For our first weekend with the whole Brown clan, we stayed in an Airbnb in the Yongsan area of Seoul. This was a great location for us because it was centrally located between the activities we wanted to do, and close to line 1 of the subway system. Our itinerary for the weekend included Gyeongbokgung Palace, Insadong, Namsan/Seoul tower and Jamsil baseball stadium for a Korean baseball game. Namdaemun market would have definitely made it on the list, but they were closed the whole weekend for Chuseok.
Our Airbnb was also walking distance to other subway lines and the War Memorial of Korea. Although the name sounds kinda boring, this place is a must-see if you have kids who love vehicles and airplanes. Along with several poignant memorial statues and sculptures, the grounds of the memorial are covered with airplanes, tanks, rocket launchers, a navy ship, and other army vehicles. Many are open for kids to climb inside, and the airplanes are on the lawns ready to be touched and explored from every angle. Two years ago when we visited, my then-two-year-old was like a little kid in a candy store, and it was no different this time around! The War Memorial building has plaques that list all the lives lost in the Korean war. It is so somber to think about the thousands that made the ultimate sacrifice. They have the Korean soldiers on one side and the American and other nationalities on the other side of the halls, and each U.S. state is listed so it is easy to find someone on the memorial if you know where they lived.
Inside the memorial is a fantastic war museum that recounts the history of war in Korea. I highly recommend it, and like many museums in Korea, admission is free. New this visit was the children’s section of the war museum. We were a little short on time, so our family split up for the morning- I visited the children’s war museum with Landon while everyone else checked out the main museum. Do both if you can!
The children’s war museum did not disappoint. Like many children’s museums in Korea, there are limited tickets for each 1- hour time slot, so while Landon was running around checking out the airplanes, I picked up (free) tickets for the next available time. I love that there are a limited number of kids in the museum at a time, because each kid can interact with the exhibits, and get more out of the visit. They also can clean in between sessions. In other children’s museums, I worry about the spreading germs among all the kids, but not here! This museum was set up with a definite path to follow, and activities to do along the way. Some activities were lost on us because of our lack of Korean language skills, but we got the gist of most exhibits. The first section detailed the history of war in Korea, and had some real swords and other weapons of war on display. There was an indoor, two-story castle. On the first floor, there were little cubby rooms where kids were watching movies or reading books about specific periods of Korean history or epic battles. The second floor was an actual fortress, and there were blocks to place in the wall help fortify it. Of course, Landon liked that.
The next room had some information about the Japanese occupation of Korea. There was a cartoon that handled the topic of the Korean comfort women with tact, but without dancing around the subject. It started with kids going to a nursing home, and one of the nursing home residents talking about why she wears a butterfly pin. Turns out, her whole family was killed and she was taken and locked up in a comfort station. When a butterfly would come to her window, she felt like there was hope. At the end, it talked about how the Korean army and nation has to be strong so that they can prevent horrible atrocities from happening again. It was all in Korean, but the docents turned on English subtitles so I could narrate it for Landon.
After that, the Korean war was depicted in pictures and a bombed out bridge photo opportunity. The plaques talked about the war from the kids’ perspective- having to leave their homes, not having enough food, etc. Because all Koreans are so hopeful on the subject of reunification, it talked about how they would like to be reunified with their brothers and sisters in North Korea one day. It was heartbreaking to see the pictures of the super skinny, dirty kids. It made me pause and think about how blessed my family and I are to not live in a war-torn land. As a mother who worries about providing the necessities of life for my children, I feel for those mothers who can’t give their children everything they need to grow and thrive.
I appreciated these exhibits for telling the truth and not trying to shelter the kids from history. As the first war-themed children’s museum in the world, it did a great job. Although it was heavily biased toward the South Korean version of events, and included re-unification propaganda, I thought it was very well done. After some heavy exhibits, it was play time! The last room was “army training” complete with an indoor play structure with rope ladders and places to jump and slide. Landon had a blast! Our session’s time slot ended with the docents gathering everyone into a multimedia room for some pro-reunification propaganda. There were two cartoons shown where animals were not getting along. Basically, the bats from the north, or the sharks from the north, were not being nice to the other peaceful creatures. The moral boiled down to- love your friends from the North, they are misunderstood and we should try to all get along. I thought it was an interesting message since the news about North Korea from the United States tends to be so negative.
The War Memorial of Korea is a great way to spend a day with kids. It is close to Itaewon- where there are tons of international food options and good shopping. Even if uninterested in the museums themselves, the grounds with army vehicles and planes is a great way to spend an afternoon with the kiddos outdoors getting all the wiggles out. Outside the children’s museum is a small airplane-themed playground- perfect for playing until the ticketed children’s museum time!