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Tree in foreground of an image of Gyeongbokung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, a site that youth participants will see on their pre-tour. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Youth participants will embark on an exciting four-day pretour after landing at South Korea’s Incheon International Airport before the Jamboree begins. Each unit will see the same sites, though some units may view them in a different order than each other.

Scouts will leave the USA on July 27 and arrive in Korea on July 28 after a 12-to-15 hour direct flight depending on the departure airport. Scouts will arrive at Incheon International Airport (ICN). This will be an experience most will never forget. ICN is rated by Skytrax as one of the world’s busiest, cleanest, biggest, and best airports. Only one in 10,000 bags are mishandled at the airport.

Trained Scouters and others will greet our Scouts when they arrive in Korea. Scouts will then travel with escorts to their hotel, where they will meet up with the rest of their troop. They will have lunch and dinner and get some much needed rest. 

On day two, July 29, Scouts get to begin exploring Korea. The day’s stops will include the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), Gyeongbokgung Palace, The National Folk Museum and the Namsan Seoul Tower. 

THE DMZ runs along the 38th parallel that separates North Korea from South Korea. It was created at the end of World War II when North Korean and South Korean forces pulled back 1.2 miles on each side of the line that runs 150 miles across the peninsula where both countries lie. More than a million tourists visit the DMZ each year. 

The areas north and south of the DMZ are heavily fortified, and both sides maintain large military presences there . Over the years there have been occasional incidents and skirmishes, some of them quite serious. No serious incidents have occurred since the 1970s. In the late 1970s, South Korea completed an anti-infiltration fence that ran the length of the DMZ. It is considered to be the most heavily guarded border in the world.

Due to the lack of human occupation for 70 years, the DMZ has become a sanctuary for hundreds of birds and fish black bears and endangered white-napped and red-crowned cranes. 

Depending on the conditions – weather, military training, visiting VIPs – scouts will be on one of two tours. One tour features the Dora Observatory, where visitors can use supplied binoculars to look down into North Korea, and the area known as the Third Tunnel. The third tunnel was one of four tunnels the North Koreans dug under the DMZ between 1960 and 1980 in an attempt to conduct a surprise invasion of South Korea from underground.  It is a mile long, 6.5 feet wide and 6.5 feet tall. An estimated 30,000 soldiers could move through the tunnel every hour.

The second tour scouts might take includes Tongil Chon – “Unification Village” in Korean – or Imjingak Pyeonghoa-Nuri and historical exhibits. Tongil Chon and Imjingak Pyeonghoa-Nuri are both villages located about a mile from the DMZ and offer a look at life along the DMZ.  

GYEONGBOKGUNG PALACE is rated as the number one place to see in Seoul by Trip Advisor. It is one of the most iconic sights in Korea and has a long and storied history. It was completed in 1395 and its name means “palace greatly blessed by Heaven.” It was destroyed around 1595 during the Japanese invasion of Korea and abandoned for some 270 years. It was restored in 1868 with the result being a small city of about eight square miles containing 330 buildings. 

Unfortunately, only a few buildings survived the Japanese occupation during World War II and the Korean War. Extensive restoration work began in 1989. Today the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea are located on the palace grounds and just less than half of the buildings have been restored to their former glory.

One of the highlights of a visit to the palace is the changing of the guard ceremony. The ceremony has been recreated exactly as it used to be held. It features guards wearing royal uniforms and carrying traditional weapons. Traditional musical instruments are played.

THE NATIONAL FOLK MUSEUM features exhibits that show how everyday citizens lived both past and present including the lifestyles and traditions of everyday Korean people during a time when the country was mainly agricultural. 

The History of Korean People includes displays of both cultural and historical exhibits from the daily lives of the people. The Korean way of Life Exhibit Hall features how technology and the spread of knowledge has resulted Korea evolving from the Paleolithic Age into the advanced country that it is today.

The “Life Cycle of Koreans Hall” traces the life of upper-class citizens from birth to death, including birthdays, education, marriage, families, and careers. An open-air exhibit is a replica of the late 1800s and recreates what life was like at a time when electricity was first made available. Scouts will see a streetcar and traditional Korean style Hanok buildings and stores for dry goods, herbs and medicine, bamboo goods, and a hat shop.

Another stop on Day Two is the NAMSAN SEOUL TOWER, which offers magnificent 360-degree views of Seoul and the surrounding area. The tower was built in 1969 as Korea’s first integrated transmission tower beaming television and radio broadcasts across the capital city. It was opened to the public in 1980 and now features 32 LCD screens recounting the 600-year history of Seoul making it a great source of pride in Korea. 

Scouts are encouraged to further research these sites, so they learn more and better enjoy the tour.