Steve Perkins, one of Goway’s most senior Asia experts, just got back from Korea in May. What follows is a brief Q & A with Steve on what he learned and what surprised him about a Korean vacation.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Korea?
I think the biggest misconception that people may currently have about Korea is that it is unsafe. The close proximity between North and South Korea and concerns over just what Kim Jong-un might do next have would-be travellers cautious. And some Americans might worry that Koreans have a negative perception of them, which is not true. At least not in South Korea. Sure, one never knows what might happen tomorrow, but South Korea is as safe as any city in the US or Canada, if not more so. Korean people are lovely and genuinely want to welcome travellers. Never for a moment did I feel nervous or apprehensive.
You did a lot of hotel inspections. What was your favourite and why?
By far my favourite was the Four Seasons Seoul. It is the epitome of luxury and a perfect place to stay for even the most-discerning clientele. The rooms were grand and inviting and offered fantastic views through floor-to-ceiling windows. The hotel even has a secret “speak-easy” bar, the location of which was only privy to those “in the know.” The breakfast was out of this world and sits on top of an archeological site, which is viewable through the glass-bottom floor.
What was your favourite unique stay?
I loved the Royal Room in Jeonju. Designed in the traditional hanok style, this property offers an unusual locale to spend a night. Although the interior of the room was basic, all of the required amenities were provided. Every room has its own private ensuite, as one would expect. For clients who shy away from chain hotels and who prefer their accommodation to be reminiscent of the country they travel to, this is the ideal choice.
As a Goway Asia Expert having sold Korea for years, was there anything that surprised you?
I couldn’t get over how convenient it is to travel around South Korea. With the high-speed train (KTX) network as well as other rail/public transportation networks, travelling the country is a breeze. All of the signs and announcements are in both Korean and English, which makes it a very easy/convenient experience. If clients end up getting stuck, it’s not uncommon to spot a tourist representative walking the train platforms, searching for those looking dazed and confused and offering assistance.
If someone wanted to explore beyond Seoul, but had limited time, what area would you recommend?
Hands down, Jeju Island. Just over an hour by flight from Seoul, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers some of the most stunning and spectacular scenery in all the country. It is truly a haven for people to explore the natural highlights and take in some fabulous trekking/biking and cultural highlights as well.
Are there any tips about travelling to Korea that agents might share with their clients to make their trip even more enjoyable?
The more a client has done their research on a country, the better their overall experience will be. Yes, our guides are there to offer insider information about a country, but come armed with a little background knowledge so you know to ask the right questions. You will have a much more rewarding experience.
Oh, and another top tip: recommend clients rent a Wi-Fi egg or hotspot upon arrival at the airport (also available at Seoul Station) in order to conveniently connect to social media, keep in touch with friends, etc. Google Maps does not work well in South Korea, so I would suggest downloading an app called Naver, which works exceptionally well. Wi-Fi can be accessed in many coffee shops as you might expect, but when you are off exploring the city streets, it’s nice to have the benefit of the added Wi-Fi.
Have to ask: do you have a favourite Korean dish?
I will say, not everyone is in love with Korean food. If you are a health-food nut, you’ll be in your element. Kimchii is served with just about everything, in a multitude of variations. In general, Korean food is the healthiest on the planet. It can be spicy though. I do warn clients of that. Luckily, western food is easily sourced if you find your palate a little less adventurous.
My favourite Korean specialty is Tteok-bokki, which are a spicy stir-fried rice cakes. The best place to try them is at a street food stall.
We all know FAM trips are never too long. What did you miss seeing and will be on your To-Do List for next time?
Korea did have the wow factor about it, and yes, there was so much that I missed. I am already planning my next trip and hope to include Busan, Gyeongju, and Jeju Island.
Do you have a favourite Goway Korea itinerary that you like to sell?
Our 9-Day/8-Night Korea Highlights vacation is my favorite itinerary to sell as it is perfect for first-time visitors and includes Seoul, Gyeongju, Busan, and Jeju Island. What a fantastic trip!
What’s your absolute favourite photo of your entire trip?
If you want to win a trip like Steve and travel to Korea next year with someone special, be sure to take part in Goway’s social media contest, #GowaytoKorea. For full details, visit Goway Agent. But hurry. The contest closes August 31, 2018.