Visiting Korea Travel

People usually think of Korea in terms of fear of war, and a bizarre, mad dictator that runs the northern half of the peninsula. But as a tourist destination, Korea has a lot to offer. So ignore the hype, and pay a visit to ‘The Land of the Morning Calm’
When I tell people I live in South Korea, it is not uncommon for the response to be something like, “Sounds dangerous,” or “Isn’t it scary to live there?” Maybe it’s the thousands of artillery pieces aimed in my general direction, or the million hostile soldiers a stone’s throw away from where I live, that would make people think I am living under the constant fear of a war breaking out at any moment. But the truth is, after living here for three years, there isn’t anything much scary about this country, aside from cultural differences that still surprise me from time to time. Sure, war could break out here. On the same token, Russia could suddenly decide to launch a hundred nukes at the United States. Chances are, neither is going to happen any time soon. Life in South Korea is like life in most countries: people go to work, go to school, get married and have kids, drive cars, play sports, and everything in between.

That I so often receive a reaction of surprise belies how little most people know about Korea, and how much Korea gets overshadowed by its more powerful and prominent neighbors. Sandwiched between China and Japan, two political and economic powerhouses, and in the same area as Thailand, an exotic vacation getaway, Korea is easily overlooked and dismissed as a small country of little consequence.

However, population-wise, Korea is anything but small. South Korea, with a population of more than 49 million, is larger than Poland, Spain, Argentina, and South Africa. It has 1.5 times the population of Canada, and over twice the population of Australia. If you consider the peninsula as a whole―North and South Korea&38213;Koreans number more than the populations of the United Kingdom, Italy, or France, and have a population only slightly smaller than that of Germany. With the 13th largest economy in the world, South Korea is a legitimate economic power.

Traveling to Korea will differ greatly depending on which side one visits; although North Korea is one of the most insular nations in the world, it is possible to visit on organized tours. Companies such as the Koryo Group, a company based in the United Kingdom, take tour groups to various places in the North.

Most travelers who want to experience Korea, however, will visit South Korea. Unlike its northern brother, South Korea has experienced rapid economic growth since the late 1970s, in what is often referred to as ‘the Miracle on the Han River’, an allusion to the major river that runs through the heart of Seoul, South Korea’s capital and home to ¼ of its people.

Because of South Korea’s rapid growth, it is a country that is somewhere between the modernity of the West and traditional East Asia. In any major Korean city, tourists can see high-rise apartment buildings, skyscrapers, subways, cellular phones (which are everywhere), new cars, brand name clothes, and virtually any other modern amenity one can think of. Contrasting that, however, are old men pulling hand carts stacked with newspaper and plastic, and in the countryside, farmers hand-picking crops and using agricultural techniques that look to be right out of the 19th century.

Visiting Korea, for citizens of most North American and European countries, does not require a visa for a stay of 30 days or less, although it is wise to check on the requirements for one’s specific country prior to coming. Most tourists will fly into Incheon International Airport. Open for business in 2001, Incheon International is one of the newest and most technologically advanced airports in Asia, and was recognized as the second-best airport in the world in 2005 by the International Airport Transport Association. Buses, costing on average 13,000 Korean won (approximately 13 US dollars) per ticket, run from the airport to all major hotels in Seoul. The buses are comfortable and modern, and have translations in English, Korean, and sometimes Japanese. The total ride from the airport to the capital is approximately 90 minutes, depending on traffic and the final destination within the city.

Finding western-style accommodation in Korea is not difficult in all major cities. Most prominent hotel chains, including the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton, have a presence in Korea, and Korean hotels, such as the Lotte Hotel and the Shilla Hotel, provide comparable services and accommodations. Prices in the heart of major cities can be expensive, with luxury hotels costing $250+. Tourists with a more limited budget can expect to spend $100+ per night at most Korean three-star hotels, which are generally of good quality. Anything below that requires the cautionary Caveat Emptor. Most Korean hotels, even inexpensive ones, provide some form of wireless or wired Internet service. If not, travelers needing access can visit a ‘PC Bang’ or ‘PC Café’, which are ubiquitous.

