While the two Koreas were once one, unified country, they now have starkly different cultures. See for yourself as you venture where few travelers are able to go, as you embark on this 17-day Tale of Two Koreas: From South to North itinerary. Your journey begins in colorful Seoul, continuing onto Gyeongsang, Busan, Jeju in South Korea. Pause in Beijing before traveling through Pyongyang, Nampo and Mount Myohyang in unknown North Korea. This rare travel opportunity is a cultural, historical, and politically insightful experience.
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Welcome to the “Land of the Morning Calm,” also known as South Korea. Seoul is your first stop. The city first became the country's capital in the 1300s, and is full of ancient history. As it’s your first day of holiday - feel free to relax at your hotel or explore the city a bit. The Gyeongbokgung Palace is a must-see. The name directly translates to “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven,” take a tour and find out why. We recommend either the Banyan Tree Club & Spa, Conrad Seoul, Ritz Carlton Seoul or the Park Hyatt Seoul.
Enjoy a day-trip to the DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone), a small strip of land that serves as memorial for the civil war that split the Korean nations in two. No formal peace treaty was ever signed and the nations are still separate but no longer hostile. The Third Tunnel of Aggression is a fascinating place to see where North Korean Military forces conducted underground invasions. Return to Seoul in the evening.
Spend the day enjoying a full tour of the world’s second-largest metropolitan area. The Leeum Samsung Museum of Art shows off the country’s traditional Korean art starting from prehistoric times to the end of the Joseon Dynasty in 1910, along with several modern art pieces. Hongdae is the perfect place to pass a leisurely afternoon. You’ll find eclectic cafes, boutiques and more while exploring the hip neighborhood.
Drive outside of Gyeongsang to spend a full day exploring the Haeinsa Temple. The temple is located in Daegu. This is a well-known 9th-century Buddhist temple boasting more than 80,000 woodblock carvings of the full Buddhist scriptures known as the Tripitaka Koreana. Return to Seoul in the evening.
Travel by car to Busan - the area known for several of Korea’s most stunning beaches. Other highlights include relaxing hot springs for soaking your tired muscles, and lush nature reserves. Enjoy a private tour of Beomeo-sa Buddhist Temple. The temple is considered one of Korea’s “Five Greatest Temples.” Savor fresh, delicious seafood in the seven-story Jagalchi Fish Market. You have a wide plethora of seafood restaurants to pick from. Check into the Park Hyatt and rest in luxury.
Take a day-trip to Gyeongju, one of South Korea’s best kept secrets. The area was once the ancient capital but is now a cultural, historical and cosmopolitan area home to nearly one million residents. Gyeongju is home to the Bulguksa and Seokguram Temples which are both considered UNESCO World Heritage properties. Learn about the Silla Dynasty when visiting Anapji - an area rich with lotus and ancient artifacts. Return to Busan for the evening.
Depart Busan and fly into the colorful island of Jeju. The island was once its own independent area and maintains much of its traditional ways of life and culture. This is a gorgeous, large volcanic island distinct to the rest of South Korea. Deluxe hotel options include the Hyatt Regency Jeju, Lotte Hotel and the Shilla hotel.
If you can manage an early morning, embark on a dawn climb of Sunrise Peak Tuff Cone to see an incredible sunrise from the wide, inactive volcanic crater. Mount Hall is an impressive, sprawling but inactive volcano that makes up much of the island. Mount Hall is also the highest mountain in South Korea. The Manjanggul Lava Tubes are seemingly endless and worth checking out.
After breakfast, checkout from your hotel and transfer to the airport. An aerial view of the island is a sight to behold. Upon reaching Seoul, check into your hotel or take a stroll through the city. If you’re feeling lively - check out one of the area’s many clubs to see the South Korean nightlife that is starkly different from western nightlife.
Leave South Korea and travel to Beijing. While it’s only for a short stop, you may have a chance to catch some of the city’s amazing sites. The massive city and travel hub is the perfect spot for checking out one of the “new seven wonders of the world,” - the Great Wall of China. The Summer Palace is a treat to visit and learn about the country’s fascinating royal history.
