July 25, 2017

Travel Korea - Seoul

After our three day trip to Jeju Island, we came back to the capital of Korea, Seoul, to visit some famous landmarks and historic sites. Some we have been to when we were kids, while others it was visiting for the first time. 

On an early morning, we woke up and took the subway to the nearest station to Changdeokgung. We grabbed a quick breakfast on the way after spotting a little store that sold Korean style toast. Yangkyu had boiled fish cakes on a stick as well. At first he didn't know how to order it but saw a lady come up behind him, grab a stick, eat it, pay and left without saying a single word, and so he did the exact same thing except he said thank you and good bye. There was a dish with soy sauce that you an dip your fish cakes in but Yangkyu was a bit worried about germs and hygiene and so he opted to skip the soy sauce (lol).

Yangkyu's brother and sister-in-law were surprised that we chose to visit Changdeokgung instead of the more grander and more famous palaces such as Gyeongbokgung. My main reason was because I had already visited Gyeongbokgung and Deoksugung when I last visited Korea in 1998. And while I don't remember too much, I wanted to experience a palace that I have never been to before. 

Changdeokgung is one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted from 1392 to 1897. It is located east of Gyeongbokgung and hence also referred to as the East Palace.

It is said that Changdeokgung was the most favored palace among many Joseon princes and had retained many elements dating from the period of the Three Kingdoms of Korea (57 BC - 668 AD), which were not included in the more contemporary Gyeongbokgung. Changdeokgung also is said to embrace Confucian Joseon Dynasty values of modesty, virtue and frugality. And so the palace structure and design is reflective of these values. It also blends in with the natural surroundings and topography instead of imposing upon it. 

Changdeokgung, like the other palaces, was heavily damaged during the Japanese colonization of Korea, which was from 1910 to 1945. Today, only about 30% of the pre-Japanese structures of Changdeokgung survives. 

There is a Korean movie that features Changdeokgung starring Son Ye-Jin and Park Hae-il (we loved him in two amazing movies, Memories of Murder based on a true story and Moss). It's called The Last Princess or Deokhye Ongju.  I didn't realize this movie existed until our flight home from Korea where it available to view on flight. The movie is based on the tragic life of Princess Deokhye and her royal family.

Princess Deokhye was the youngest daughter of Emperor Gojong and his concubine, and was born and resided in Changdeokgung until she was sent away to Japan. "Gongju" which is a more wider known word for princess was only used to daughters of the queen, and "Ongju" referred to daughters born from concubines. You can read more about her tragic life here and also the film here.

After living a tortured life in Japan, Princess Deokhye was able to return to Korea after the war with the permission from the Korean government. She had suffered from severe mental illness while residing in Japan, but is said to have remembered court manners upon her return to Changdeokgung. 

You can watch the movie on Youtube (trailer also available if you click the link), Amazon or Google Play, starting from $3.99.

Yangkyu's sister-in-law, who was so helpful during our entire trip to Korea, reserved tickets for us to tour Changdeokgung and Huwon, which is the Secret Garden located at the rear of the palace. You can only view the Secret Garden as part of a guided tour*, which is available in Korean and English. Spaces for both tours get filled up quickly, but fortunately the English guided tours had more spots than Korean guided tours. For me, while I am able to speak both languages, understanding the historic background of the palace would have been hard to understand and so we opted to go with the English tour. Our spots were reserved a couple of days before online.

*Because of the early spring season, our tour guide let us know that we can view the Secret Garden on our own but were welcomed to peruse with her if we would like explanations of certain sights. We stuck with the tour group till the end. It lasted about 1 hour with lots of quick breaks in-between for people to take pictures and rest. Please wear comfortable shoes as going through the rear garden has hilly spots and is a long walk. I thought that 1 hour would be too long but it goes by very quickly and you cover about 70+ acres of beautiful land filled with wonderful greenery, history structures and ponds. It really is a must see if you visit Changdeokgung.

While I don't remember Gyeongbokgung and Deoksoogung very well, I can't help but say that Changdeokgung is by far my favorite palace. Gyeongbokgung is huge, grand and majestic, obviously because it served as the main palace for many kings until it was destroyed by fire. 

Changdeokgung though has a certain charm - with little doors that take you through small alleyways. The whole place feels like it holds a a ton of secrets, and you're only let it on them if you have the patience to go through every nook and cranny and appreciate the beautiful architecture and detail. While smaller than Gyeongbokgung, it is by far more charming and I loved that about this palace. 

Yangkyu and I have played with the idea of living in Korea for a few years and after my visit to Changdeokgung I thought, I wouldn't mind working as a English tour guide. It left that kind of impression on me to want to be here telling the stories and historic significance of the palace. 

