Sorry that I have been a little off the radar the last few weeks. Scott and I just went back to the States for a little. We actually got some beach time in, so looking forward to posting a little bit about that next week! But now that we’re back to Seoul, I wanted to share with you an interesting tour we did of the “Blue House,” which is the “White House” equivalent in South Korea.
For those who have visited Seoul, Gyeongbuk Palace is normally always on the itinerary and usually on a tour of the palace, you will be taken out one of the back gates to take photos from afar of the “Blue House,” officially known as Cheong wa dae. Cheong wa dae is the official residence and office of the President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and until recently, I had no idea that you could tour the grounds. The tours are only available during weekdays and the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, and are free of cost. I recommend booking far in advance, as they tend to fill up quickly. More often than not, you will want to book with at least a months notice.
Before you go:
The sign up process is pretty easy, click here to visit their website, and then select your desired date, time and the number of visitors. You will need to enter your passport information on the website, make sure that you type carefully as you can be denied entry if any of the information you input doesn’t match on your passport the day of the tour.
Day of the Tour:
Make sure everyone in your party has their passport with them, you can bring your camera, but make sure you note where you are permitted to take photos and where it is prohibited. And finally, make sure to give yourself plenty of time as you need to arrive 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled appointment. The meeting point for the tour is in the East parking lot of Gyeongbukgung. There is a small welcome booth where you will go to check in and show your passport.
If you are driving, parking is ₩2,000 for 2 hours and ₩500 per 15 minutes after.
Once you arrive, you will look for the check in booth.
There is signage directing you in the parking lot area, so it should be easy to find.
Once you check in, the staff will provide you a printout and then you will be directed into the shuttle bus line.
Before you board the bus, you will be asked to show your passport again. Then it’s a quick 5 minute drive over to the Blue House. It was interesting that we were the only Americans on this tour, it was mostly Koreans and a few Chinese tourists.
When you arrive, you will be taken through a security checkpoint where they will check your passport and search your bags, so leave those sharp objects at home! After we made it through security, foreigners were provided an audio guide. The audio guide was pretty helpful, but just know that the staff will take your passport hostage in exchange for the audio guide. Not to worry, the person carrying the passports stays with the tour group the entire time.
In addition to the audio guide, we were provided a card telling us which spots we were going to visit and where we could take photos (Photos can be taken at location #2 – Nok ji won, #5 – Cheong wa dae main bldg and #6 – Yeong bin gwan).
After getting setup with our audio guide, we were ushered into a room to watch a brief video on the history of the Blue House. The site where Cheongwadae is located is special because it supposedly located in an auspicious location that is surrounded by 3 mountains, most notably, Bukhansan (located right behind the Blue House). If you don’t speak Korean, you won’t understand much of the video, but the seats were comfy and the audio guide will fill in the blanks as you continue your tour.
After the video, the guided tour begins and right away you receive a free gift! There is one for adults and one for children. The adult gift is a silk pouch/purse, which Scott was not that excited about. Unfortunately, we did not get a glimpse of the children’s gift so I can’t give you much information about it other than that it comes in a brown box. But if there are two of you, I’d suggest trying to convince them to give you a children’s gift. I know Scott still thinks that whatever it is, it is better than the purse!
After you receive your gift, the tour officially starts! For those who speak Korean there is a live tour guide providing information on each site, and for everyone else, we were instructed to use our audio guides.
Stop #2 is Nok ji won, which is known as the most beautiful garden on the grounds due to a 160 year old umbrella pine. While you are here they only allow photos in ones direction so that you don’t get the other government buildings in the background.
Stop #3 Is Gyeong Mu dae, which is the old site of Cheong wa dae. After Japanese colonial rule, it was determine that the site was insufficient to house both an office and residence and the Cheong wa dae we know today was built in 1991.
Stop #5 is the main building: Cheong wa dae. It has been nicknamed the “Blue House” because of the beautiful blue tiles located on the hip and gable roof (which is known as the most beautiful form of Korean architecture). The roof consists of 150,000 tiles and are special as they are made of clay and glazed and baked in a way that the tiles can last over 100 years! This building is where the President and staff work and houses offices, conference halls and the President’s residence. The President’s office is located on the 2nd floor.
Stop #6 takes you past the Grand Garden which is larger than Nok ji won and where state guests are welcomed. Then you will make your way to Yeong bin guan which is the State guest house and where welcome receptions are held on the first floor and dinner banquets and held on the second floor.
As you are finishing your tour, the guides will ask if you want to visit Chilgung, which is a shrine. At the end of the tour everyone seperates into 2 groups and those going on the Chilgung tour will be escorted.
Chilgung means 7 shrines. This is known as Korean historic site 149. The small cluster of shrines are dedicated to 7 royal concubines and each of these concubine’s spirt tablet is located here.
You may wonder why there would be a shrine for a royal concubine, well…when a queen had no sons, then the son of a concubine could be enthroned. Even though the concubine’s son would be King, the mother was still not considered part of the royal family as they had no royal blood. This shrine first housed only the mother of the 21st king, but in 1908 other concubines were brought here as well. Interestingly enough, the shrine is very humble, there is nothing fancy here in comparison to other royal shrines.
We thought the tour was interesting, but there are definitely a lot of off limits areas and restrictions of photography. But that is to be expected but when you’re touring the home of the President. I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re able!