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South Korea: The Future of a Society at a Crossroads
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11 days

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Prices are indicative. Based on twin share. The rate of exchange calculated is approximate and the final tour cost will be as on the final date of payment. Taxes are additional.

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Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include walking tours, visits to sites, safari drives, and easy hikes; and some days will have more physical activities such as longer hikes, kayaking, snorkeling, or biking.

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Premium expeditions are led by a National Geographic expert, an expedition team, or top guides, and tap into National Geographic's worldwide resources to allow for in-depth exploration and special access to sites and experts in the field. Itineraries are fully planned, with some free time. Accommodations are high-end or best available. Ground transportation and most meals and activities are included in the trip price.

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Expedition Overview

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EXPEDITION OVERVIEW
  • Explore the future of political and economic cooperation between North and South Korea, enjoying insight from National Geographic and Wall Street Journal experts.
  • Enter the Joint Security Area of the Korean Demilitarized Zone and descend into a once-secret tunnel dug by the North Korean army.
  • Trace the history of the controversial Kaesong Special Economic Zone during conversations with economists and business leaders in Seoul.
  • Experience South Korea’s spectacular natural landscapes in Seoraksan National Park, and savor unique specialties at markets in seaside Sokcho and cosmopolitan Busan.
Itinerary

Few regions of the world present a greater contrast than the Korean peninsula, where the 38th parallel divides South Korea and North Korea along stark disparities in political freedom, economic prosperity, and cultural exchange. Gain unprecedented insight into the peninsula’s current climate on a journey through South Korea alongside experts from National Geographic and The Wall Street Journal. In Seoul, meet with renowned local economists, nonprofit leaders, and government agencies tasked with preserving peace on the peninsula. Discuss the future of cross-border collaboration, and set foot in the Joint Security Area of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. From the east coast to the southern islands, gain insight into the legacy of the Korean War, and hear from the visionaries leading South Korea into a peaceful and prosperous future.

Day 1: Seoul, South Korea

Arrive in Seoul, South Korea’s cosmopolitan capital, and transfer to our hotel. Settle into your luxuriously appointed room, enjoying panoramic views of the city skyline. Later, meet fellow travelers and your National Geographic and Wall Street Journal experts at a welcome dinner and orientation this evening.

Day 2: Seoul

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Seoul has rapidly attained prominence as an economic, political, and cultural hub following the so-called “miracle on the Han”—a period of exponential economic growth during the second half of the 20th century. Recent political developments to the north have raised questions about what the future holds for the Korean peninsula. This morning, meet Dr. Jong-Wha Lee, former senior advisor for international economic affairs for the South Korean government, to discuss the economic and social impacts of closer ties between North and South Korea. Then venture onto the bustling streets of Seoul, where ancient history meets the latest advances in technology. Watch the changing of the guard at Deoksugung Palace, former home of Korea’s royal family, and visit the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History to learn about the transformation of the country, tracing its history from the late 19th century to the present.

Day 3: Seoul

This morning, sit down with Dr. Tae-Young Cho of the Bank of Korea to compare the industrial economies of North and South Korea. Explore the future of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a special economic zone constructed north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone in 2002 and administered in tandem by the two countries. South Korean companies employed over 50,000 North Korean workers in the zone before its temporary closure in 2016 in response to escalating cross-border tensions. Learn more about the Demilitarized Zone and the Joint Security Area from history professor Dr. Dae-Hoon Lee. After lunch, visit the headquarters of Hyundai Asan, an arm of the Hyundai automaker group and one of the primary employers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Day 4: Seoul

Today, explore the present state of politics in South Korea and its northern neighbor, beginning with a visit to the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, an NGO that monitors abuses of power by the South Korean government and local private companies. Then meet with the international peace team to discuss avenues for ensuring peace and stability throughout the peninsula. Visit the Committee for the Five North Korean Provinces, a South Korean government body tasked with the administration of the five provinces of Korea located north of the DMZ, where South Korea still claims de jure supremacy, despite de facto North Korean rule. The primary function of the five shadow governors is now to support North Korean defectors living in South Korea. Hear about life north of the border from refugees, and meet with journalists who contribute to a newspaper for North Korean refugees. After lunch, visit a local company with production ties to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Day 5: DMZ/Seoul

