Surrounded by the sea on three sides and boasting 11 port cities, Korea is the ideal destination. Royal Caribbean, Costa Cruise, and other internationally known cruise companies are already calling at major ports in Korea. With the rising demand for cruise travel connecting China, Korea, and Japan, Korea is emerging as a new cruise destination in the Northeast Asian region. Seabourn Cruise will launch its luxury services in Korea from 2010, unveiling new cruise itineraries calling at Yeosu, Mokpo, Busan, Incheon, and Jeju.
In Busan and Incheon, the largest port cities in Korea, visitors will find maritime urban centers. From Incheon Port, the capital city of Seoul is only an hour away by coach. Moreover, Jeju Island is an international resort destination with a number of locations designated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites. It is the only location in Korea where Chinese tourists are exempt from visa requirement, and attracts large number of Chinese visitors each year. Meanwhile, Yeosu and Mokpo, whose coastlines are dotted with picturesque islands, offer the ambience of smaller port cities. And just an hour away are stunning natural landscapes and the serenity of Buddhist temples.
If you want to encounter a totally new world every morning during your cruise, then please step off your ship at one of the ports of call in Korea.
Yeosu, a Maritime City Surrounded by 317 Islands
Located on the southern coastline of Korea, the maritime city of Yeosu lies on a 915-kilometer-long ria coast dotted with 317 islands. The area near the port is busy with preparations for the 2012 World Expo from May 12 to Aug. 12, 2012. With the theme “The Living Ocean and Coast,” the expo offers a valuable opportunity for the international community to seek ways to coexist with the sea in an ecologically sound way. The expo will feature a sea exhibit harmonizing manmade structures and nature, a miniature Dadohae Park on a 1/1000 scale, and a living marine laboratory that features Korea’s state-of-the-art technology against a beautiful seascape. Near Yeosuhang Port, passengers can visit the famous black sand Manseongni Beach and Odongdo Island, which is the symbol of Yeosu and the access point to Hallyeohaesang National Marine Park. Odongdo Island has been turned into a park with forested walking paths, a musical fountain, and a 25-meter high lighthouse observatory. To view a beautiful sunrise and sunset, guests can visit Hyangiram Hermitage at the southern tip of Dolsando Island, which is connected to the mainland by Dolsandaegyo Bridge.
Recommended sites within an hour’s travel include:
Boseong Daehan Tea Farm, Carpets of Green Tea
The green tea fields of Boseong are half a century old. With the largest tea fields in Korea, Boseong Daehan Tea Farm draws a huge number of domestic and international tourists. The carefully trimmed green tea trees stretch endlessly over steep mountain slopes, creating a lush green carpet that is a sight to behold. Passengers can taste and purchase fragrant, high-quality green tea. Enjoy a walk along the road lined with cedar trees that had been planted to block the wind.
Suncheonman Bay, One of the World’s Top Five Wetlands
With its wetlands and reed fields, Suncheonman Bay is not only beautiful but also highly known for its ecological importance. Counted as one of the world’s top five wetlands, Suncheonman Bay stretches along the 40-kilometer long coastline. Some 210 hectares of reed fields have been recognized by ecologists worldwide for the great efforts that have been taken to preserve them. From the bay’s observatory, visitors can observe the reed fields up close, or take a boat ride out to the bay at high tide. The Natural Ecology Center offers a wonderful opportunity for people to learn more about the origin of the wetlands and the rare birds that inhabit it. The best place to see the bay’s beautiful S-shaped waterway and reeds is the Yongsan Observatory. The path from the ecological park, through the golden fields of reeds to the observatory on the mountain is about an hour’s walk. Visitors will not only enjoy the view from the observatory, but get a delightfully invigorating hike as well.
Naganeupseong, Village of Thatch-Roofed Houses from the Joseon Era
Dating from the Joseon era (1392-1910), Naganeupseong folk village is the site of a fortress, dongheon (central building in which local authorities conducted government affairs), gaeksa (guesthouse for government officials from abroad or from Korean localities), and thatch-roofed houses that have been preserved in their original state. It is the only folk village in Korea that is actually home to about 280 people living in a hundred households. This offers the perfect opportunity to observe the lifestyle of people in the Joseon era and see the current residents making traditional Korean furniture of straw and wood in one of the 10 residences offering hands-on programs. Walking along the 1,410-meter long fortress wall, visitors will be treated to a unique and beautiful view of the village.
