Sunday, December 22, 2013

Best of Korea: Changdeokgung Palace, Seoul

In Seoul itself, there are 5 grand palaces that you can visit. I visited Changdeokgung Palace on my 2nd visit to Seoul in 2012. I've also previously visited Geongbokgung Palace, which is the most famous one, and Deoksugung Palace, a smaller palace located in the middle of the city, but I have to say Changdeokgung is the one that impresses me the most. I was influenced by the drama Rooftop Prince in which the palace it apparently took place in was Changdeokgung (although it was actually filmed elsewhere). If you're reading this at buzz KOREA, click on the original URL to see more pictures.

A little history on the palace thanks to Korea Tourism site:
Changdeokgung Palace was the second royal villa built following the construction of Gyeongbukgung Palace in 1405. It was the principal palace for many of the Joseon kings and is the most well-preserved of the five remaining royal Joseon palaces. The palace grounds are comprised of a public palace area, a royal family residence building, and the rear garden. Known as a place of rest for the kings, the rear garden boasts a gigantic tree that is over 300 years old, a small pond, and a pavilion. 

Injeong-jeon - the Throne Hall of Changdeokgung
Getting to the palace is easy. By Subway, the nearest station is Anguk Station on Line 3. Use Exit 3 and walk along the road until you see the palace gate entrance which is called Donhwamun. Ticket to enter the palace is at 3,000 won but you would want to take the additional separate tour of the Secret Garden at an additional 5,000 won. The Secret Garden is actually the best part. Well, it is if you're visiting in the fall season. Right after the entrance, you will cross a bridge which is considered the oldest bridge in Seoul built in 1411 called Geumcheongyo. There's no water flowing underneath it anymore though. The main building of the palace would be the throne hall called Injeong-jeon. You're free to roam around the palaces to see other buildings before the start of the Secret Garden Tour.
The colorful leaves on the grounds of the Secret Garden
Our tour guide among the colorful trees walking along the Secret Garden
Among the sites in the Secret Garden, Juhamnu and Yeonghwadang
The Secret Garden, which is known as Huwon, is massive. To preserve the natural beauty of the area, I guess that's why it is strictly open by tour. The tour will take about 1 and a half to 2 hours to go round the many buildings and pavilions that lies among the nature. These buildings were restricted to the royal family and usually used for leisure and study. The minute the the tour started I was mesmerised by the beautiful colors of the leaves of the trees in the garden. Like looking at a postcard. I believe they are Ginkgo trees. Our first stop is the Buyongji pond surrounded by 4 buildings and pavilions. The Juhamnu, which was a library in the past, Yeonghwadang and the Buyongjeong pavilion. I guess this was where the name Buyong came from for the drama.
Buyongjeong Pavilion
Aeryeonjeong Pavillion and Aeryeonji Pond
Around the Yeongyeongdang area
We were then lead to more areas where the royal family use these buildings as a place for rest and also study. One thing I learned was about how the floor of these buildings were heated during that time. The buildings were made elevated to have spaces between the ground and the floor where they would set up fire that will produce the heat. There were also small openings around the house which I guess were to let out the smoke from these fire. I can understand why the royals would make these areas for resting as the environment is so calming and beautiful. The nature blends well with the structures. Expect to do a little hiking to go through the tour but you can always take your time and not feel tired.
Yeongyeongdag area
One of the example of heater vents
Gwallamjeong Pavilion
Another interesting area was Ongnyucheon. Described by Wikipedia as below:
The Ongnyucheon (옥류천, 玉流川, "Jade Stream") area is of particular interest. It contains a U-shaped water channel carved in 1636 for floating wine cups, with a small waterfall and an inscribed poem on the boulder above it. The area also contains five small pavilions. 

Ongnyucheon Pavilions
The infamous boulder with a poem inscribed
The tour will end by walking all the way through the left side of the palace area back at the main entrance. If it was about the blending of nature and architecture, Changdeokgung showed that to me. It made me imagine how life was like way back then for the royals. I'd definitely recommend anyone a visit to this beautiful palace.