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This morning, we make our way to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Established in 1953 after the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, this buffer zone is an empty strip of wilderness stretching about 150 miles from coast to coast. Begin at Camp Bonifas for a briefing by U.S. military forces before entering the Joint Security Area, where unarmed members of the North and South Korean military stand face-to-face. Learn the history of the zone at the DMZ Theater and Exhibition Hall, then descend into the Third Infiltration Tunnel, dug in secret by North Korean forces during the 1970s. After lunch, visit the Dora Observatory for a panoramic view of the North Korean hills, including the “peace village” of Kijong-dong, called the “propaganda village” by South Koreans. End your tour at Dorasan Station, once used to transfer materials to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Day 6: Goseong/Sokcho

Depart Seoul this morning for the picturesque province of Gangwon on the northeast coast of South Korea. Visit the Goseong Unification Observatory, a tower and museum complex offering sweeping views of the coastline and the less traversed portion of the DMZ. Continue to Seoraksan National Park and ride a cable car to the summit of a rocky peak to view remnants of the 13th-century Gwongeumseong Fortress. Check in to our hotel, adjacent to the park and Mount Seorak, and set out on an evening hike if you wish.

Day 7: Sokcho

Trade towering peaks for seascapes on today’s journey to Sokcho, a city of golden beaches on South Korea’s northeast coast. Visit Abai Village, a district founded by refugees from the Korean War who were separated from their ancestral homes by the 38th parallel. Sit down with a local family to hear tales of the war and their efforts to build new lives in a new country. After lunch in the village, venture into the bustling Sokcho Tourist and Fishery Market for a guided tour. Sample local delicacies of fresh and dried seafood, as well as famed Korean fried chicken.

Day 8: Busan

Depart this morning for Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, situated on the sunny southeast coast. Along the way, stop for lunch in Ulsan, the heart of South Korea’s largest industrial district, and visit the Boksoondoga Brewery to learn about the process of making traditional rice wine. Upon arrival in Busan, visit the UN Memorial Cemetery, the only cemetery in the world officially recognized by the United Nations and the final resting place for more than two thousand soldiers from eleven different countries who fought in the Korean War. This evening, stroll Busan’s bustling waterfront, or wander the narrow streets of traditional markets, where vendors prepare street food according to recipes handed down over many generations.

Day 9: Geojedo Island/Busan

Cross over to Geojedo Island, enjoying views of terraced hills and turquoise bays. Walk the grounds of a former United Nations prisoner of war camp where captured North Korean and Chinese soldiers were once housed, then return to Busan for lunch. This afternoon, visit the Provisional Capital Memorial Hall to learn more about the period during the Korean War when Busan served as the provisional capital city of Korea. Then head to Somak Village, a neighborhood of incredibly narrow streets where old cattle warehouses were partitioned to serve as housing for UN forces and North Korean refugees after the Hungnam evacuation. Dive into the colorful Gukje Market, originally established by refugees trying to make a living and now one of South Korea’s largest markets.

Day 10: Seoul

Board a famed bullet train for the swift trip back to Seoul, and catch glimpses of spectacular landscapes flashing past your window. Enjoy lunch on arrival, then check in to your hotel. This afternoon, meet a local expert to discuss the social costs and challenges of closer ties between North and South Korea. Later, gather with fellow travelers and accompanying experts for a farewell reception and dinner at your hotel.

Day 11: Seoul

Transfer to the airport in Seoul to connect with your international flight home.

What to Expect

This expedition is rated as light/moderate; travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Travelers should expect full days, many of which require several miles of walking. Much of the touring occurs outside, rain or shine, and offers limited access to shade or benches. Excursions may include navigating uneven terrain, climbing stairs without handrails, and walking on paths with steep ascents or descents. On Days 6 and 7, travelers will be staying inside Seoraksan National Park and may choose to go hiking during down time if they wish. Please note that there are some long travel days.

Accommodations
Throughout the trip, we stay in ideally located, high-end hotels with ample amenities.

Expedition Team
A National Geographic expert and an expedition leader will accompany this trip, and local guides join us along the way. A Wall Street Journal expert will also join us for a portion of the trip.

