional South Korean life. Facilities are simple - the sleeping arrangements are a traditional mat and pillow - but you'll receive a warm welcome. 

Hilton Gyeongju

What makes the Hilton Gyeongju stand apart from its competition is its focus on art. The expansive lobby showcases a dramatic Miró canvas stretched right across it; artworks grace the walls ... See more

Solo travellers are always welcome - please contact us for a tailored quote.

These prices are shown in GBPUSD.
Selective Asia is a UK-registered company, but our client-base spans the globe, so we bank in both GBP and USD and can therefore provide a fixed price in either currency.
We also have payment facilities in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the EU, and can typically offer better-than-bank exchange rates on the date of payment in these currencies (against a booking priced in GBP).

Itinerary additions

At Selective Asia we specialise in creating unique, tailor-made experiences. The holiday itineraries provided on this website are intended to help you visualise what is achievable in your destinations of choice, over a given period of time and at an intended budget.
Whilst many clients are happy with of our recommended itineraries in the current form (and at the price quoted), there are those that wish to personalise their holiday in some way, whether it be a change of hotel, an additional destination or even start from scratch. This is when our tailor-made specialists come into their own; with many years of experience both living and working in the region they are ideally equipped to advise on alternatives and to facilitate any necessary changes.

The important stuff

Please note: South Korean hotel contracts are extremely seasonal in comparison to most of their Asian counterparts and therefore you should expect surcharges at various times of the year, including weekends, not just festive periods. Your consultant will be happy to advise you of these.

Inclusive:

  • English speaking, local guide
  • All accommodation listed
  • Land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles
  • Any domestic flights listed (unless marked otherwise)
  • Any train journeys listed (unless marked otherwise)
  • All admission fees at attractions, temples and activities as mentioned in the itinerary
  • All meals listed (B: Breakfast, L: lunch, D: Dinner)
  • International flight reconfirmation.


Exclusive:

  • Flights to/from Asia. We are an ATOL bonded operator and can arrange flights for all our clients, regardless of whether you are departing from the UK or from almost any other worldwide destination.
  • Entry visas
  • International airport departure taxes
  • Any meals not listed in the itinerary
  • Drinks, other than water on activity days
  • Personal expenses (laundry, telephone, drinks, tip...)
  • Travel insurance
  • All other services not listed in 'inclusive'

Please note: All prices are correct at the time of publishing. They are liable to change and can only be confirmed upon submitting an enquiry.

Extras

Flights

We will arrange all internal flights used within our holiday itineraries. We can also arrange discounted flights from all UK airports to Asia and we are a fully bonded ATOL operator. If you would like a quote for your international flights then please complete the required section on the enquiry form.


Visa

You will not require a visa to enter South Korea. Your consultant will be happy to advise you on visa requirements.


Passport

Please ensure that you have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity remaining after your return date. You will also need at least one blank page for each of the countries you are visiting.


Insurance

You will require a comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for medical costs associated with hospitalisation, emergency travel and repatriation back to your home country. We offer our customers a specially discounted insurance policy, ideally suited to the needs that a trip such as this creates. Tick the insurance box in the enquiry form and we will send you a quote to suit your needs.


Vaccinations and Malaria Prevention

You will undoubtedly require vaccinations for your visit to Asia. Please consult your doctor or a vaccination clinic for the most up-to-date advice. They will also be able to advise you of the most suitable anti-malarial medication if required. It is important that you do this well in advance of your departure date.


Booking Procedure

Only once you are completely happy with any holiday itinerary we create for you will we ask for a payment. In order that we can secure availability for your booking we would typically require a deposit of 20%.


Travelling Responsibly

We care about the places and the communities that you will travel through. It is important to us that we travel as responsibly as possible throughout Asia and that we are giving something back to the regions and the people that make these journeys so special. Full details on our approach to responsible travel can be found on a dedicated section of this website.

Make it yours!

Call us on 01273 670 001

Get in touch

Make it yours!

Call us on 01273 670 001

Get in touch

Our tailor-made service costs you no extra

This itinerary is designed to work straight off the peg, but we'll happily tailor it until it's a perfect fit for you, to ensure we’re making the absolute best of your time and funds. All you need to do is ask...

Your own private guides & drivers

You'll typically have your own private guides & drivers throughout your trip. When you will be sharing a service (eg a boat cruise) with others, we'll always let you know.

Book With Confidence

For peace of mind when booking your future holiday to Asia, we have introduced flexible booking conditions & full financial clarity.