South Korea and Japan trip

Nov 27th, 2017, 07:45 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2017
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South Korea and Japan trip

I am planning my first Asia trip from May to June 2018 for my daughter and I. This will be a college graduation gift for her and I wish for it to be memorable. The plan is to visit both South Korea and Japan for a total of 10-12 days. We will be flying out of Florida and btw I hate to fly (I must love her very much). I have no preference as to which county to start or journey first and how much this could possibly cost. Any recommendations as to must-see places, hotels to stay in and places to go? I have thought about signing up for tours or booking with a tour group for the entire trip. Any thoughts on that?
wishingtotravel is offline  
Nov 27th, 2017, 09:22 PM
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No need for a tour -- both countries can be visited independently, particularly if you are willing to do a little research.

But are you fully committed to trying to visit both countries in 2 weeks? A first visit to Japan, just to see some of its highlights, would easily fill your time, and even then, you would need to be highly selective. I would urge you to spend some time with, and perhaps to skim some of the planning threads on this forum. (And yes, I would recommend the planning threads rather than trip reports at this stage in your research.) With 2 weeks, most people would focus on Kyoto and Nara (for traditional Japan), Tokyo (for modern Japan), and maybe Hiroshima or Hakone or Koyasan, but you have LOTS of options.

South Korea could also easily take all your time, although I must admit that unless you have some very specific reason for including it, I don't think it has the same appeal that Japan does -- and I say that even though I thoroughly enjoyed the month I spent there. Seoul and Busan would be the most likely choices for South Korea.

I didn't write a trip report on my time in Japan, but here's my report on South Korea:

Once you've done a bit more research and decided on which locations most appeal to you and your daughter, we'll be better positioned to comment on specifics, like hotels, transportation options, etc.

Your daughter is fortunate that you are willing to give her this gift and to join her despite your hatred of flying.
kja is offline  
Nov 28th, 2017, 10:53 AM
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You should think in terms of how many nights in hotels you have in these two countries. '10-12 days' could mean as little as 8 hotel nights, which usually covers 2 cities for most people.

I disagree with kja about the allure of Japan vs Korea. It all depends on what inspires you. Of course, US tourism to Japan has a longer history (I first went in 1970) - it's only in the last decade that Westerners are showing interest in Korea. But there is no question that there are great things to see and do in both places.

Japan is more thoroughly modern than Korea. In Korea, the juxtaposition between the modern and traditional is more striking, with vast alley-neighborhoods and loads of traditional markets and crafts. But Korea has been invaded so many times that the historic relics are not as well preserved as in Japan.

With so little time split, only do Tokyo if you are lured by the modern razzle-dazzle of a throbbing urban metropolis which makes Times Square feel like a nature preserve. I'd focus on Kyoto and Nara with only a few days.

In Korea, I prefer Busan to Seoul. Busan is like the San Francisco of Korea, where the mountains plunge all the way into the sea. Most folks are pulled to Gyeonju, which is a city surrounded by quite a few important cultural and historic sites - there is even a populated folk village fairly nearby, although the sites are very spread out. You could spend your few days in Korea there.
shelemm is offline  
Nov 28th, 2017, 05:33 PM
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To clarify: When I spoke to the relative “appeal” of Japan and South Korea, I was thinking mostly of the number of Fodorites who express an interest in traveling to these places. I don’t think I spoke about “allure” – and shelemm is correct in noting that of course, it depends on your interests!

I would agree with shelemm that Tokyo “beats” just about anywhere (if not anywhere!) in South Korea when it comes to thoroughly modern stuff. But some parts of Japan – such as Kyoto and Nara -- retain many sites of a more traditional character, and visiting these places is reasonably easy. In contrast, many of the “traditional” settings (e.g., palaces, temples) in Seoul are modern reconstructions or comparatively new (in the context of the area’s long history), and while they are often the settings for heartwarming recreations of various events or rituals, I found many of those settings interesting, but otherwise sadly sterile. JMO. IME, one has to go rather far off the beaten path to find traditional settings in South Korea that approximate the age or cultural continuity of places easily visited in Kyoto or Nara (but they do exist and I'm glad I saw them!). As shelemm suggests, Gyeongju is an exception in South Korea, as it is reasonably accessible and does have truly ancient sites. The folk village nearby that shelemm mentioned is, I believe, Yangdong. While Yangdong preserves traditions that date from the Joseon era (which persisted until the late 1800s), I wouldn’t put that in the same historic category as Nara, with two temples that have been in continuous use since about 600 AD if I understand correctly. Again, JMO.

I found the juxtaposition between modern and traditional most dramatic in Tokyo, where there are a few (very few) areas like Asakusa that have features dating from the 7th century nestled near some of the most modern, high-tech sites in the world. But I agree with shelemm that you can experience a fascinating juxtaposition between the relatively old and relatively new quite easily in many parts of South Korea.

Hope that helps!
kja is offline  
Nov 28th, 2017, 07:38 PM
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I agree with kja's first post. I really don't think you have time for two countries - you have barely enough time for one. And I find Japan the more compelling destination. It is unfortunate that so much of Korea's heritage has been destroyed, although the reconstructions are good, and the museums very good. However, I feel that there is more variety in Japan. I visited both countries in 2010, and when I went back last year I chose to spend quite a bit longer in Japan.

I would recommend spending time with some good guidebooks - borrow the glossy ones from the library - deciding what the two of you really want to see and then comparing your list to the time available.

My TR for my first trip is here:
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 29th, 2017, 04:47 AM
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If, at the end of the day you want a tour option to fall back on, OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel, based in Boston) has a 17-day "South Korea and Japan" tour, that you may take a look at:

But then you'll need to stay a few more days at the end of the tour in Kyoto to explore on your own places of interest not covered by that itinerary.
Reading54 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2017, 06:00 AM
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The OP has 10-12 days. And after a disastrous OAT tour to Thailand you couldn't pay me to take another. In any case, a tour is unnecessary, especially for Japan.
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 29th, 2017, 07:49 AM
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Send a very short time period to be splitting it across two countries, in my opinion... I'd pick one or the other.
Kavey is offline  
Nov 30th, 2017, 05:31 PM
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Thank you all so much for your replies and advice. You have all been very helpful.
I will do as you all have recommended and take a look at the website links and read the trip reports. I will come back with more specific towns/regions that interest us. The most time I could be away is 14 days due to a lack of coverage at work. I am a foodie and really interested in checking out street foods from wherever we end up. Luckily, my daughter speaks both Korean and Japanese so we can't go wrong if we choose just one country. Again, thank you for your advice.
wishingtotravel is offline  
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