Songgwangsa Temple, One of the Three Major Temples in Korea
Songgwangsa is one of the three most important temples in Korea. It is renowned for having produced 16 guksa (the highest rank in Buddhism, which was bestowed only upon the most highly esteemed monks). The temple houses all the educational institutions needed to train monks, as well as facilities for foreign monks to learn and practice Zen. Songgwangsa imparts a feeling of true devotion. Unlike other temples, there is no pagoda in front of the Daeungjeon (the main building), which emphasizes the grandeur of the site. Visitors will be able to see paintings highlighting the achievements of Buddha and his teachings on the walls of the building. To enter the compound, visitors cross over the Uhwagak Pavilion, perched over a pond. There is a striking aesthetic harmony between the arched bridge and the columns. Visitors may opt to participate in a temple stay program or join a tea ceremony class.
Mokpo, Site of Undersea Archaeological Explorations
Mokpo, located at the tip of Korea’s southwestern coast, has long been an important access point from the Seohae Sea (West Sea) to the mainland. After Mokpohang Port opened in October 1897, the town served as the starting point of Highway 1 (Mokpo-Seoul-Sinuiju), Korea’s first national roadway, and National Highway 2 (Mokpo-Busan) built in the early 1900s to transport rice, salt, and cotton produced in the region. From Mount Yudalsan (228 meters above sea level), claimed by local people to be the resting place of spirits and ghosts, visitors can get a view of the port and downtown Mokpo, which was constructed on land reclaimed from the sea. A forsythia festival takes place in the spring. From the Gatbawi Culture District, visitors can stroll across a floating bridge to see a rock shaped like a man wearing a gat (a traditional brimmed hat). Other worthwhile attractions are the National Maritime Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the Ceramic Livingware Museum. The National Maritime Museum in Mokpo is the nation’s only professional institution specializing in underwater archaeology. It sponsors explorations of the sea floor to retrieve relics submerged from hundreds of years ago, and preserves and exhibits them. There is also an outdoor exhibition of full size replicas of various traditional Korean boats.
Soswaewon Garden of Damyang, Typical Traditional Garden
Dating back to the 1530s, Soswaewon is a private garden representative of the Joseon era. A place for Taoist scholars to gather and exchange ideas, the garden expresses ancient Koreans’ respect for nature, especially in the way the architecture melds naturally into the surrounding landscape. Of 10 buildings, only three remain today. A stream running down from the north passes beneath a natural rock structure and pond right in the center of the garden. Bamboo, pine trees, various shrubs and flowers adorn the grounds, adding serenity to this peaceful retreat.
Jungnogwon Garden of Damyang, Expansive Bamboo Garden
Jungnogwon is a large garden of thick bamboo trees. Visitors can make a leisurely climb up the wooden stairway, as they listen to bamboos rustling in the wind. The smells and sounds combine to refresh the body and soul, while the bamboos tower above the walking path.
White Lotus Pond of Hoesan, the Largest Habitat of White Lotus in Asia
At the beginning of the 20th century, this site was used as a reservoir to supply irrigation water for surrounding farms. In the 1950s, when it was no longer needed for that purpose, a town resident planted 12 lotus plants in the reservoir and tended them with care. The lotus divided and spread year after year to eventually become the largest habitat (approximately 330,000 m²) of white lotus in Asia. The rare white lotus flowers blossom from July to September. A lotus festival is held in August, when the flowers are at their peak. Festival-goers can sample tea and foods made from the leaves and roots of lotus.
