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Thoughts on first time visit to South Korea

Thoughts on first time visit to South Korea

Old Jul 19, 16, 1:45 pm
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Thoughts on first time visit to South Korea

Hi folks,

my girlfriend and I are planning to visit South Korea for 16 days in October (exluded a short Tokyo stayover before and after because of our SK flight).
Maybe anyone here has some thoughts as what to visit and what to skip.

Our current itinerary:
- Plane from Germany via CPH to NRT, staying 3 nights in Tokyo
- Food, Day trips with JR Tokyo Wide Pass
- Flight with OZ from NRT to ICN, get AREX to Seoul
- Stay 6 nights in Seoul (Hotel Foreheal Gangnam is reserved but may be cancelled)
- DMZ Tour
- Everland (my girlfriend is a Giant Panda nerd)
- Day trip to Suwon (Festival)
- Palaces, Markets, bike ride along Han river, walking "Namsan Circuit"
- Get Korail Pass and take train to Gwangju -> Stay 3 nights in Gwangju
- Gwangju
- Day trip to Damyang
- Day trip to Mokpo
- Take train to Jinju -> Stay 2 nights in Jinju
- Jinju / Lantern Festival
- Take train to Busan -> Stay 3 nights in Busan
- Busan
- Day trip to Gyeongju
- Take train from Busan back to ICN and get to NRT with OZ (leaving ICN at 6 pm)
- One last night at NRT and then back home with SK

Questions:
- Comments on our plan?
- Any hotel / sightseeing / restaurant recommendations?
- Regarding the Korail Pass: We need 10 days of pass, is it possible to get a 7 day and a 3 day all at once and use them consecutively?
- Any experience with the trains, since korail.kr only allows to reserve seats one month in advance? How about luggage? Is it possible to check our bags in or (like in Japan) to send them with a courier service?
- DMZ Tour / Seoul Sightseeing Tour: Which to choose?

Any input apprecieted!

Jeongmal gamsahabnida! ;-)
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Old Jul 19, 16, 6:02 pm
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Sounds like it's well planned. Have a great time!
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Old Jul 19, 16, 11:10 pm
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Originally Posted by Askartus View Post
- Stay 6 nights in Seoul (Hotel Foreheal Gangnam is reserved but may be cancelled)
This hotel is located south of the river. If you take the AREX to Seoul station, then from there it will be either a long taxi ride (and possibly expensive) or a good adventure on the subway to get to your hotel. Not fun with luggage.

I suggest taking the Airport Limo bus #6009 to Nonhyeon station. Hotel Foreheal is located just a few blocks east of exit #8 of Nonhyeon station.

Some other places to see in Seoul. There is Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market going on Friday and Saturday evenings until Oct.

Also, for something cultural and food other than korean bbq, try Sancheon in Insadong area. I recommend the dinner course because they also have a live Korean traditional performance during the dinner. The place is located a few steps back from the main street of Insadong. Google maps can help here.

As far as DMZ Tours, the consensus is Koridoor Tours done through the USO. Whichever tour provider you pick, you will want to make sure to visit the JSA.

From Busan station to Incheon Airport, I believe KTX #134 (12:00 - 15:37) would be appropriate for your 6pm departure to NRT. But, you might also consider using the Airport Check in service at Seoul station instead.

Pros:
- Do not have to haul your luggage all the way from the train platform all the way to Asiana counter. It is a long walk.
- Bypass the normal security line at ICN. You can enter the crew/staff entrance.
- Immigration is done at Seoul station so when you arrive at ICN, just head to the expedited lane (after security) and you are through.

Cons:
- Need to arrive at Seoul station 3 hours before departure time. If you come with less than 3 hours before departure, they will not let you check in. Not a problem if you take KTX #134 and get out at Seoul station.
- Cost. I do not believe Korail pass covers the AREX non-stop trip from Seoul station to ICN airport. If you do try this, just remember you need to purchase the airport express non-stop ticket before walking up to the check-in counter. If you do not, the lady will not check you in.

In regards to the Korail pass, you can purchase both a 7 and 3 day pass at the same time. Just activate the 3 day pass later when you need it. But I am wondering if you need it. I see your schedule has a train ride from 1) Seoul to Gwangju, 2) Gwangju to Jinju, 3) Busan to Incheon. It might be cheaper to purchase separately.