All tourists should eat a few meals at a traditional Korean restaurant. Most Korean cuisine can be summed up in one phrase: a whole bunch of junk thrown into a bowl with a liberal helping of red pepper. Korean food is almost always spicy, some prohibitively so for people not used to spicy food. Thankfully, however, there are some very tasty options for those who can’t eat spicy food.

Pulgogi, a dish made of stir-fried beef and vegetables, is a popular choice for foreigners. Sam Gip Sal and Kalbi are both dishes that match well with the western pallet, as they are essentially cuts of beef and pork that are fried in cookers installed in the middle of the table. Both of these dishes are often consumed with soju, a Korean liquor similar to vodka. Restaurants that serve these dishes are often nicknamed ‘beef and leaf’ by foreigners, due to the traditional Korean way of eating the meat, which is to wrap it in lettuce or sesame leaves along with red bean paste, rice, garlic, and kimchi, and anything else the individual wants to include.

Speaking of kimchi: no discussion of Korean food would be complete without a mention of this staple, signature dish. The most commonly recognized form of kimchi is made from cabbage, which is traditionally buried in clay pots in the ground with a mixture of red pepper and other spices. The cabbage then ferments, creating a spicy, pungent flavor. Although this is the most famous type of kimchi, there are, in fact, over 200 different kinds of kimchi, ranging from dried fish, to tofu, to crab, to bean sprouts (the COEX Mall in Seoul even has a museum dedicated to kimchi in its many forms). Kimchi is served with every Korean meal, and frequently in western restaurants as well, though sometimes only by request. Any tourist who visits a Korean restaurant will have the opportunity to try several kinds of kimchi.

Tourists who tire of or find it difficult to eat Korean food can easily find a McDonald’s, Burger King, or TGI Fridays in all major cities. There are also locally-owned restaurants and chains that serve western food, such as hamburgers and pizza. Coffee houses, including Starbucks and The Coffee Bean, are everywhere in Korea, for those worried about missing their caffeine fix.

For most tourists, visiting Korea should be a comfortable experience. As a modern country, Korea is equipped with all amenities, and Koreans are generally very friendly to foreign tourists. In most major cities and tourist areas, it is common to find instructions and menus written in English, if not English-speaking staff. There will be differences, but that is part of the experience of visiting a foreign country. Just a 2½ hour flight from Tokyo, and a 1½ hour flight from Beijing, Korea makes a great mid-point stop in any tour of Asia!

How to Open a Travel Agency

4Have you been working with the travel industry for some time and are now thinking of opening your own travel agency? Read the following article to gain an insight into some tips that would help you in starting this business.

The job of a travel agent is to interact with people and sell trips and holiday packages to them. If this sounds interesting and exciting to you, then you are fit for this role. You may be already working in such a company, but the thought of starting your own business may have crossed your mind several times. One can either rent a place to set it up or begin from his home itself. However, an important point to remember is that like any other business, starting a travel agency is not an easy task. It requires a lot of hard work and planning to run it successfully.

Before starting it, the most important thing to do is to research about the current market status, the options available to you, etc. The initial steps must be taken with great care and planning, as there have been many such agencies that had to be closed down because of wrong decisions from the beginning.

First and foremost, inquire about the laws that the government of your country has set for the travel industry in general. You will have to gain a suitable license to begin. It is also necessary to join a trade association, because only then you will be considered as a serious travel agent. As an independent service provider, you will have to work with a tour operator or host agency. Before selecting a tour operator, you have to research well about the various options you have, and choose the one that you think would be the best for you. One has to make his own decisions and policies for his agency, rather than relying on other agents because what may have worked for them may not work for everyone. If you have rented a place for this business, you will need some people to work for you. It would be beneficial to recruit people who have some experience in this field.