After enjoying breakfast in your hotel, it’s time to travel to North Korea. Pyongyang is your first stop. The vital city has been battled over for centuries. Today the city is a somewhat sterile, centrally-planned urban area home to three million people. Check into the Yanggakdo International Hotel, the second-highest building in North Korea, and rest easy after a busy day traveling.
Enjoy seeing a highly-private culture firsthand. Visit the Kim Il Sung Square in the city center for an introduction to the city’s grand architecture and political devotion. Pay a visit to the Juche Tower, Mansudae Grand Monument,the Party Foundation Monument as well as many other political, architectural, cultural and artistic sites. Moranbong Park is perfect for a stroll if you have the energy left.
Drive from Pyongyang to Nampo, stopping along the way at the Chonsamri Cooperative Farm. The farm is a cooperative of people who live and work together. Next, visit the West Sea Barrage, an impressive and unique engineering accomplishment. After visiting a sea vessel repair shop, stop at the Nampo Orphanage and learn about the life and treatment of orphans in North Korea. Check into the Nampo Hot Springs Resort for the night and enjoy a private hot spring bath in your villa.
Spend the day exploring Mount Myohyang. The mountain towers 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) into the sky and is surrounded by picturesque plains. The area is a UNESCO-designated World Biosphere Reserve. Keep your eyes peeled for endangered species. If you visit during the summertime, the wildflowers paint the countryside an array of vibrant colors. The area is ideal for hiking or walking. Spend the evening in the Hyangsan Hotel - the most expensive hotel in North Korea, and for good reason.
Return to Pyongyang for one last day in North Korea. As the area has so many sites to see unique to the rest of the world, make sure to hit any spots you missed your first time visiting the area. Stretch your legs with a stroll through the monument section of the city. Relax at the Koryo Hotel or Yanggakdo International Hotel tonight.
Fly to Beijing for a bit of Chinese culture. Check out the 798 Art Zone designed by East German Bauhaus architects in the 1950s for an interesting artistic tour. Make sure to enjoy an authentic Chinese meal at Peking Duck. A great spot to visit is the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the emperor once held court. Return to your hotel to relax.
Pack up your bags and take your final photos as you depart Beijing for your next destination. Whether that’s home or another exciting adventure - leave knowing you've had the rare experience of seeing one of the most isolated cultures in the entire world.
The Banyan Tree Club & Spa is centrally located at Mount Namsan, just 10 minutes from downtown Seoul. The hotel was renovated from the Tower Hotel which was created by the first generation of Korean architects. Each of the rooms and suites offer contemporary accommodations that includes a walk-in closet, a private pool, complimentary Wi-Fi, and high levels of privacy as each floor contains a maximum of four rooms per floor. Guests may dine at any of the 12 establishments which serve Italian, Spanish, Mediterranean, and Moroccan cuisines. Additional facilities at the hotel includes indoor and outdoor swimming pools, Korean sauna, soccer field, basketball and tennis court, ice-skating rink, golf range and a fully-equipped fitness center. The Banyan Tree hotel is approximately 55 minutes from Incheon International Airport.
The five-star Conrad Seoul is located in the Yeouido financial district with fantastic views overlooking the Han River and city. The hotel offers a huge year-round indoor swimming pool, spa, well-equipped gym, a rooftop garden and even a golf driving range. The spacious executive lounge outshines other five-star lounges with comfortable seating and a generous happy hour promotion. There are 434 spacious rooms with air-conditioning, a deep bathtub, rainfall showerhead, double sink, luxury aromatherapy toiletries, Apple entertainment systems, a Nespresso coffee machine and complimentary newspapers. The hotel is within 5 minutes walking distance from Yeouido Subway Station (Line 5) and reasonably close to Seoul's airports. There is a choice of restaurants including Zest offering international dishes, Atrio that plates up Italian cuisine, a bar and grill on the 37th floor with a 360-degree view of the city and Flames a lobby bar offering wines, cocktails, local and international beers. The hotel also has direct access to the large international-style IFC shopping mall.
