Korea, like China and Thailand, is difficult to fully absorb in one trip because there's so much to experience.
Depending on the length of stay, must-see destinations include cosmopolitan Seoul; historically rich Gyeong-ju; and Jeju Island for its mix of natural beauty and unique culture. Modern history buffs will also want to visit the DMZ.
Getting There: Korea's major international gateway for flights from the U.S. is Incheon International Airport (www.airport.or.kr), which is about 37 miles outside of Seoul. Incheon opened in 2001 replacing Gimpo Airport (gimpo.airport.co.kr/eng/index.jsp), which now only serves domestic flights within Korea. Carriers with direct flights to Korea include Asiana Airlines (us.flyasiana.com), which serves Anchorage, Chicago-O'Hare, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Francisco and Seattle/Tacoma; Delta Air Lines (www.delta.com), which flies from Atlanta; Korean Air (www.koreanair.com), with service from Anchorage, Atlanta, Chicago-O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Francisco, Seattle/Tacoma and Washington-Dulles; Northwest Airlines (www.nwa.com), serving Seattle/Tacoma; Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com), from San Francisco, Singapore and Vancouver; and United Airlines (www.united.com), for service from Chicago-O'Hare and San Francisco.
High-speed trains called KTX (www.korail.go.kr) run the length of Korea and are an alternative to domestic flights. Trains are operated by Korea National Railroad. Rail passes (KR Pass) provide three, five, seven or 10 days of unlimited travel.
Car Rental: Driving in South Korea can be difficult due to traffic and visitors will need an International Driving Permit. Kumho (www.kumhorent.co.kr), an international partner with Hertz; and Avis Rental Car (avis.co.kr), have agencies on the surface floor in Incheon International Airport.
Taxis: Long-distance share taxis, known as bullet taxis, go between big cities and major tourist sights. Bullet taxis aren't metered so you'll need to negotiate a price before the trip.
Tour Operators: Some tour operators with programs in Korea include Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com; [email protected]; 800-323-7308), INTRAV (www.intrav.com; [email protected]; 800-456-8100), IsramWorld (www.isram.com; [email protected]; 800-223-7460), Pleasant Holidays (www.pleasantagent.com; [email protected]; 800-448-3333), SITA World Tours (www.sitatours.com; [email protected]; 800-421-5643); and Travel Bound (www.booktravelbound.com; [email protected]; 800-808-9541).
Dining: You can hardly go wrong when picking a Korean restaurant. For a mix of traditional culture and authentic cuisine, I recommend Korea House (www.koreahouse.or.kr; 82-2-2266-9101-3) located in Seoul at 80-2 Pil-dong 2 ga, Jung-gu. A specialty of the house is royal cuisine, which originated in the Joseon Dynasty. Guests dine on 15 exquisite dishes prepared as they were for Korea's royal court. After dinner, guests move into a small theater to watch folk and acrobatic performances. Reservations are recommended.
Lodging: Hotels are classified into five categories: super deluxe (five-star), deluxe (five-star), first class (four-star), second class (three-star), and third class (two-star). The prices of hotels vary depending on season and location. The Park Hyatt Seoul (www.seoul.park.hyatt.com) is a stunning hotel and one that Seoul residents refer to as "our six-star hotel." The185-room property has a hip, Zen-like ambience in the stylish Gangnam district across the river from Seoul's city center. The travel agent liaison is Jennifer Lee, Director of Marketing, Park Hyatt Seoul and can be reached at 82-2-2016-1251 or [email protected]
The five-star Shilla Jeju (www.shilla.net/jeju) on Jeju Island commands its own private 21-acre sea view amidst cliff-top gardens at the center of the Jungmun Resort Complex. The 429-room Shilla Jeju, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, is adjacent to the 18-hole Jungmun Golf Club. Although The Shilla Jeju doesn't have a travel agent liaison, agents can contact the reservations department at 82-2-1588-1142 or [email protected]
Things to Know: A valid passport is required. Visitors from the U.S. are not required to obtain a visa for visits up to 30 days. Currency is the Korean won. Exchange rate at press time was 928 Korean won to one U.S. dollar.
The time zone is Greenwich Mean Time, plus nine hours. Korea doesn't observe daylight savings time. The voltage is 220 volts.
Climate: Korea's climate is temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer. There are four distinct seasons with below- freezing temperatures in the winter. April through May have spring weather, but it's also a time when the country sees the most tourists, so agents should book as far ahead as possible.
Tipping: It's not customary to tip in Korea, although exceptional service can be rewarded without offense.
•Korea Tourism Organization www.tour2korea.com
•Korean Tourism Organization U.S. Offices
Los Angeles: 5509 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 201 Los Angeles, CA 90036; 323-634-0280 [email protected]
New York: Two Executive Drive, Suite 750 Fort Lee, NJ 07024 201-585-0909 [email protected]
Chicago: 737 North Michigan Ave., Suite 910, Chicago, IL 60611 312-981-1717 [email protected]
•Incheon International Airport: 82-32-741-2163, www.airport.or.kr
•Korea National Railroad 82 82-1544-7788, www.korail.go.kr
•Park Hyatt Seoul 82-2 -2016-1234, www.seoul.park.hyatt.com
•The Shilla Jeju: 82-2-2233-3131, www.shilla.net/Jeju
•Korea House: 82-2-2266-9101-3 www.koreahouse.or.kr