Korail pass:
7-day - 195,000
3-day - 113,000
Total: 308,000

Separate tickets:
Yongsan to Gwangju Songjung station - 46,800
Gwangju to Jinju -??? bus? train?
Busan to Incheon Airport - 72,100
Total: 118,900 plus the cost of Gwangju to Jinju.

Or am I missing the day trips?

Last edited by nme7; Jul 20, 16 at 3:52 am
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Old Jul 20, 16, 2:24 am
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What's the festival in Suwon? The Hwaseong Festival? To be perfectly honest, that might be interesting for all of five minutes. Otherwise, Suwon is just another Korean city.

Also, two nights in Jinju you might be TERRIBLY bored. I've had many friends go for the lantern festival and said that, other than that, there was nothing to do. The same goes for Gwangju and Mokpo.

Do you or your girlfriend speak Korean? I know that I sound terribly negative against going to these places, but the fact is that a lot of the things that Koreans can do (find certain popular foods or restaurants, go to unique places), foreigners can't because they don't speak Korean/use Korean guides. Of course, you can point at stuff and guess what you're going to get. You can also just go to the busy place and see what happens, BUT I know some people don't like to do all that.


I second nme on the bus. It's EXTREMELY close to the hotel and the bus is waaay cheaper. The Foreheal is actually fairly new and looks fancy haha.

If you're going to Everland, there's a red Seoul city bus (white on the bottom, red on top) that takes you to Everland in 20 minutes. It's #5002. And it's just 2,4000W. The way there takes maybe 30-40 minutes (stops a few times), but on the way back it's barely 25. Tip: On the way back, if there's many people waiting in line, you can stand in the aisle. When the bus looks full (빈자 counter on the front reads 0), just pass the line of waiting people. Otherwise, you'll have to wait roughly 20 minutes for the next bus and that can be annoying if you're tired. The subway takes WAY too long and the Everland bus times aren't as convenient and it's like 12,000W. This red bus runs every 20 minutes.

Did you already book your Japan tickets yet? I was going to suggest look into flying from Busan and saving time and some cash. If you're in Seoul, you can have your hotel use Hanshin Express or similar company to mail your luggage to Busan for literally 20 for two giant bags.

Damyang is a great day trip. Gyeongju, I might suggest staying one night there. That's because getting from bus/train all the way to the temple and grotto can take some time. Like an hour each way. Then with the time there walking around and getting back that's a large portion of your day, even if you start super early. Then, the next day, you can do the museum, downtown attractions and a bike ride at a leisurely pace.

Yes, I second Kooridoor Tour, but be sure you choose one that goes to the JSA (the price is always the 90,000W).
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Old Jul 21, 16, 5:16 am
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Thanks nme7 and mikesaidyes for the detailled answer!

Originally Posted by nme7 View Post
This hotel is located south of the river. If you take the AREX to Seoul station, then from there it will be either a long taxi ride (and possibly expensive) or a good adventure on the subway to get to your hotel. Not fun with luggage.

I suggest taking the Airport Limo bus #6009 to Nonhyeon station. Hotel Foreheal is located just a few blocks east of exit #8 of Nonhyeon station.
Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
I second nme on the bus. It's EXTREMELY close to the hotel and the bus is waaay cheaper. The Foreheal is actually fairly new and looks fancy haha.
OK, the bus it is!
But the "haha" scared me a bit, is there anything else to be expected? (I slept in a "fancy" Hello Kitty Hotel once and am still haunted by the images)

Originally Posted by nme7 View Post
Some other places to see in Seoul. There is Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market going on Friday and Saturday evenings until Oct.

Also, for something cultural and food other than korean bbq, try Sancheon in Insadong area. I recommend the dinner course because they also have a live Korean traditional performance during the dinner. The place is located a few steps back from the main street of Insadong. Google maps can help here.

As far as DMZ Tours, the consensus is Koridoor Tours done through the USO. Whichever tour provider you pick, you will want to make sure to visit the JSA.
Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
Yes, I second Kooridoor Tour, but be sure you choose one that goes to the JSA (the price is always the 90,000W).
Thanks for the ideas - we will check it out and I already got in contact with Kooridoor Tour.