Located in the heart of the Seoul business district, the Ritz Carlton Seoul offer luxury accommodations near all of Seoul's attractions. Each of the 375 recently renovated rooms and suites come with Italian bed linens, marble bathroom, high-speed Internet access, and a 32 or 42-inch LCD television. The Ritz Carlton offers six dining options, such as Chee Hong that serves fine Cantonese cuisine and Hanazono for the freshest Japanese sushis. Other facilities include boutique shops, business and conference halls, a state-of-the-art fitness center with a Japanese sauna and an indoor swimming pool. The Ritz Carlton is approximately 70-90 minutes from Incheon International Airport.
This large hotel in the center of Pyongyang is easily identified by its two soaring towers connected by an impressive atrium. The Koryo is ideally located within walking distance from the Tower of the Juche Idea and just across the river from Kim Il Sung Square. The rooms, though perhaps a little dated, are clean and well-equipped with soft beds and flat-screen HDTVs with Western news channels, while the bathrooms have hot running water, clean towels and toiletries. The hotel provides everything its guests could want, including a swimming pool with massage center, a well-stocked bookstore and a souvenir shop, which sells everything from stamps to fruit and even traditional Korean dresses. Guests will be kept entertained in any of the four bars on-site, which include a karaoke bar and, on the ground floor, a microbrewery; all the shops, bars and restaurants accept foreign Euros and US Dollars. Perhaps the highlight of this hotel is the revolving restaurant on the top floor of one of its towers, from which visitors can enjoy traditional Korean cuisine, accompanied by stunning views of the great city.
Opened in 1995 and the second-tallest building in North Korea, the Yanggakdo is currently Pyongyang's only luxury hotel and one of the city's most noticeable landmarks. The hotel has over 1000 rooms as well as a panoramic revolving restaurant on its 47th floor. There are also 4 other restaurants serving Korean, Chinese & Japanese cuisine. Facilities include bowling alley, a pool room, a swimming pool, a barber shop, a casino and a massage club, and the hotel is adjacent to the Pyongyang International Cinema Hall.
Aman at Summer Palace, which opened in fall 2008, is located just outside the east gate of the palace, and meticulously designed to harmonize with the graceful architecture of the former retreat of China's emperors. A series of century-old guesthouses, built for guests awaiting an audience with Empress Dowager Cixi, have been transformed into a hotel with 18 rooms and 25 suites. With their trademark sensitivity to historic properties, Aman has decorated the interiors with period furniture and rich fabrics that evoke the grandeur of the palace itself. There are three restaurants: The Grill; The Chinese Restaurant, which has an elegant Ming Dynasty interior; and Naoki, helmed by chef Naoki Okamura and specializing in his trademark "French Kaiseki", which combines the best of French haute cuisine with Japanese artistry. Other amenities include a bar, a library, and the Aman Club — a spa and fitness-center complex including a large pool, located underground to preserve the harmonious aesthetic of the architecture. The Aman is a 45-minute drive from central Beijing and a 45-minute drive from Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK).
Located in the shopping district close to Wangfujing Street and 1.5 miles from the Forbidden City, this purpose-built hotel expands the prestigious Waldorf Astoria brand across China. This new addition to the iconic chain comprises a gleaming 12-storey block and a traditional hutong wing located in a 200-year-old courtyard mansion restored beautifully with luxury interiors. Decor reflects Eastern aesthetic values with a contemporary edge, with paintings and sculptures by famed local artists throughout and dramatic gold and bronze features, adding old-world glamor. Executive guests will appreciate the complimentary use of corporate amenities and meeting rooms, while all travelers can enjoy free, property-wide WiFi. The Waldorf Astoria also boasts top-notch leisure facilities, including a spa with Eastern and Western treatments, a sleek indoor pool with whirlpool and a high-tech fitness center. Cantonese, European and New York-inspired food is offered in the on-site restaurants, with a sophisticated lounge area setting the scene for supper, late-night cocktails or traditional afternoon tea. An international, English-speaking staff is on hand to provide information and assistance around the clock, with concierges ready to organize bespoke touring and shopping services.