Bus Tours Bring the Sights of Seoul Up Close

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Bus Tours Bring the Sights of Seoul Up Close

Because several of the best attractions in Seoul are widely scattered about the city, tourists often find it difficult to visit as many of them as they would like. If you are one of those people who have long wanted to see more of Seoul, but have not had the opportunity, you will be delighted to learn about the tour bus services available to take you around the city.

Palace Tour

Seoul is an old city - its age is about 600 years - but these days it is hard to find many true remnants of that oldness because of the numerous modern buildings, roads and traffic that have overwhelmed the city. Only some of the ancient palaces that have been preserved hint at the long history of the city.

The first thing you will notice about a Korean palace is that it is made up of many buildings - in fact, it is more of a complex of buildings with many different functions than a palace in the traditional Western sense. Because of the great number of buildings in a Seoul palace, you may wonder who lives where, but at least there is a way to distinguish the queen's quarters from the other buildings. If you guessed that the queen's quarters is the second-biggest building in the palace, after the king's, guess again. In fact, the queen's residence is the only building without a yongmaru, a ridge on a roof above the eaves. The word "yong" means dragon, the animal that used to symbolize the king in Korea. A prince was also like a dragon since he was the son of the king. When a queen was pregnant, people said it was like she had a dragon inside her body. The queen's quarters thus did not have the yongmaru in order to protect the fetus when the queen was pregnant. Koreans believed that the dragon on the roof (yongmaru) would intimidate or repress the energy of the dragon inside the queen and disturb the growth of the unborn prince. They wanted to avoid such a risk by eliminating the yongmaru from the queen's quarters. So if you see a building in a Korean palace without a ridge on the roof, it is the queen's quarters.

Another notable aspect of a Korean palace is the two huge bronze containers placed in front of the queen's quarters, to the left and right. They were considered a kind of charm against hwama, or evil fire spirits. Koreans used to believe that evil fire spirits would run away from a building if they saw themselves reflected in the water in those containers. Those containers thus protected the building from fire, both in reality and metaphysically.

Korean palaces are filled with many other interesting ideas from Korea's ancient past. You can visit the major palaces in Seoul by taking the Palace Tour offered by the Seoul City Tour Bus. The tour stops at the three main Korean palaces, Gyeongbok Palace, Changgyeong Palace and Deoksu Palace. The tour runs every hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Ticket costs 5,000 won (about $4) for adults, 4,000 won for junior and senior high school students and 3,000 won for children.

Day Tour and Night Tour

Mount Namsan can be a pretty daunting hike to anyone without a car. So is the National Theater of Korea, located partway up the mountain. Taking either the Day Tour or Night Tour offered by the Seoul City Tour Bus is a convenient and easy alternative for anyone without the time and energy to make the climb. You can take a bus to the National Theater of Korea, watch a performance there and then get on the next available bus and head up to Namsan Tower. From the tower you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. At night, the bright lights of Seoul are especially captivating.

Another popular destination is Daehangno, a famous street in Hyehwa-dong, where you can mingle with Korean young people strolling amongst the plentiful cafes and restaurants. The street and nearby area have a reputation for being a place for the young, but there is a lot more to the neighborhood than just partying. Daehangno is full of small theaters and performance halls where a variety of plays and dance performances are offered. If you are fond of music, you can catch a musical or a concert at one of those theaters. Even if you don't understand much Korean, you can enjoy listening to the music, and several plays are often offered with subtitles or translations.

The Day Tour runs between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and the Night Tour between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Each tour costs 5,000 won for adults, 4,000 won for junior and senior high school students and 3,000 won for children. A pass called the "One Day Ticket," which can be used between anytime between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., is also available for 8,000 won for adults, 6,000 won for students and 4,500 won for children. Tickets can be purchased (cash only) on the bus. The buses offer tour guides in English, Japanese and Chinese.

For more information, contact the Web site at www.seoulcitytourbus.com (English version available) or call 02-777-6090 (English service available).

Gallery Shuttle Bus

People with artistic interests will be glad to know there is a shuttle bus that stops at 13 different galleries around Seoul, including the Ho-Am and Rodin galleries. The bus service offered by Gana Art Center is popular among students who need to write papers for art classes and housewives who want to spend time learning about the arts. The service is also a good choice for tourists who want to save time looking for and getting to each of these popular galleries. The buses run between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. at one-hour intervals, providing enough time to appreciate the art exhibits in each of the galleries before moving on. Buses depart at both the Gana Art Center in Pyeongchang-dong and the Insa Art Center in Insa-dong.

A ticket costs 1,000 won for adults and 500 won for children. You can get discounts of 20 to 50 percent on admission to each gallery on the bus's route by showing your shuttle bus ticket. Remember that the buses only run every two hours on Monday since some of the galleries are closed on that day.

For more information, call 02-720-1020 (Korean only).

by Baik Sung-ho

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