Seoul Asylum

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 26, 2006

Q. I will be traveling to the northern part of South Korea and am looking for places to visit, restaurants and shopping areas.

L. Moore, Ashburn, Va.

A. For travelers in northern South Korea, the bus stops at the DMZ. According to Sung Kyung Kim, an information manager at the Korea Tourism Organization, the main attractions are in and around the capital, Seoul, "unless you go to the mountainous region . . . or the DMZ."

Most visitors spend the bulk of their time in Seoul, then take side trips to the national parks in the northeast or to the DMZ up north (but not too north). The Seoraksan and Odaesan parks are the anti-Seoul, with wildlife (boars, badgers, Russian flying squirrels, etc.), mountain hikes and solitude. Public buses run between the capital and the parks, and bring a bathing suit: Sorak Waterpia offers hot springs and pools. To visit the 38th parallel, about an hour's drive from the city, you must go with an organized tour group.

In Seoul, the city's tourism office offers free guided walking tours, such as the Streets of Traditional Culture, the Streets of Youth and the Streets of Shopping (for info, ). The Seoul City Tour Bus also visits the main attractions and allows passengers to hop on and off for longer looks. In addition, the subway is easy to use and links all of the major neighborhoods.

Kim compares Seoul to Tokyo -- "very modern, very high-tech" -- but the neighborhood of Insa-dong is Old Korea. The district clings to traditional Korean culture with its street performers, flea markets, art galleries and shops selling antiques and crafts. Insa-dong is also the best place to sample authentic Korean dishes, such as bulgogi (marinated beef). "Every restaurant is good in this alley area," says Kim. Nearby, Dongdaemun Market has huge "malls" that are open until 4:30 a.m., while Itaewon is like a Little U.N., with ethnic restaurants and stores. For cocktails, head to Gangnam, a trendy neighborhood with nightclubs, pubs and cafes. To really fit in, order a Soju -- the Grey Goose of Korea.

For more info: Korea Tourism Organization, 201-585-0909, .

We have a safari trip scheduled to Kenya and Tanzania but may cancel because of the drought. What do you recommend?

Barbara Ostrow, Rockville, Md.

Drought is part of the cycle of life in Africa, and while the dry spells are troubling, the rains are on their way. "It might be dry now," says Scarlett Adams, president of the nonprofit Friends of Africa, "but next month it might be wet." Indeed, the African offices of the Abercrombie & Kent travel agency reported this week rain in parts of Kenya and Tanzania. "We have now had the onset of the long rains and the migration has moved back into the southern Serengeti," wrote Julian Camm, general manager of Abercrombie & Kent Tanzania. Added Reuben Makau, of the Nairobi office: "The rains started two weeks ago and the vegetation is growing fast. Rivers are flowing again and all is well in the Kenya parks."

In East Africa, the long-rain season runs April to June, followed by the short rains in November and December. Last year's rains never came, causing this year's drought, but safari-goers can take heart: "The Kenya Meteorological Dept. has forecast that within two weeks the rainy season will have started across most parts of the country," the travel agency wrote in an e-mail.

For info: Kenya Tourist Board, 866-44-KENYA, . Other helpful sites include Wildwatch, , and Web Kenya, . Also check with your tour operator, who should be receiving safari updates.

Are you aware of a new U.S. travel card that can be used in lieu of a passport for Canada and Mexico?

Mark Perlmutter, Coconut Creek, Fla.

On Dec. 31, Americans traveling by air or sea to/from Canada and Mexico -- as well as Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda -- must present a passport to reenter the States. A year later, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will extend to land crossings. And while U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Kelly Klundt says "passports are the highly preferred document of choice," the departments of State and Homeland Security are working on creating the PASS (People Access Security System) Card for land travel .

Similar to the passport, the document will verify your American citizenship and can be obtained at any of 7,000 passport facilities. The differences: The card will cost less than a passport (price to be determined) and will be valid only for land travel in the Western Hemisphere. Therefore, check your destination's entry requirements before you go.

The card is still in the planning stages, but Klundt said you can check or for more info.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@, fax (202-912-3609) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Include your name and home town.

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