Accommodations

Throughout the trip, we stay in ideally located, high-end hotels with ample amenities.

1 /7

Lotte Hotel Seoul - Myeongdong, South Korea

Soaring high above the central business district of Myeongdong, Lotte Hotel Seoul offers incomparable luxury in the heart of the city. A stunning marble foyer welcomes guests to a celebration of Seoul’s cosmopolitan spirit. Five gourmet restaurants located across the hotel’s two towers dish up an extraordinary array of flavors—from Korean and Japanese to French, Chinese, and American cuisine. The spacious rooms were decorated by three world-class design firms and include ample amenities and views of Seoul’s sparkling city lights.

2 /7

Lotte Hotel Seoul - Myeongdong, South Korea

Soaring high above the central business district of Myeongdong, Lotte Hotel Seoul offers incomparable luxury in the heart of the city. A stunning marble foyer welcomes guests to a celebration of Seoul’s cosmopolitan spirit. Five gourmet restaurants located across the hotel’s two towers dish up an extraordinary array of flavors—from Korean and Japanese to French, Chinese, and American cuisine. The spacious rooms were decorated by three world-class design firms and include ample amenities and views of Seoul’s sparkling city lights.

3 /7

Lotte Hotel Seoul - Myeongdong, South Korea

Soaring high above the central business district of Myeongdong, Lotte Hotel Seoul offers incomparable luxury in the heart of the city. A stunning marble foyer welcomes guests to a celebration of Seoul’s cosmopolitan spirit. Five gourmet restaurants located across the hotel’s two towers dish up an extraordinary array of flavors—from Korean and Japanese to French, Chinese, and American cuisine. The spacious rooms were decorated by three world-class design firms and include ample amenities and views of Seoul’s sparkling city lights.

4 /7

Kensington Stars Hotel - Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

Step back in time at the Kensington Stars Hotel, conveniently located within South Korea’s Seoraksan National Park. Designed to evoke the timeless elegance of England’s grand hotels, Kensington Stars is a charming base for exploring the landscapes of stunning Mount Seorak. Guests can choose from a variety of comfortable accommodations in unique styles, from whimsical English-themed rooms with panoramic mountain views, to sleek contemporary interiors featuring traditional Korean amenities. Dine on delicious local specialties or familiar western favorites at the hotel’s two restaurants, or catch live music at the Beatles-themed bistro and bar.

5 /7

Kensington Stars Hotel - Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

Step back in time at the Kensington Stars Hotel, conveniently located within South Korea’s Seoraksan National Park. Designed to evoke the timeless elegance of England’s grand hotels, Kensington Stars is a charming base for exploring the landscapes of stunning Mount Seorak. Guests can choose from a variety of comfortable accommodations in unique styles, from whimsical English-themed rooms with panoramic mountain views, to sleek contemporary interiors featuring traditional Korean amenities. Dine on delicious local specialties or familiar western favorites at the hotel’s two restaurants, or catch live music at the Beatles-themed bistro and bar.

6 /7

Paradise Hotel Busan - Busan, South Korea

Take in sweeping ocean views from the rooftop terrace at Paradise Hotel Busan, situated just steps from the beach in South Korea’s busiest coastal city. Stylish contemporary rooms feature comfortable furnishings, luxury amenities, glass-fronted bathrooms, and oceanfront balconies. Watch waves roll onto shore from the upscale international grill, savor rich flavors at the Chinese bistro, or enjoy locally sourced sushi in a garden setting at the ground floor restaurant. As the sun sets over a calm sea, relax in an outdoor hot bath overlooking the ocean, or unwind with traditional Korean remedies in the spa.

7 /7

Paradise Hotel Busan - Busan, South Korea

Take in sweeping ocean views from the rooftop terrace at Paradise Hotel Busan, situated just steps from the beach in South Korea’s busiest coastal city. Stylish contemporary rooms feature comfortable furnishings, luxury amenities, glass-fronted bathrooms, and oceanfront balconies. Watch waves roll onto shore from the upscale international grill, savor rich flavors at the Chinese bistro, or enjoy locally sourced sushi in a garden setting at the ground floor restaurant. As the sun sets over a calm sea, relax in an outdoor hot bath overlooking the ocean, or unwind with traditional Korean remedies in the spa.