Originally Posted by nme7 View Post
From Busan station to Incheon Airport, I believe KTX #134 (12:00 - 15:37) would be appropriate for your 6pm departure to NRT. But, you might also consider using the Airport Check in service at Seoul station instead.

Pros:
- Do not have to haul your luggage all the way from the train platform all the way to Asiana counter. It is a long walk.
- Bypass the normal security line at ICN. You can enter the crew/staff entrance.
- Immigration is done at Seoul station so when you arrive at ICN, just head to the expedited lane (after security) and you are through.

Cons:
- Need to arrive at Seoul station 3 hours before departure time. If you come with less than 3 hours before departure, they will not let you check in. Not a problem if you take KTX #134 and get out at Seoul station.
- Cost. I do not believe Korail pass covers the AREX non-stop trip from Seoul station to ICN airport. If you do try this, just remember you need to purchase the airport express non-stop ticket before walking up to the check-in counter. If you do not, the lady will not check you in.
I read about that idea in another post here. We will see, what will be possible since reservations for the trains are not available yet. We will keep that in mind (not only because of the quicker immigration process at ICN).

Question: Does anyone knows of there are problems to be expected when getting on KTX without a seat reservation? Does these seats sell out quick? How complicated is it for a non-native English speaker to get tickets / reservations?

Originally Posted by nme7 View Post
In regards to the Korail pass, you can purchase both a 7 and 3 day pass at the same time. Just activate the 3 day pass later when you need it. But I am wondering if you need it. I see your schedule has a train ride from 1) Seoul to Gwangju, 2) Gwangju to Jinju, 3) Busan to Incheon. It might be cheaper to purchase separately.

Korail pass:
7-day - 195,000
3-day - 113,000
Total: 308,000

Separate tickets:
Yongsan to Gwangju Songjung station - 46,800
Gwangju to Jinju -??? bus? train?
Busan to Incheon Airport - 72,100
Total: 118,900 plus the cost of Gwangju to Jinju.

Or am I missing the day trips?
We like trains and when we are in a country, we tend to travel a lot by train for joy and to see the "normal" life.
Gwangju - Jinju - Busan will also be done by train (Mugungwha-Train, but that does not scare us).
And the trip to Suwon might also be done be Korail-Trains.
And we are 2 persons, so the ticket price according to korail.kr is 102,000 and 176,000.

Until now we also prefered the Korail-Pass because booking all tickets by ourselfes seemed complicated to us.
Question: How complicated is it to buy tickets at the train stations (not only in Seoul but in other cities as well)?

Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
What's the festival in Suwon? The Hwaseong Festival? To be perfectly honest, that might be interesting for all of five minutes. Otherwise, Suwon is just another Korean city.

Also, two nights in Jinju you might be TERRIBLY bored. I've had many friends go for the lantern festival and said that, other than that, there was nothing to do. The same goes for Gwangju and Mokpo.

Do you or your girlfriend speak Korean? I know that I sound terribly negative against going to these places, but the fact is that a lot of the things that Koreans can do (find certain popular foods or restaurants, go to unique places), foreigners can't because they don't speak Korean/use Korean guides. Of course, you can point at stuff and guess what you're going to get. You can also just go to the busy place and see what happens, BUT I know some people don't like to do all that.
Thanks for the heads up - we will see, if we change the Jinju part of the trip to one night.
Concerning the Korean language barrier: We do not speak Korean (except a few phrases and words) but that (not speaking the local language) was no problem in Japan or China as well and it worked out for a few days, although not the whole journey and for every situation. But ordering strange food just be pointing towards it is something, we are used to.

Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
If you're going to Everland, there's a red Seoul city bus (white on the bottom, red on top) that takes you to Everland in 20 minutes. It's #5002. And it's just 2,4000W. The way there takes maybe 30-40 minutes (stops a few times), but on the way back it's barely 25. Tip: On the way back, if there's many people waiting in line, you can stand in the aisle. When the bus looks full (빈자 counter on the front reads 0), just pass the line of waiting people. Otherwise, you'll have to wait roughly 20 minutes for the next bus and that can be annoying if you're tired. The subway takes WAY too long and the Everland bus times aren't as convenient and it's like 12,000W. This red bus runs every 20 minutes.
Good idae.
Although we fly to Scotland at least twice a year, so Queuing is what we are used to. (Our trips to China did not changed that, although we learned some lessons there) ... ;-)

Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
Did you already book your Japan tickets yet? I was going to suggest look into flying from Busan and saving time and some cash. If you're in Seoul, you can have your hotel use Hanshin Express or similar company to mail your luggage to Busan for literally 20 for two giant bags.
The tickets from ICN were about 120 Euros cheaper than from PUS. And, as mentioned before, we like trains.
Plus: When we arrive in Tokyo, we will just go to an airport hotel and sleep, so no need to expend that time slot ...

Question: Is it possible to mail our luggage when checking our in Seoul and when we arrive in Gwangju we can expect our bags in our hotel room?

Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
Damyang is a great day trip. Gyeongju, I might suggest staying one night there. That's because getting from bus/train all the way to the temple and grotto can take some time. Like an hour each way. Then with the time there walking around and getting back that's a large portion of your day, even if you start super early. Then, the next day, you can do the museum, downtown attractions and a bike ride at a leisurely pace.
We will see, if we can move the day from Jinju to Gyeongju.
Question: But what to do with the luggage? Is is possible to leave much of the bags in Busan in a locker and just do the trip with everything for one night?
How hard is it to get from Busan to Gyeongju by bus with at least 2 large suitcases?

Thanks again for the good input and ideas!!!
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Old Jul 21, 16, 7:01 am
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Originally Posted by Askartus View Post
Question: Does anyone knows of there are problems to be expected when getting on KTX without a seat reservation? Does these seats sell out quick? How complicated is it for a non-native English speaker to get tickets / reservations?
Originally Posted by Askartus View Post
Question: How complicated is it to buy tickets at the train stations (not only in Seoul but in other cities as well)?
Usually not a problem getting on KTX without a seat reservation. You can walk up to the ticket counter and request seats. Seats sell out only during major holidays. Only on certain routes such as Seoul-Jinju will KTX tickets can sometimes sell out for high demand times such as Friday and Sunday. It will not be very complicated to purchase tickets. Basic english will be enough. There is also a ticket vending machine that has menus in english.


Originally Posted by Askartus View Post
Question: Is it possible to mail our luggage when checking our in Seoul and when we arrive in Gwangju we can expect our bags in our hotel room?
Yes it is possible. I defer to mikesaidyes post from 2014. I might add that it would probably be a good idea to contact the hotel in Gwangju ahead of time to let them know of luggage being delivered to them. Or have the hotel in Seoul contact the hotel in Gwangju to give them a heads up.

Originally Posted by Askartus View Post
Question: But what to do with the luggage? Is is possible to leave much of the bags in Busan in a locker and just do the trip with everything for one night?
I'm not sure if lockers are available for overnight storage at Busan station. Also there are not many large size lockers and they tend to be filled. One option you might consider is storing your luggage at Busan/Gimhae airport. They have luggage storage there and you can leave it for a few days. Also, there is a bus service from Busan/Gimhae airport to Gyeongju. Downside is that the airport is a bit outside of Busan. You can take the metro there, but with a few transfers.

Originally Posted by Askartus View Post
How hard is it to get from Busan to Gyeongju by bus with at least 2 large suitcases?
It is pretty easy. Large suitcases are stored underneath in the luggage compartment. But the issue is just navigating and walking around with large luggage. Uneven sidewalks, curbs, escalators etc.

Last edited by nme7; Jul 21, 16 at 7:08 am
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Old Jul 21, 16, 1:02 pm
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Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
Also, two nights in Jinju you might be TERRIBLY bored. I've had many friends go for the lantern festival and said that, other than that, there was nothing to do. The same goes for Gwangju and Mokpo.