I also have to note, throughout our time at Changdeokgung and also nearby areas of Bukchon Hanok Village and Insadong, we saw many foreign tourists visit these areas wearing traditional hanbok and other traditional wear (we even saw someone dressed as an Emperor and a Magistrate). There are many places where you can rent them for a day and I believe you can get discounted ticket prices at palaces or at times ticket prices are waived altogether (however, due to popularity, some discount or fee waiving policies may have changed to serving only the first x number of visitors per day). 

After our time at Changdeokgung, we made a short walk over to Bukchon Hanok Village, but only after grabbing several bites to eat along a street that had many cute stores and restaurants. We ended up eating our favorites, ddukbbokki (spicy rice cakes) and dumplings, ah-boong or ice cream boong uh bbang, cup myun (noodles in a cup) and kkochi (Korean rice cake skewers). I didn't take pictures of most of the food we had in Korea with my camera and so instead I'll feature them separately when I share my iPhone photos from Korea. They are even delicious to look at. 

Bukchon Hanok Village is located in-between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, so planning your day to visit these palaces and Bukchon Hanok Village is probably your best bet. If you want to squeeze in one more area, Insadong will also probably work (we did Changdeokgung, Bukchon Hanok Village and Insadong in one day). 

A quick note before we get into Bukchon Hanok Village - real residents live in this traditional village and so everyone is asked to keep quiet to respect the residents. There are many people holding "shhh" and "quiet please" signs along the alleyways that lead you throughout the entire village. It is quite crowded and definitely a tourist favorite. While there area real homes in the village, there are also lots of cultural experience centers, tea shops and traditional restaurants for visitors. 

The whole purpose of this traditional village is for people to experience the atmosphere of the Joseon Dynasty. It is beautiful. We loved every alleyway and curve and stairs and detail. "Bukchon" means Northern village ("hanok" means traditional homes) and was traditionally inhabited by nobles, serving in the palace. After wars and disasters, it was occupied by commoners.

Our final sightseeing for the day was Insadong. I think a lot of people have lots of fun here but for me it wasn't all that great. There are definitely lots of cute shops and restaurants (even a poo restaurant and museum). It's popular among couples, young people and many tourists.

Yangkyu and I perused the streets and had more street food (Twist Potato, or Hweori Gamja, was so good). We visited a traditional tea house (there are traditional tea houses in Bukchon Hanok Village but we decided to go to on in Insadong) where I walked in on a lady who didn't lock the single toilet bathroom -- eck! We bought a little tag and hung it on at the "Wall of Love." But the most notable thing we did was getting a Piri's Place stamp made on the spot (it's made by this company that specializes in calligraphy and handmade stamps and I believe they have stalls not only in Insadong, but other locations as well). It takes about 15 minutes to make and while each stamp works best with either two or three character words, the person who made ours was able to squeeze in four characters (to spell out Piri's Place in Korean) and also include a little cocker spaniel face as well. Currently, it's sitting right on the table where Piri and Bartles are resting.

Well, that concludes another day of traveling in Korea for us. Our next post is all about visiting Namsam Seoul Tower. Hope you'll join us for that adventure. 

PS -- It's taken me a while to continue posting about Korea. To be honest, it's been a little hard as it brings back sad memories of Mr. Bartles. Leading up to our Korea trip, Bartles fell ill and he was crying at what seemed to be pain and discomfort. We had thought it was his back and had put him on supplements. He had calmed down significantly the day before we left and I believed he would get better, but the first week while we were in Korea he wasn't well at all. I remember feeling so bad for his former foster mom who was caring for him while we were away (I still feel so bad). He got better after visiting the vet and being put on antibiotics for UTI but after coming back from Korea, from April to July 1, he was battling the same chronic and stubborn UTI and eventually crossed the rainbow bridge. And so sadly, I can't help but associate our trip with Mr. Bartles and his latest hardships before he passed. I feel guilty for having such a good time and feel bad that we didn't end up canceling and staying with him until he got better. There seems to be a lot of regretful decisions when it came to Mr. B and I hope one day he'll be able to forgive me.


  1. I can totally understand why you love Changdeokgung:) What a lovely historic place to see. I love the contrast of the red and green. And I've seen several travel vlogs featuring Bukchon Hanok Village. That's a place I really want to see. BTW, I don't know if it's just me but I find it kinda weird when I see foreigners wear hanboks for normal sightseeing activities. I'm not even Korean, but man....it just seems too much! :P
    PS Thanks for the heads up about The Last Princess. Will add that to my to-watch list.

  2. Anywhere with a secret garden gets the thumbs up from me :) Your photos are so beautiful and I can definitely see it's not easy to blog when you have two sets of memories attached - love to Bartles and Korea xoxo


Latest Instagrams

© Winding Ridge Lane . Design by Fearne.