The 4 Best Places to Travel to From Korea
The best places to travel to from Korea aren’t necessarily the ones you hear about most often. Sure, Thailand’s great, and you should definitely go, but here are 4 amazing destinations that you probably hadn’t thought of.
After three years in Korea, Anthony considers himself a master of the mad-dash, 5-day Chuseok vacation. He’d love nothing more than to sit down with you and swap tales about beach bars, mountainside hostels, and train rides through China, so come on over, why don’t ‘ya? This is his (totally arguable) list of the best lesser-known places to travel to from Korea.
Whether you’re living in Korea or just passing through, you’ve almost certainly given some thought to where you should travel to next. Japan and China are right next door and easy to get to (unless you’re American and have to cough up $130 for the Chinese L visa; for other nationalities it’s $30) – Kyoto is gorgeous and the Great Wall is, well, great – and Thai beaches are the perfect respite from harsh Korean winters.
Your options are broad, is what I’m saying, and the whole of Southeast Asia is on your doorstep, tempting you, luring you in with exotic place names, beautiful beaches, lush tropical forests, and amazing hospitality. And hopefully, once your contract is over, you’re planning to take a few months to backpack through Borneo, climb an Indonesian volcano, or ride a luxury train through Malaysia.
But Korean vacations can be short, and you probably want to get out there and see all the amazing things you left home for – before the school term starts again. So here is my list, in reverse order, of the best places to travel to from Korea (that you could squeeze into your vacation).
After the Second Indochina War (known to us as the Vietnam War, and them as the American War), Vietnam remained fairly closed off for many years, and has only in the last 15 or so started to open up and invest in tourism. The industry is booming now, with a well-established backpacker trail and good infrastructure, but remains comparatively cheaper and less spoiled than its neighbor, Thailand. Plus, it’s beautiful.
Attractions: Ha Long Bay, 4,000 miles of coastline, great food, loads of culture, military history (though be forewarned, communist propaganda prevails)
Getting there: Direct flights on Asiana, Korean Air, and Vietnam Airlines. Look for cheaper flights through Hong Kong on Dragonair, Manila on Cebu Pacific, or Siem Reap on Sky Wings Asia (this is my favorite little find: an airline that only flies between Seoul, Hanoi, and Siem Reap, almost exclusively for Korean tourists)
Best time of year: It depends on whether you’re going North or South, since they have opposing monsoon seasons. In any case avoid the lunar new year period, as they celebrate it like Koreans do – with the whole country travelling at once.
Visas: Will be needed. You can’t get them on arrival but you can apply and pay online at one of many travel agencies to avoid an extended wait at the airport. They should cost $30-$35, and are valid for 30 days.
Time needed: See the highlights of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh in 3-4 days, or spend three weeks travelling slowly down the coast by bus or train.
Extend your stay: Take an overland bus into Cambodia, Laos, or Thailand.
Ah, Bali. It’s the furthest away of anything on this list, and correspondingly harder to get to, but you’re also pretty much guaranteed to get away from the massive Korean tour groups you’ll find elsewhere in Asia. And it’s worth it, because Bali has everything: stunning natural beauty, a favorable year-round tropical climate, the friendliest people in the world, and a fascinating local culture that combines Buddhism and Hinduism.
My protip: Sekumpul Falls, on the north side of the island, don’t seem to be in any guide books except for The Rough Guide, and isn’t even advertised locally, but it’s by far the best waterfall on the island. Almost alone, you walk down into the valley and can swim in a pool at the foot of the seven waterfalls that come crashing down around you. Tropical paradise? I’d say so.
Attractions: Everything: surfing beaches, amazing SCUBA diving, party towns, more culture than you can fit on a 32GB SD card, and hospitality you’d sell your first-born into slavery to afford in the west.
Getting there: This is the only tricky part, since Bali is in the southern hemisphere, just off the north coast of Australia. The only direct flights from Seoul are on Asiana and Korean Air, and they can get expensive unless you book early. You can usually find a cheaper flight through Hong Kong, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur and, if you plan it right, you can spend a day exploring those cities, each of which is a destination in itself.
Budget $600-$800 for the tickets and transfer.
Best time of year: All year. Seriously, it’s a great place to visit year-round. There are festivals going on pretty much any time of the year, and the weather is lovely and moderate.
Visas: $25 on arrival (bring cash).
Also, bear in mind that the Islamist government up in Jakarta has a heavy-handed policy toward drugs, and you’ll see signs at immigration about the death sentence for drug smuggling. They take it seriously: this is happening.
Time needed: 6 days for the supertour (two days on the beach, two days at a dive resort, two days taking in the culture in Ubud)
Extend your stay: Try heading east into the fairly untouched Indonesian island of Lombok, or go north into the jungles of Borneo. Westward curves back north through Jakarta and Malaysia until you get back to the Asian mainland. Or just stay, you wouldn’t be the first.