Do you or your girlfriend speak Korean? I know that I sound terribly negative against going to these places, but the fact is that a lot of the things that Koreans can do (find certain popular foods or restaurants, go to unique places), foreigners can't because they don't speak Korean/use Korean guides. Of course, you can point at stuff and guess what you're going to get. You can also just go to the busy place and see what happens, BUT I know some people don't like to do all that
Gwangju, Jinju and Mokpo have the best food in Korea by far in between them but as mentioned, require someone with Korean language knowledge for navigation.
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Old Jul 23, 16, 4:27 pm
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Originally Posted by mosburger View Post
Gwangju, Jinju and Mokpo have the best food in Korea by far in between them but as mentioned, require someone with Korean language knowledge for navigation.
Just this morning, I was reading about Jinju and its local bibimbap (heaps of sesame oil, and raw beef. Sounds wonderful.

(When in the RoK, I go a bit crazy, trying to shove in as many meals a day as possible. The food in that country is brilliant, and for the quality/quantity, quite generous on the wallet.)
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Old Jul 24, 16, 10:30 am
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Originally Posted by BuildingMyBento View Post
Just this morning, I was reading about Jinju and its local bibimbap (heaps of sesame oil, and raw beef. Sounds wonderful.

(When in the RoK, I go a bit crazy, trying to shove in as many meals a day as possible. The food in that country is brilliant, and for the quality/quantity, quite generous on the wallet.)
Food is one of the things we try to enjoy during our travels.

We are actually trying to loose some weight to compensate all the food there - our trip to Japan brought us about 3 kg per person and South Korea will not be any different ... ;-)
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Old Jul 30, 16, 4:22 pm
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Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
Do you or your girlfriend speak Korean? I know that I sound terribly negative against going to these places, but the fact is that a lot of the things that Koreans can do (find certain popular foods or restaurants, go to unique places), foreigners can't because they don't speak Korean/use Korean guides. Of course, you can point at stuff and guess what you're going to get. You can also just go to the busy place and see what happens, BUT I know some people don't like to do all that.
...
Gyeongju, I might suggest staying one night there. That's because getting from bus/train all the way to the temple and grotto can take some time. Like an hour each way. Then with the time there walking around and getting back that's a large portion of your day, even if you start super early. Then, the next day, you can do the museum, downtown attractions and a bike ride at a leisurely pace.
I found food difficult in Korea because there were no few bilingual menus, and though I knew enough Hangul to sound words out, I had no idea what a lot of the foods were. Street markets were easier, though, since the booths tended to serve limited kinds of food.

I second the advice on Gyeongju. The maps in the guidebooks make it look as if everything is pretty close together, but the bus ride from downtown to Bulguksa is an hour each way and so meandering that I began to wonder if I was really on the right bus, and I had to wait 15-30 minutes for the bus.

I would have liked another day there to see the sights in the center of town, but I had a hotel reservation in Seoul and limited time there as well.
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Old Aug 3, 16, 2:26 pm
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Spent almost 2 weeks in ROK in July -- fantastic. The nicest, kindest folks - really amazing!

A couple suggestions:
Much (much) more time in Gyeongju -- I spent 3 nights and it wasn't nearly enough time. Lots and lots to do and see. And that is without side trips, e.g., Andong (but there is Andong jjimdak [wonderful chicken dish] in Gyeongju so you won't miss out if you can't side trip). Rent bicycles -- great way to get around.

Busan - I stayed near the fish market and that was a great area. Near BIFF - street market-ish food area. Easy metro transportation. Stayed 5 days but could have spent a week -- Is a definite must go back to place.
Soju tent/food vendors -- anywhere
UN Korean War cemetery -- above expectations. Very much worth a visit.
A walk along the beach area - very nice. (might be cold?? still a nice walk)

Seoul
Seonjeongneung - burial mound and a neat park in/near Gangnam.
Bongeunsa - a few blocks NE from Seonjeongneung. Fantastic temple complex.
Namsam circuit is nice
Cheonggyecheon - formerly concrete but is now an open river walk -- nice for a stroll
The War Memorial of Korea -- very nice/respectful/classy memorial (IMO)
Visited the Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung on culture day ( last wed on month I believe) and it was free admissiona nd lots of folks wearing traditional dress -- really neat. The secret garden - long but worth the time - still requires payment. And one doesn't really need the English (nothing in Danish) tour re I was sold a ticket for a tour later in the day but I just changed it for the Korean tour and walked/looked - the tour is more for the visuals rather than the facts (IMO).