Busan, the Largest Port City in Korea
Situated at the southeastern tip of Korea, Busan is the largest port city in Korea. Opened in 1879, it was also the first port in Korea. Also called the second capital of Korea, Busan offers plenty to see and enjoy with numerous international events. The annual Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) is popular not only in Asia, but also globally. The areas around the PIFF Plaza, which is the main venue for the film festival, and Haeundae Beach receive tourists year round. At Haeundae Beach, the Busan Aquarium features underwater sea life exhibits. Another great attraction for tourists is Dongbaekseom Island with its coastal walking path. While on the island, visitors can also go to the Nurimaru APEC House. Replicating a traditional Korean pavilion, this is where the APEC Summit was held in 2005. Oryukdo Island, which lies to the south of Busan, appears to be five islands when seen from the west or as six islands when seen from the east. Hence its Korean name (five or six islands).
Recommended Tourist Sites include:
Pusan International Film Festival, the Largest in Asia
Launched in 1996 as the first international film festival of Korea, the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) is the leading film festival in Asia. It is held in October every year in Haeundae and Nampo-dong, both popular tourist destinations in Busan. The festival showcases various genres and movies of diverse regions for a glimpse into the trends of world cinematography. The festival is committed to discovering and supporting talented Asian directors and films, at the same time advancing a vision for Asia cinematography.
Jagalchi Market, the Largest Fish Market in Korea
A landmark of Busan dating back a hundred years, Jagalchi Market is the largest fish market in Korea. This is a must stop for international travelers visiting Busan as it embodies the true essence of Busan and shows the spirit of the people who live there. The lively market echoes with the shouts of vendors selling their fish as buyers shout back, attempting to bargain. Meanwhile, the flapping fish add to the pandemonium. If you visit in October, don’t miss the Busan Jagalchi Festival, which offers a variety of hands-on programs.
Shinsegae Centum City, the World’s Largest Department Store
In June 2009, Shinsegae Centum City overtook Macy’s in New York to become the world’s largest department store in the Guinness Book of World Records. The shopping and entertainment complex also includes a variety of facilities such as a spa, ice rink, culture center, theatre, gallery, golf range, and outdoor park. Centum City is rapidly emerging as a new landmark of Busan. At night, the exterior lighting expresses the ‘Golden Sea’ theme, highlighting the site’s architecture.
Seven Luck Casino
Opened in 2006 in Busan’s Lotte Hotel, the Seven Luck Casino caters only to foreign travelers. It offers a variety of games, including roulette, black jack, baccarat, tai-sai, big wheel, poker, slot machines, and video games.
Incheon, the Gateway to Seoul
Incheon is a harbor city developed around the Incheonhang Port, the largest on the West Coast. With Incheon International Airport nearby, the city is known as the gateway to Seoul and a Northeast Asian hub connecting Korea to the world. Incheon will host the 17th Asian Games in 2014 where athletes and delegates from 45 members of the Olympic Council of Asia will participate. This will be the third Asian Games held in Korea following those in Seoul in 1986 and Busan in 2002. Notably, Incheonhang Port stands as a witness to Korea’s history. Close by are a number of tourist attractions, including Chinatown, Jayu Park, Wolmido Island, and the Yeonanbudu (coastal pier) fish market. By public transportation, visitors can access Seoul in an hour.
Recommended Tourist Sites in Incheon include:
Chinatown, which was established following the opening of the Incheonhang Port in 1883, developed its own unique Chinese culture. In the past, the area was mostly made up of stores selling goods imported from China, but nowadays there are more Chinese restaurants than stores. Chinatown and the surrounding area are historically significant, and visitors will find examples of Chinese culture dating back to the time the port opened.
Wolmido, a Street of Culture along the Coast
Originally, Wolmido was an island 4 kilometers in circumference located about a kilometer off the coast of Incheon. In 1989, a reclamation project connected it to the mainland. A “street of culture” was established along the beach where visitors can enjoy a meal or relax at one of the many cafes and restaurants. Wolmido has played a role in history and was notably the site for the Incheon Landing Operation during the Korean War.
Recommended Tourist Sites in Seoul include:
Five Royal Palaces – Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung
Built by different kings during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910), the Royal Palaces define Korean architecture. Of the five palaces, Gyeongbokgung was the first to built in the fourth year of the realm of King Taejo (1395). Changdeokgung was completed in 1405 and was home to royal families for the longest period of time -- 258 years. The original architecture and landscaping of Joseon era royal palaces have been preserved. Changdeokgung Palace was registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 1997.