Advertising is very important for people to know about a new business. Initially, you may sell packages to your close friends and relatives. They would spread the word to others, and consequently over time, you will have good business coming in. You may not be able to give high discount rates to customers initially, but excellence in your service skills will help you to gain some loyal customers. To advertise this initiative, you can also give ads in newspapers, Internet, etc.

The income you earn from your agency comes from the commission you get from the holiday packages that you sell. You have to negotiate well with your tour operator for a good commission and also good discount rates on holiday packages for you and your staff. In the beginning, the income you receive may not be much, but as your business grows, so will your income.

If you are planning to start a home-based agency, you can also opt to become a referral agent. This job is much easier than that of the booking and selling agent because he only has to guide the customers to other travel agencies or tour operators. For this, he gets a commission from the tour operator, though it is not as much as that of the latter.

Before you begin your independent business, you must remember that you are responsible for every decision that you make. The success as well as failure of your agency solely depends on you.

Company Picnic to Adventure Plus

3Adventure was the keyword this time. We had planned an outing to Adventure Plus, one of the largest adventure sports park around and one of its kind. The date was finalized and we were all set to travel to our picnic destination – Adventure Plus.

The day began and ended… adventurously. And as I sat to pen down my observations of the day, I realized I didn’t have many! No observations this time; probably because there was much more involvement. It often so happens that you begin to observe things you can’t be part of. How can you observe something you are very much a part of? You cannot. Perhaps, something similar happened with me. I didn’t observe much. I was involved. Hence what follows is going to be an account of my involvement, not observation. Well, there were some instances when I came out of the picture to observe it.

Journey Begins
After that bit of deviation which is allowed, here I begin, an account of our company picnic to Adventure Plus. We started off at around 8.30 am (we were asked to report to office at 7.00 am, which none of us did). It took an hour for all of us to assemble in office and then began the adventure, the journey. A journey that promised fun. Our being together and fun are almost cause and effect. We were on our way to Adventure Plus.

Meeting Nature
Nature is all around us, all the time, it’s mostly something we come across and hardly get to closely meet. We met nature in all its beautiful forms; drizzles, heavy rains, a sea-blue river, muddy waters, a sun obscured behind hills, waterfalls, clouds floating high, clouds that had cleverly escaped the sky, and the hill ranges that seemed to run past us as we advanced towards our destination. Our eyes met with green; lush, fresh greens around us, tall trees, small shrubs, bathed in the rains; green grass, greener on our side as we were happy, out on our picnic to Adventure Plus.

Reaching Adventure Plus
Our hour-long journey seemed to have ended in minutes as we were having fun all the way. Fun-filled time always takes flight. We were greeted by one of the coordinators at Adventure Plus who guided us to the cafeteria. Breakfast was ready, we quickly gulped it down and rushed to the adventure activities. With our sports caps on, we were all set to meet adventure.

Being Terrestrial
Land activities! Our day began with land activities like rock climbing, spidernet, tarzan rope, commando net and rope bridge. Be it walking up and down the spider and commando nets or walking along the rope bridge, the walk was along an unstable path, and that’s what added excitement to the activity. We are used to walking on stable, concrete pathways. And here, the roadway was unstable. We often walk unstably along a firm-built path, seldom do we walk stably across an unstable road. And that’s what made all the difference, the difference that each of us enjoyed experiencing.

We set our best foot forward and started treading along the not-so-trodden path of first the spider net, then the commando net, then ropes and then the rocks! The land activities at Adventure Plus also included rifle shooting and archery. Both were about aiming right and hitting the bull’s eye. Some could aim it right, some could not; some could target the bull’s eye, some could hit the bull. Next in line were mountain biking, cycling, and skating. They took us back to the good old days of school and college when riding & pedaling used to be fun. Why ‘used to be’, they were still the same. In fact, everything about them was just the same, but for the change in OUR size and age.