DMZ - took the JSA only tour. Not bad but limited time at the JSA - which seems to be standard for all DMZ tours. The included lunch isn't bad at all (reviewers routinely pan the meal).

Busan to ICN - cheap flights early morning. Cheap flights all day to Gimpo (GMP). I took the train to ICN and it was fine - the flights to ICN were to early (for cheap) and the GMP and then a train (bus?) to ICN idea was not appealing. Paid for business (first - forgot what they're called) class train seats. Nothing special but was worth the modest increased fare (not cheap but not a bank breaker for a long ride).

The idea of TYO to BUS mentioned above is a great way to go. Start at the bottom and work your way north.

As for food, while difficult at times for someone that doesn't speak Korean, it wasn't too bad. Android Google translate works great. But even better was a travel picture dictionary. When I didn't know what "meat" was cooking (sometimes it wasn't meat), I'd point to the animals on the meat page of the book. Then to determine whether it was meat meat or organ meat, I'd point at the picture of organs. Crossing thumb/index finger tips to make a heart (seems to be a thing in Korea) was commonly used to tell me it was organ meat. Pics of vegetables or fish or whatever made food ordering a lot easier. Pantomiming a cow/bull by making horns with my fingers or flapping chicken wings were also successful for finding out what was served --- and by making the food server laugh, it broke the ice and made for a fun meal.

Tokyo - mostly go for sakura (cherry blossoms) but here is my TYO to do list - real short
Menya Musashi ramen in Shinjuku
Godz - nice rock bar - also in Shinjuku (open laaaaaaate)

Cheers -
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Old Aug 24, 16, 2:23 am
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thegrailer - thanks for that post. I'm considering heading to ROK for about a month in either September or October and enjoyed reading your location based thoughts, especially on Busan.
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Old Aug 26, 16, 7:37 pm
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I notice everyone says Gyeongju is an hour to/from Busan by bus. But this still leaves all day to wander around. Why would it take more than a day to see?

Imagine getting on a bus at 8am - arriving at 9am and then departing on a bus at 6pm. Are the buses easy to find and frequent?
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Old Aug 29, 16, 6:51 am
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You would be waaaay too rushed, even if you took taxis. It just takes time to get around Gyeongju. Even if you take a taxi, it still takes 40 minutes from town to the temple. And then 40 minutes back. You'd be moving nonstop at a pace you couldn't really enjoy anything. Yes you technically have from 9-6 but you have to factor in getting to/from the bus station. Sure, you don't need to be at the station until around 20 minutes before departure, but I just don't think you'd enjoy the rush of a checklist visit.

There are buses every 20 minutes or so allllll day nonstop to and from Busan.
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Old Aug 29, 16, 4:12 pm
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Originally Posted by mikesaidyes View Post
You would be waaaay too rushed, even if you took taxis. It just takes time to get around Gyeongju. Even if you take a taxi, it still takes 40 minutes from town to the temple. And then 40 minutes back. You'd be moving nonstop at a pace you couldn't really enjoy anything. Yes you technically have from 9-6 but you have to factor in getting to/from the bus station. Sure, you don't need to be at the station until around 20 minutes before departure, but I just don't think you'd enjoy the rush of a checklist visit.

There are buses every 20 minutes or so allllll day nonstop to and from Busan.
OK, thanks. I decided to do one overnight at the Hilton so that'll give me two days in the area. I'm thinking this as my itinerary:

Day 1 (starting at Noon):
Bunhwangsa Temple & Hwangnyongsa Temple
Daereungwon Tomb Complex
Cheomseongdae Observatory
Gyeongju National Museum
Wolseong Fortress
Anapji Pond & Gyeongju Donggung Palace

Day 2 (Starting at 9am):
Gwaereung Tomb
Bulguksa Temple
Seokguram Grotto

Am I missing anything cool? Will this give me enough time?

Also - how best to get from place to place? Just hire a taxi and have him sit in car while I see the sights on Day 1 & 2 for example? Or?
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