Sightseeing Bus Offers City TourAs an alternative to guided tours, the Seoul City Bus Tour offers convenience, low cost, bilingual guides and the opportunity to see 28 landmarks in Seoul in a day.
by Kim Hoo-ran (Contributing Writer)
One of the joys of travel is being surrounded by the unfamiliar and discovering the unknown. For those who dislike tours, the only alternative is usually to buy a good map and strike out on your own. But there is a new way to see Seoul with minimal guidance. It is ideal for travelers who do not want to join a tour but who would like a brief introduction to the city.
A trip on the Seoul City Tour Bus, a two-and-a-half-hour ride, takes you to 28 major attractions with the option of getting off and on at different stops, and is ideal for visitors who want to see the city at their own pace. The service has been operating for about six weeks.
The tours are not just for international visitors. About 70 percent of users are Koreans, according to Chung Hae-ku, manager of the tour program at Honeymoon Tour, which operates the service. Buses run every half-hour from the Dongwha Duty-Free Shop in Kwanghwamun.
Four Koreans were aboard when our tour began last Monday afternoon. "We do get more locals but the number of foreigners is increasing," said our bilingual tour guide, who spoke Korean and English. As we approached the first stop, a pre-recorded announcement informed us in Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese that we were coming to Toksu Palace. Our guide provided basic historical information in Korean and English and mentioned the exhibition of impressionist paintings there.
Throughout the journey, our guide provided snippets of information on points of interests. "Sejong-ro was a four-lane avenue during Japanese colonial times and government officials had to pass Kwanghwamun before entering Kyongbok Palace," the guide pointed out as we cruised parallel to Sejong-ro.
The guide also answered tourists' questions. "The most often asked questions are, 'What is the population of Seoul?' and 'Where is the demilitarized zone?'" said our tour guide.
We picked up two Japanese tourists at the Lotte Hotel. The younger Japanese understood English and interpreted the commentary for the other. The two could definitely have benefited from a Japanese language guide. However, the bus carried no outside sign to advise what languages the guide spoke.
No one got off or joined us for the next several stops. Perhaps the cold weather discouraged the mostly elderly passengers from spending a little time at some of the stops.
At Dongdaemun Market, a traditional market specializing in wholesale and retail clothing, Jeff, 28, from England, and Kuniko, 29, from Japan, barely caught the bus, scrambling aboard with their shopping bags.
Jeff learned about the tour from a leaflet at the airport. It was his second day in Seoul. "This is a good way of getting my bearings," he said, adding that he hoped the tour would help familiarize him with the city. "Namsangol (a traditional Korean village) is my favorite so far and we did a bit of shopping at Dongdaemun," Jeff said. His next stop is the Seoul Tower atop Mt. Namsan, he added.
Two young Koreans got on at Daehak-ro.
"I live around here and I often see this bus pass by," said Kim Woo-taik, a college student. "I read about it in the newspaper recently and decided to give it a try."
When we stopped at the Blue House, the President's official residence, Mr. Kim seemed very interested. He peered out the window and pointed out things to his friend, who said, "I've lived in Seoul all my life but this is the first time I've come by the Blue House."
The Blue House is apparently a favorite with local tourists; six elderly Koreans got on there. They had been walking around taking photographs. As the bus pulled out, our guide continued to give us more details. "Thirty thousand blue bricks were baked individually for the Blue House roof to ensure that the roof lasts hundreds of years," she told us.
The group that got on at the Blue House was heading for Seoul Station to catch a train back to the country.
"This is a slow season for farmers so we get a lot of visitors from the country," the guide explained.
A few more stops and we were back at Dongwha Duty-Free Shop, where our tour began. Passengers planning to continue were advised to change to another waiting bus.
Asked if he had any suggestions for improvements, Jeff said, "First-time visitors could definitely use more commentary, and at some stops there were no schedules in English."
Most of the passengers agreed this was not a bad way to travel around the city.
"It's a cheap and convenient way of getting around without having to worry about parking," said Mr. Kim.
For 8,000 won ($7.20), riders get an unlimited one-day pass that allows them to hop on or off at any of the scheduled 28 stops. A half-day pass costs 5,000 won. A single ride costs 1,200 won. Passes can be bought at any of the stops.
There are four English-speaking and four Japanese-speaking guides, but you need to call the tour company to find out which buses will feature a particular language because the printed schedule does not indicate language.
Under the winter schedule, effective Friday, the first bus leaves from Dongwha Duty-Free Shop every day at 8:30 a.m. Buses leave every 30 minutes, with the last bus departing at 9 p.m.
For information, call Honeymoon Tour at 02-777-6090.
Kwanghwamun -> Toksu Palace -> Lotte Hotel -> Namdaemun Market -> Seoul Station -> USO -> War Memorial -> Yongsan -> Itaewon -> Crown Hotel -> Myeongdong -> Namsangol -> Sofitel Ambassador Hotel -> National Theater -> Namsan Seoul Tower -> Hyatt Hotel -> Tower Hotel -> Shilla Hotel -> Dongdaemun Market -> Daehak-ro -> Changkyeong Palace -> Changteok Place -> Insa-dong -> Blue House -> National Folk Museum -> Kyongbok Palace -> Police Museum -> Sejong Cultural Center -> Kwanghwamun