War Memorial of Korea
A lot of times when I travel, I try to find something off trail or different. I typically eschew tight itineraries and strict schedules, preferring to saunter around at my leisure and find something engaging. Sometimes though, I'm a typical tourist. There are, after all, good reasons a place becomes popular or "must see" amongst travelers. The War Memorial of Korea, near the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, is one of these places.
Erected amongst the former headquarters of the Korean infantry, the museum houses dozens of indoor and outdoor exhibits, and it is easy to access from Osan Air Base. Leaving in the morning, my wife and I took the metro from Songtan Station straight to Namyeong, which takes approximately 80 minutes and stops a 15-minute walk from the memorial. The metro ticket cost W2,000 a piece, and people accustomed to taking the base shuttle to Yongsan can do so for only a few dollars more, as the memorial is down the street from the Army garrison.
With a plethora of artifacts spanning thousands of years, the museum is a big attraction for history fans. From its state as three perpetually-warring countries, to the early 20th century Japanese occupation of the peninsula, to the Cold-War era conflict between democracy and socialism that led to the U.S. presence in the now Republic of Korea, the museum has exhibits with a variety of weapons and uniforms from every era as well as personal details of the people who fought in these conflicts.
If its historical largess alone isn't enough to recommend this site as a great travel destination, its cost is. Entry to the War Memorial of Korea, open every Tuesday - Sunday, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., is free.
We spent two hours in the museum, but there's enough material in there to keep people occupied for at least three to four hours. Inside, we walked by at least two café's and there's an entire area for kids to play in, which is a boon for families with easily distracted children.
If you go to the museum, I'd also recommend planning to spend some time in downtown Seoul. The Itaewon area, which I've described as an obese version of the Songtan Entertainment District, located just outside of Yongsan, is about a 20-minute walk or very short cab ride from the memorial. Cece and I stopped at a crowded Greek-restaurant for dinner, and while the dishes didn't recall Thessaloniki for me, I was pleasantly surprised to get some decent Greek food in Korea.
Afterward, we took the metro to Yeouido Park to enjoy a rare-for-Seoul vibrant sunset on the Han River. We even saw a double rainbow arching over one of the bridges. We had a nice evening walking, talking and people watching. Before very long we were both tired and ready to relax. We rode the metro back to Songtan, which cost W2,000 a piece and took approximately 90 minutes.
Traveling isn't always about testing your limits and relentlessly pursuing an unfamiliar or novel experience. More important than experiencing newness, for me, is enjoying the moments. A lot of times in traveling good moments come from popular destinations, and even familiar experiences can feel reborn when peered from a different perspective. My previous times in Yeouido Park, I had never seen a beautiful sunset or rainbow (much less the famed double rainbow.) What were the chances? I don't know, and neither will you, but that's why I like to get out and travel. You'll miss a lot of experiences if you never wander.
Location: Korean War Memorial
Directions: It's located by the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul. There are buses that shuttle between Osan and Yongsan several times a day. Additionally, it's nearby the Namyeong metro station, which runs directly from Songtan on line 1 and is about a 15-minute walk from the museum.
Cost: Metro tickets cost about W2,000 each way, while shuttle buses to and from the bases costs about W5,000 each way. The museum is free. There are many affordable Korean and international options for food in the nearby Itaewon area.
Time: A few hours, but factor in more time if you want to stick around downtown Seoul and hang out. It only takes an hour and a half travel time, so it's easy to get back to base before curfew.
Documentation required: No ID required.
Who it's for: History connoisseurs will find quite the feast. The exhibits fill several floors and range form ancient to modern times. For families, there's a large play section for children.
Activity required: Simple walking and nothing more. If you can make it up a flight of stairs and stand on your feed for a couple of hours, you're more than capable of taking this trip on.
What to travel with: You can travel light because you'll be close to home, and there are plenty of places to get food. Make sure to take your SOFA and ID card as well as a functioning cellular phone. As always, when traveling, groups are preferable, but make sure to notify your supervisor and chain of command where you intend to go. A lot of trips are better with good company, so grab a close friend and enjoy.