Korea’s Seoul

Tours let clients explore the heart of the country

By: Lauren W. Deutsch

Anyone who’s been to Seoul has probably observed the weekend-warrior phenomenon. Locals stampede out of the bustling city via mass transit (subways, commuter trains and buses) in search of the inviting green spaces and cultural attractions that await nearby. It’s simple enough for tourists to join this de rigeur ritual by experiencing half-day, full-day or weekend excursions that cater to a wide range of physical abilities, interests and budgets.

While the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) is full of tourist information, there are also two respected cultural tourism organizations that can get your clients off the “official” tour bus and on the ground with the locals. The Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) and Seoul Selection are both insider sources worthy of the attention of destination travel professionals seeking something unique for their clients. These outstanding Seoul-based nongovernmental organizations provide access to informative, enjoyable, English-language and non-commercial get-aways and behind-the-scenes excursions.

RAS offers an extensive four-season schedule of value-priced history and arts-and-culture focused tours guided by knowledgeable docents. RAS members and guides range from university professors, corporate executives, the consular corps and their spouses to Korean natives who want to experience Korea’s quintessential East Asian culture and beautiful countryside.

Trips range from excuses to leave town to watch the sunrise on the Eastern Seacoast to jaunts to watch the sunset from the mountaintops overlooking Seoul, as well as drives in the countryside to pottery villages, special visits to local museums, out-of-town festivals and more. No prior Korea experience is needed to fit in with the group; public transportation is often utilized, and itineraries frequently include no-host meals and accommodations. Bookings are made in English. Non-RAS members are charged a nominal additional fee to join.

Catering to a wide range of interests and abilities, RAS packaged tours often include meetings with artists, community members, scholars and other specialists, with hands-on opportunities. All docents are volunteers; fees support RAS’s operations.

Seoul Selection is an essential source of information about short and weekend-long getaways programmed by local organizations and sometimes through its own office. It is also a quick resource for discovering what’s going on (contemporary theater and music concerts, festivals, 20-something clubs, exhibitions and the like) in Seoul, a cosmopolitan 21st-century international city.

Seoul Selection is also the name of founder Hank Kim’s exceptional gathering place for everything an English-speaking tourist could want to know about Korea. From his tiny basement bookstore/cafe near Gyeongbokgung Palace (Anguk METRO station) his staff produces Seoul Weekly as well as the monthly Seoul magazine in conjunction with the Seoul Metropolitan Government. They also produce an English-language e-mail newsletter. One reading and you’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t live in Seoul.

Kim’s staff also provides access to translators and volunteer Goodwill Guides who can accompany tourists to events. Trip organizers should inquire about Korea-based, special-interest clubs whose members seek to broaden their interaction with foreigners of like mind, or regional tourism offices promoting festivals.

Like RAS, Seoul Selection listings are value-priced, usually rely on easily accessible public transportation, include locals and are noncommercial.


Korea Tourism Organization

Royal Asiatic Society (Korea Branch)

Seoul Selection


Korea-bound clients looking to get in tune with the local customs and more might want to check out “Culture Smart!” The guides which reveal insights about a country’s deep-seated beliefs, attitudes and traditions have been popular in Britain since 2003, and are now available in the U.S. Forty-nine titles, including Korea, provide essential information, tips and hints on everything from dining to business etiquette, and smiling to gift giving. The compact guides ($9.95) are authored by a local or a foreigner who has made the country his or her home. While the books won’t tell you which restaurant to visit, they do describe the flavor of the country’s cuisine. And they don’t provide maps, but instead, offer details on how to drive.


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