Namsangol Hanok Village, the Past and Present of Seoul
Namsangol Hanok Village is a window into the history of Seoul, with five traditional Korean houses called hanok moved here and decorated with a Korean-style garden. The area is adorned with native trees that grow in Mount Namsan. From here, visitors can get a great view of downtown Seoul. The village has an exhibit of traditional Korean crafts and offers folk games and dance performances. In the Time Capsule Square, located in the innermost area of the village, is a capsule containing 600 items that best represent the lifestyle of the population of Seoul in the 20th century and is buried underground for opening in 2394.
Insadong, a Street of Traditions
The street of Insadong offers authentic Korean traditions for Korean and international visitors. It is lined with shops selling ceramics, traditional crafts, and antiques, as well as traditional teashops and restaurants. Insadong is the central place for antique art trading with dozens of galleries. Visitors will find a variety of exhibits ranging from Korean paintings, prints, sculptures, photos, to modern art.
Myeongdong, the Mecca of Fashion
Myeongdong is the most popular shopping area in Seoul. Department stores and shopping centers line the streets, and small stores beckon shoppers to browse and buy clothes, shoes, accessories, and other fashion items. Restaurants, banks, theaters, and other convenience facilities add to Myeongdong’s appeal. Also located here is Myeongdong Cathedral, the first Catholic Church in Korea.
Dongdaemun Market, a Popular Fashion Center
Boasting an old history and tradition, Dongdaemun Market is the most popular and the largest fashion market in Korea with 5,000 shops concentrated in five shopping centers. It has become an international shopping destination attracting tourists and wholesale buyers from around the world.
Jeju, a Volcanic Island with World Natural Heritage Sites
Being the southernmost point of Korea, the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province is an island created by volcanic activity millions of years ago. Also the largest island in Korea, it is an international resort destination that not only has scholastic significance, but also is valued for its awe-inspiring natural landscape. There is much to see, including parasitic volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, unique cliffs, and caves. Best of all, Jeju is blessed with a mild climate all year round. As such, it is one of the top tourist destinations that Koreans plan to visit at least once during their lifetime. Numerous tourist sites of varying themes await visitors, including Haenyeo (Women Divers) Museum, O'sullok Tea Museum, Teddy Bear Museum, Seongeup Folk Village, Jeju Stone Park, Jeju Artpark, Kimnyoung Maze Park, The Ma Park (‘ma’ is Korean for horse), and Spirited Garden. Visit Seopjikoji Coast, Jusangjeolli Cliff, and Oedolgae Rock to view Jeju’s unique and fascinating coastal cliffs.
Recommended sites in Jeju include:
Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes - Mount Hallasan, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, Manjanggul lava tube
The areas designated as UNESCO World Natural Heritage are Mount Hallasan in the center of Jeju and two sites on the northeast side of the island. Indeed, a tenth of the total surface area of the island has been declared a world natural heritage site. These sites are noted for their unique topographical features and secondary speleothems resulting from volcanic activities. Visitors to Jeju should not miss the experience of visiting Mount Hallasan, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, and Manjanggul lava tube.
Mt. Hallasan is a dormant volcano formed of basalt rock and the highest mountain in Korea (1,950 meters). At the summit is a crater lake called Baengnokdam; it is 3 kilometers in circumference and 500 meters in diameter. Nearby, 360 or so parasitic volcanoes called oreum create a unique landscape. The site also acts as a natural reserve with rare plants living on the slopes at various altitudes.
Seongsan Ilchulbong is a cone created by a Surtseyan-type eruption 100,000 years ago. It had been a volcanic island before the accumulation of gravel and sand formed a natural connection to the mainland of Jeju. The sunrise seen from the summit of Seongsan Ilchulbong is considered the best view on the island.
Manjanggul is the longest lava tube in the world with a width of 5 meters, a height of 5 to 10 meters, and a total length of 13,422 meters. Created approximately 2.5 million years ago, Manjanggul’s magnificent interior will awe visitors, who are allowed to enter a 1-kilometer area for a view of the tube.