2. Siem Reap
Siem Reap is also known as the Gateway to Angkor, and that pretty much sums it up. Angkor Wat itself is but one temple-palace at the center of a massive complex of ruined temples, walls, canals and palaces that was once a sprawling city of over a million people – back when London was a collection of farmer’s huts on the Thames. Most of it was eaten by time and the jungle, and the Khmer Rouge did almost as much damage to Angkor Wat as to the Cambodian people, but in recent years the jungle has been cut back and certain parts have been restored.
Mostly, though, it’s still in ruins, but they’re ruins to which you have a surprising amount of access: almost nothing is cordoned off, and you can walk up and touch just about everything. As money rolls in and conservation efforts are stepped up you can expect this to change, and it won’t be long until you’re kept 30 meters away by barricades and security cameras.
Protip: If you power through it you can do the whole complex in 3 days, but make sure you do one half-day trip out to Beng Mealea: Here, indulge your inner Lara Croft and escape up over the roofs to explore a whole side of the temple that most people don’t get to see.
Attractions: Angkor Wat, and the surrounding complex comprising dozens of intricate temples and palaces.
Getting there: There are direct flights with Asiana and Korean Air, but we found some other great deals that will not come up on your Expedia-type flight aggregator.
- First, if you get your timing right, Cebu Pacific frequently does ultra-budget deals from Manila to Siem Reap – I’m talking $20 for a return flight. You still need to get to Manila, but that’s much easier. As we found out, however, it’s also really easy to miss the deal window.
- Second, try Sky Wings Asia Airlines, which I mentioned above in number one. They fly direct from Seoul to Siem Reap every day.
Cost: $300-$500, so long as you get your tickets early.
Best time of year: November through May should be dry, avoiding the monsoon rains that would put a definite damper on a tight schedule. The perfect time would be one of those 4-day weekends that always seem to crop up around April/May.
Visas: $20 visa on arrival, and make sure you bring a passport-size photo with you, or they’ll fine you the ludicrous sum of $1.
Time needed: At minimum 3 days, but if you stay a week you can take more time about it, and get in a couple of the day trips around Siem Reap.
Extend your stay: Go over the border into the neighboring nations of Vietnam, Laos, or Thailand.
Can you think of anywhere that sounds more far-flung, remote, and ancient than Kathmandu? Maybe Timbuktu, but then you’d have to go to Mali and I hear that’s dangerous nowadays. And despite how it looks on the map, it’s not that far from Korea.
The culture in Nepal is like nowhere else on earth. Walking through the dusty streets of Kathmandu you’ll find ancient shrines, still covered in petals and water from the morning’s offerings, embedded into the brick sides of narrow shops that spill their wares out into the street. You can walk those streets for hours, get impossibly lost, and still be finding new things around every corner.
The tourist industry is vast and sprawling, but still mainly aimed at young travellers, backpackers, and the hordes of mountaineers coming to trek through the Himalayas. You can look for wild Bengal tigers from a tented camp in the middle of a jungle, or sit in a hiking hut on top of the world to watch the clouds retreat over the Himalayas at dawn.
Attractions: Trekking for (almost) every ability level, jungles, ancient cultures and temples, white-water rafting, bungee jumping, and even, at certain times of the year, something called parahawking: it’s exactly what it sounds like, hawking crossed with paragliding (they use the hawks to find the best thermals).
Getting there: There’s a direct flight twice a week, but that’s pricey. You can get really cheap flight deals if you use a sketchy Chinese airline like China Southern and transfer in Guangzhou or Chengdu. You should be paying somewhere between $500 and $800, depending on the time of year.
Best time of year: The high season is spring and late autumn, when the conditions are best for trekking and the snow at a good level. I went in June though, right at the beginning of the monsoon, and loved it: there were few tourists, so everything was discounted and negotiable – including hotel rates and activities. The monsoon made little difference high up in the Annapurnas except to make the high peaks invisible for all but a few hours every day.
Visas: $20 visa on arrival.
Time needed: If you want to do any trekking, then at least two weeks; but a week in Kathmandu is enough time to see all the sights, and do two-years worth of gift shopping in the bazaars besides: don’t forget to haggle!
Extend your stay: There are so many possibilities! On one side of Nepal is India, with all the things to be seen and done there, and on the other is Tibet. Just be aware that the Chinese government can and will close the Tibetan border with little reason and no notice, scuppering the overland Tibetan expedition you’ve been planning for months. If you do go to Tibet, the visa process is complicated, as you’ll need both a Chinese visa and a Tibetan travel permit, which you can only obtain by joining a tour with a recognized tour company.
Best possible option? Take three months, fly one way to Kathmandu, then work your way back to Korea overland through the back provinces of China.
What exotic destinations are you planning to jet off to for your next trip? What beautiful places have you been to that you want to tell people about? Drop us a line in the comments.