Hangryyy!!
After so many adventure activities, we were, yes hungry. It was lunch time and we got busy eating. Well, there was a bit of mismanagement there, a long line, food items going out of stock, lack of man power and a whole lot of confusion. There was a group of around 50, on their company picnic. They started yelling for food, hooting and hollering out names… all of which they called ‘cheering themselves up’. It was quite understandable though, as these things happen when hunger and anger come together. Our hunger had reached its peak, so had our anger, and the food arrived! We pounced on it. Thankfully, the food was quite good. After lunch, we stretched ourselves on hammocks. It was so nice of the hammocks to let us rest, rest assured that we won’t fall off and enjoy a short afternoon nap.

Water is Life
It was about 3 in the afternoon and it was time to plunge into water. The water sports were to begin! They had kayaking, paddle boating and hydrobiking. Many went the water way, some fell for it, some fell in it [;)]; while those scared of water just waited and watched. There is something about water that keeps you entrapped; it’s fun being in it and also in watching it; be it lake water that ripples, river water that flows, or the salty sea water that silently roars. There is something about the sight of water and there’s something about its sound; something that makes you feel you never want to get out of it or lose its sight. Water definitely is Life.

On Loving Water
Why do we enjoy water sports so much? I wonder sometimes. Boating, paddling, kayaking or swimming in water or just splashing water all around… almost everyone enjoys it. Why? Probably because being in water is a break from being on Earth. Well, not literally; but we are just so used to being on the ground, stable and anchored. But we are not used to being afloat. Standing and walking is usual, floating is not. In water, we are weightless, suspended, afloat. The feeling of being able to float is one of its kind and perhaps that’s one of the primary reasons why people love water sports.

Feeling Aquatic
Paddling against the water current was hectic, rowing was equally tiring, hydrobiking was restricted to a very few as it had a weight limit which was quite less than the average weight of a healthy human being. [:)] It’s difficult to find light individuals these days. All these water sports were indeed exciting as they involved ‘water’ and ‘racing’, sometimes with it, sometimes against it.

Crossing Over
Bridge crossing, or crossing the Burmah Bridge as Adventure Plus calls it, was fun. It was a bridge hanging over water, giving that ‘London bridge is falling down’ kind of a feeling and nonetheless, the thrill of almost walking on water. The bridge was an ideal location for photography, an apt place to capture the picturesque surroundings, which some of our photography enthusiasts efficiently did. They photographed not just people and boats, but also captured emotions – fear, thrill, glee, worry, and excitement.

Yes, I had forgotten about this very important member accompanying us silently, our camera. It was not a silent spectator; it was a keen observer, capturing moments and creating memories, wherever we went.

Dancing in the Rain
And then we went to dance in the rain. After enjoying the water sports, it was time to dance, rain dance! Rain – in the form of water the swimming pool held, the showers poured and sprinklers splashed! With water being splashed from all sides, we had water all around us and we played and danced, IN water, ON water, UNDER water 🙂 and around it.

Some danced in groups, while some danced alone, some actually, some ‘invisibly’, some in the pool, some on the deck, some with the beat, some offbeat. Be it in a crowd, or be it alone, dance is about spontaneity. It’s not an expression; it’s an exclamation. It’s not about the beat, tempo, or melody every time. It’s not about to the tune of; it’s rather about in tune with. Dancing is not about looking at those around you; it’s not even about looking at yourself; it’s about looking into yourself. When you look into yourself and dance, you don’t care about who’s looking at you or how you look. You just dance. And that’s exactly what most of us did.

Snacking
After a hearty dance that made us happy and hungry again, we were served snacks. The camera persons in our team made the best effort to click everything that was photogenic; the place and the people. Our camera captured the setting sun.

Bidding Goodbye
It was time to bid goodbye to Adventure Plus; it was time to get back home. It had started raining and we started walking towards our buses. We had been there in two buses and when we reached to where they were parked, we were surprised to see a drastic difference between their heights from the ground! One of them had got stuck in mud, we soon realized. An adventure travel was to begin, we guessed. Our company picnic was destined to end with one last adventure.

