PANMUNJOM (DMZ) TOUR
The USO Panmunjom tour is one of the best ways to understand the situation, the tensions, and the reality of the North and South Korea division. From the time you start to prepare for the trip until your last view of the barbed wire fence that lines the "Freedom Road" or "Unification Road" (the highway connecting Seoul to Panmunjom), your understanding of the recent history of Korea will take on a new dimension.
In preparing for the trip, don't forget to follow the Dress Code for the Panmunjom tour. You can download the dress code from this site (on the homepage under "In-Country Tours and Travel) or pick one up at the USO. Also - very important- be sure to bring your passport or military ID the day of the tour.
We'll first arrive at Camp Bonifas, whose motto "In Front of Them All" provides some idea as to its position in relation to the border. Guests are then given a 20 minute slide presentation briefing, highlighting the history and present situation at the DMZ. The tour of Panmunjom itself is guided by United Nations Command military personnel who will take you through such sites as the MAC (Military Armistice Commission) building, the Pagoda at Freedom House, and Checkpoint 3, which is near the scene of the 1976 Ax Murder Incident. You'll also see the Bridge of No Return, the only bridge connecting North and South Korea. You'll also be able to see the giant flagpole at the North Korean Propaganda Village. Through-out the tour, the various antecdotes regarding the rivalry between North and South Korea (such as this flagpole) will alleviate the seriousness of the sites. It will also, however, reinforce the grim reality of the country.
The Panmunjom tour is one of the most popular tours the USO offers. Please make sure to make your reservation far in advance to ensure a place.
The USO Cultural Tour is an exploration of the lifestyle and homes of the kings and queens of Korea. Built by King Lee, Tae Jo, the first Chosun King, the area orginally contained hundreds of buildings. During its long history the palace suffered through many fires and enemy attacks, and at this time only about ten structures remain. Upon arrival at Kyongbok Palace, the USO guide will offer a brief tour of the area after which the guests are given free time until departure. Sights include the main throne room, which was built in 1394 and was used until 1910, the Queen's bedchambers, and the Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance, which was built by King Kojong in 1867.
A great way to get an overview of the Korea culture is the National Folk Museum inside the Palace area. You may rent pre-recorded tour tapes for 2,000 won or wander through the rooms full of Korean history, food, clothing, lifestyle, and other such exhibitions on your own.
After lunch, the tour continues on to the next stop, the Secret Garden. The only way to visit the Secret Garden is by taking one of the Office of Korean Tourism tours. The USO guide will arrange to arrive at the Secret Garden in time for an English language tour, which will last about an hour and a half.
An official tour guide will take guests through the area, stopping at the Royal Garage, the Royal Kitchen, the Royal Hotel, and the Secret Garden itself. Along the way, guests will be given a 5 minute break for refreshments and snacks.
SEOUL CITY NIGHT TOUR
This is one of the USO's most popular tours. Departing from the USO as evening sets in, the first stop is Yoido. From this location on the graceful Han River, we will embark on a leisurely 60-minute cruise on Seoul's famous Han River ferryboats, passing wonderful views of Seoul's impressive riverfront and skyline.
Upon arriving back at the ferry port on Yoido, we will head to Namsan for a dinner in a Korean restaurant. Dinner will be followed by paying a visit to Seoul's most prominent landmark, the Seoul Tower on Namsan, located at the geographical epicenter of Seoul. An elevator ride will take us to the Observation Deck, which commands spectacular panormic views of the metropolis. No visit to Seoul would be complete without witnessing the majestic beauty of this city at night.
INSADONG NIGHT TOUR
Insadong is known as Mary's Alley among foreigners. It is a 500-meter narrow street clustered with various shops dealing primarily in antiques, oriental artist supplies, and modern Korean art of all types and styles. This alley is the center of the art and antiques world in Seoul. Insadong has hard to find items, such as calligraphy supplies, old books, tea sets, and Korea's famous celadon ceramics.
There are several galleries at which works of modern artists are exhibited. Another eye-catching sight is the stacks of colored mulberry paper, called "hanji". It's the real hand-made version of the modern factory paper, and it starts at 300 won a sheet. A visit to Insadong is a must for those interested in the arts, antiques, and the history of the capital of Korea.
KOREA FOLK VILLAGE TOUR
One of the best ways to fully appreciate the history and culture of Korea is to visit the Korea Folk Village, which is located 41km south of Seoul in Yongin County. A living museum and learning center, it is a replica of a typical 19th century Chosun Dynasty Village. Opened in 1974, the Korea Folk Village consists of original buildings that were transported to the village in addition to recently built structures. Representing both Southern and Northern Province style homes, the village offers a true taste of the actual lifestyle of 19th century Korea.
From the beating block and jail at the governor's house, to the palanquin at the nobleman's house, to the thatched roof of the peasant's house, each site is exactly as it would have appeared hundreds of years ago. The village even has a Haunted House and Fortune Teller! Viewing the wooden and stone structures, visiting places like the herbal medicine "drug store", and seeing a little better what life in Korea without modern technology was like, you will come away from the Folk Village with a much greater understanding of Korea - past and present.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Folk Village is the way in which the villagers produce many of the souvenirs on site. From various basket works to celadon pottery, you will be able to watch them create in the manner of their ancestors. You may even purchase some of the goods from the villagers themselves. Souvenirs may also be purchased near the entrance of the village and at the Market.