A Bucket-List Asia Trip You Can Afford

Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, Gyeongbokgung Palace, South KoreaHyangwonjeong Pavilion, Gyeongbokgung Palace, South KoreaThis Hanok, Changpyeong, Damyang County, seoul, South KoreaBamboo Forest, Damyang, South KoreaHan River, Seoul, South Korea, Mount UmyeonSeoul, Gwangjang Market, food stalls, South KoreaPark Daegamne, BBQ, Restaurant, Seoul, South KoreaCheonggyecheon, downtown, Seoul, South KoreaKorean boys, school uniforms, Chungjangno District, Gwangju, South Korea, seoulSeoul, Gwangjang Market, food stalls, South KoreaSeoul, Gwangjang Market, food stalls, South KoreaThe Deoksugung Palace, Seoul, South KoreaRoyal Guards Ceremony, Gwanghwamun, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Koreafireworks, Han River, Seoul, South KoreaCity hall, Seoul Metropolitan Government, Seoul, South KoreaLotte World amusement park, hotel, cherry blossoms, Seoul, South KoreaNaengmyeon, traditional Korean cold noodle, Ojangdong, Seoul, South Korea
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Hyangwonjeong Pavilion at Gyeongbokgung Palace, in Seoul, South Korea (palace admission about $3, royalpalace.go.kr). Want to see it for yourself? Round-trip airfare to Seoul from the U.S. usually hovers around $1,200, but we found flights from L.A. and NYC in the $600–$750 range—if you don’t mind a long layover in Peking or Shanghai (kayak.com).
Andrew Rowat
Hyangwonjeong Pavilion in Gyeongbokgung Palace, South Korea
Andrew Rowat
This traditional hanok village is located in Changpyeong, within Damyang County. As for where to stay when you visit South Korea, guesthouses—such as the bright, modern three-room Urban Wood, in the artsy Hongdae region (from about $50 per night, urbanwood.co.kr)—are popular in Seoul.
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Towering trunks in Damyang's Juknokwon Bamboo Forest, open year round (admission about $3, 82/61-380-2680). Time your visit to early May to participate in the annual nature-centric Damyang Bamboo Festival, where you can taste local cuisine—including bamboo dishes—and see cultural performances.
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The view from Mount Umyeon in Seoul. Hiking to the top takes about an hour, with the Seoul Arts Center at the foot of the mountain and the Daeseongsa Buddhist temple at the peak (free).
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Hit the food stalls and small restaurants at Seoul's popular Gwangjang Market (above) for dishes like bibimbap (rice with vegetables and other mix-ins, like beef and eggs) and tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cakes) (82/2-2267-0291). 
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Sizzling morsels at Park Dae Gam Ne BBQ restaurant in the upscale Cheongdam area, in Seoul (82/2-545-7708). The restaurant is open 24 hours a day.
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Hop, skip, and jump at the seven-mile-long Cheonggyecheon public recreation space in downtown Seoul (sisul.or.kr).
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A group of teenage Korean boys in school uniforms in the Chungjangno shopping district in Gwangju, South Korea.
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One of the many specialties at Gwangjang Market in Seoul is bindaetteok, a Korean mung bean pancake.
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After you've tried the mung bean pancakes at Gwangjang Market (above), explore Seoul's “food alleys,” like the pub-lined green onion pancake alley near Kyung Hee University (kyunghee.edu).
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Strike a pose with a guard at the main gate of Deoksugung Palace in Seoul (admission about $1, deoksugung.go.kr). Head to the gate between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to see the colorful Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony reenactment, held several times each day (closed Mondays, schedule varies seasonally).
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The Changing of the Royal Guard Ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of Seoul's five palaces (admission about $3, free guided tours, royalpalace.go.kr).
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Price-wise, winter is usually the best time of year to find deals on flights and hotels, but when warm weather hits, put the Han River and its free summer shows on your itinerary. Entertainment ranges from traditional Korean music concerts to b-boy dance performances.
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Prior to your visit, book a guided multilingual walking tour tailored to your interests, including tours of traditional markets, the ancient Mongchontoseong earthen fortress, or even Seoul City Hall (free, visitseoul.net).
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Seoul recently experienced a 13 percent drop in hotel prices, according to the Hotels.com, so you can afford to stay at a place like the massive, kid-friendly Lotte Hotel World (connected to Lotte World Adventure theme park) in the luxe Gangnam neighborhood of, yes, “Gangnam Style” fame (from about $165 per night, lottehotel.com). 
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The Seoul Ojangdong neighborhood’s Hamheung Naengmyeon food alley is famous for its chilled buckwheat noodles (82/2-2267-9500).
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From the vibrant streets of Seoul to the tranquil beauty of the countryside, there may be no other country on earth that juxtaposes ancient traditions with an ultra-contemporary vibe the way South Korea does. Join us for a photo tour of the next top spot on your travel list.

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