Well, confusion, chaos, and mismanagement are all a part of adventure. Be it mismanagement at the food counter, the activity area, or the bus parking, those little fights, sometimes with people, at times with circumstances, add to adventure. Climbing up, sliding down, falling off, rolling about, running around, screaming aloud, shouting out… they are all a part of adventure!

If Only
Oh…our bus, the poor bus which had carried us that long was helplessly stuck in the mud, unable to get up. This could have been avoided, if only we would have given a serious thought to where we were going, I mean, to how and where the bus was going to be parked. But there was no point discussing what could have been done and how. It never makes sense to do that but it’s something we often tend to do – thinking about what ‘could have’ been done and living with the ‘if onlys’. We were present-minded enough to not do that though, and we took a decision.

On Staying Back and Letting Go
A decision to let some of the team members go ahead while the others would stay back. In life too, there are many instances when some have to stay back to let the others go ahead. In fact, the ones who stay back have an important role to play. They back those going ahead, they risk reaching late, they let others walk ahead of them while they remain backstage. That’s life.

Adventure to Vacation

2Instead of opting for a long vacation once a year, try and travel to different destinations for mini vacations a couple of times a year to rejuvenate yourself. If you and your family members are outdoorsy people, you may want to look at hiking trails which can be the perfect activity for a weekend getaway.
Doesn’t the idea of taking five short trips a year sound more appealing than one long vacation that has you cribbing at the end of it about going back to a 9 – 5 routine? Mini vacations are the best antidotes for the stress that most jobs and life in general comes with. It is not easy to identify destinations for mini vacations as time is a huge constraint in a small trip. We can help you with tips that you need to keep in mind while choosing these destinations.
We also help you with a variety of activities that can define which places qualify as the best mini vacation spots. Holidays and vacations are periods dedicated to the Gods of relaxation and rest. While taking trips to destinations that have been endorsed by the best travel magazines in the world is a tempting choice, it comes with the headache of planning till the last detail. Also, these places that are suggested by experts tend to be on most people’s list of places to visit, making them crowded with tourists from every part of the world.A population from out of town not only limits your hotel options but also tends to spoil your trip to attractions around town. A 3 – 5 day getaway does not need planning, saves travel and stay costs, and you have the added advantage of not having to deal with the ordeal that is packing. Also, it allows you to unwind and refreshes you without setting off the laziness button.

Most towns and cities have nearby camping sites that charge a minimal rent for tenting facilities. A mountainous area that has clearly defined hiking trails or a natural preserve maybe one of the best destinations for a mini vacation. If physical exertion while on vacation is not exactly to your liking, then another option could be a lake getaway. If you have a friend who has a lakeside cabin, then you could probably borrow the keys for a couple of days but that is just for the lucky few.

One of the best options would be to book yourself into a spa that is close to your city of residence. Spend your mini vacation at a spa that offers several rejuvenating options and allows you to spend quality time with your partner. Not only will this vacation earn you major brownie points but it will also be the perfect way to rejuvenate yourself when you have only three to four days at hand. Pamper yourself crazy and allow your body to detoxify so that you are completely energized.

If you are one those lucky people who live close to the beach, then what could be a better mini vacation then a weekend trip to the seaside. If you are looking forward to a weekend of doing nothing, then you could always lounge around the beach, sip your favorite cocktail, sun yourself and do absolutely nothing. If you are more of a thrill seeker, then choose to excite yourself with the plethora of water sports that most beach resorts and sea side resorts have on offer.

A family vacation can be extremely difficult to plan because everyone has something different on their wish list for a vacation. Stay on in your hometown and make a list of activities that you can indulge in. Visit amusement parks, water parks, zoos, state parks, etc. You can spend quality time with your family by indulging in fun games or picnics in the backyard. Even the neighboring town can be sometime a great destination for a vacation.