Seoul: Cheongwadae, Quick Tour at The Blue House
Cheongwadae is the seat of government in South Korea. If the United States has the White House, South Korea has the Blue House. It is named for the blue tiles that its roof is made of. Its architecture perfectly blend with Mount Bugaksan which serves as its backdrop.
Before visiting the place, we have to register online two months before the scheduled date. It is because of the limited visitor slots that it can serve on each day.
CHEONG WA DAE INFORMATION BOOTH
The Information Booth is found at the southeast part of the Gyeongbukgung Palace. You have to register here, bringing your passport and the reservation slip which you made back home. (Aside from a printed hard copy, in our case they did accept a soft copy of the reservation form which we showed with our iPad, but this is not recommended). Because we didn’t take careful attention with the location of the Information Booth, we lost our way and we’re late by almost 30 minutes, and we asked if we can be acommodated and we were did.
While waiting for the bus there is a small house which serves as a waiting area beside the information booth. There’s a wide flatscreen TV where it shows the activities of the current South Korean President, but it’s always in Korean.
Not long after, our bus is ready. It seems that we are the only Filipino in the bus at that time; the other passengers are Chinese and a couple of Japanese. It is no wonder that South Korea is also one of the favorite tourist destinations of Chinese.
CHEONGWADAE PROMOTION POINT
This is the security check point and briefing area. As we are entering a Presidential compound, like in other countries, security is very tight. But I think there is also an extra level of security added, not to mention that South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea, and that Cheongwadae was almost taken by a squadron of infiltrating North Korean soldiers in 1968, not if the quick response of the South Korean military.
The security checkpoint is akin to that of the airport. There is a metal detector, and there are things that you have to leave behind (they will be returned at the end of the tour), like large bags. Cameras are also allowed, even DSLRs, but those fitted with long-range lenses (like 60mm lens cameras or above) are not allowed. They will also check if those cameras work as expected.
As the tour guide speaks only in Korean, there is an audio guide (an MP3 player) which has the translation in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. A passport is required to be lent of this.
After the security check we are brought into a briefing room (an auditorium) where we are given instruction about the whole tour.
At all times we must be within our group and must not go too far. As I earlier mentioned, at that time most of those within our group are Chinese. Our movement is limited and so are the places were we can take photos. (The guide and the handouts will tell anyway on the places which we can and which we can’t take photos.)
Here we were also given a souvenir gift with the Presidential Seal.
The first course of the tour is the Nokjiwon. Here we can walk through this garden as well as in the Mugunghwa Valley (but in a limited time only). This is one of the most beautiful places in the Cheongwadae compound. It is where some special occasions, such as Children’s Day, Parent’s Day and Teacher’s Day are celebrated with outdoor picnics and receptions. It is also here that South Korean presidents planted trees in succession on memorial occasions. There is one famous tree which is 310 years old. Photography is allowed here.
The modern Cheongwadae main building has its predecessor, and this is the Gyeongmudae. It has been built during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) to serve as an official residence and office of the Governor General. When South Korea gained its independence as a Republic, its first President, Syngman Rhee made this as his official office and residence, which his successors followed. It was demolished in late 1980s to early 1990s as the new main building was built, and the decision was taken probably because of it being a reminder of the Japanese occupation. Only a stone memorial remained. For some reasons, photography is forbidden here.
THE MAIN HALL
And of course, the main course of the tour: the Main Hall of the Blue House. The building, completed in 1991, was built with traditional Korean architecture. Its roof is made of 150,000 traditional Korean blue tiles. The building blended perfectly with Mount Bugaksan as its background. Photography is permitted, but we are not allowed to step by the grass and beyond.
YEONGBINGWAN (Guest House)
It serves as the official function hall, where it is used for receptions for presidential guests and official residences. It is a security nightmare to have those receptions held in hotels, aside from being a logistical problem, so it was decided that a reception hall be built within the Cheongwadae compound. The building, completed in 1978, is supported by 18 granite pillars. Photography is allowed though the inside is off-limits to the public.
At this point the things which you left behind (passports and everything) at the security checkpoint is returned. The possessions left behind are attached with name tags of the owners.
If you have watched Korean historical drama then you may have heard of the kings and his concubines. A space was alloted at the corner of Cheongwadae which is dedicated to these concubines. It has seven palaces, on which each of them guards an ancestral tablet of royal concubines who bore a King during the Joseon dynasty. Photography is allowed, but high respect must also be observed (as this is a shrine and Koreans have high regards of respect in things like this).
Free, but prior appointment must be made at their website at least two weeks before the scheduled schedule.
Online application here
TOUR COURSE INFORMATION
Meeting Point -> Cheong Wa Dae Promotion Hall -> Nokjiwon -> Gyeongmudae -> Sojeongwon -> Main Hall -> Yeongbingwan (Guest House) -> Chilgung (Seven Palaces) -> Fountain
Gyeongbokgung Station (Seoul Subway Line 3), Exit 5. Go into the Gyeongbokgung Palace ground and walk approximately 600m towards the East Gate Parking Lot. The Cheong Wa Dae Information Booth is in the parking lot.
*If you arrive late, you can negotiate and join with the other tour groups.
DASH OF HISTORY
The Cheongwadae complex was originally part of the Gyeongbukgung Palace complex, which is located directly south of it (just across the street). The Gyeongbukgung Palace itself was the seat of the Joseon government until the Japanese occupation in 1910. During the Japanese occupation, the Japanese made a large alteration to the Gyeongbukgung and to the garden at its northern part, which would later become the modern Presidential complex.
- There is a South Korean drama titled “Big Thing” (Daemul / 대물), released in 2010, which is about the story of the (fictional) first female South Korean president. Three years later in real life, a woman was elected President of South Korea, and she is Park Geun-Hye.
- As South Korea is a technologically advanced country, the Cheongwadae Information Booth accepts soft copies of the Reservation Slip saved in tablets or smartphones, like in our case. But to be sure, just bring a hard printed copy.
- It is important to be there at least twenty minutes before the appointment time.
- Gyeongbokgung Palace is just directly south of Cheongwadae, you can go there before or after the tour.
- Cheongwadae seems to be more accessible as compared to Malacanang Palace. To visit the latter, more arrangements need to be done (ang daming chechebureche!)