Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Korea 2011: Changdeokgung Palace

Why visit: Beautiful imperial palace with a "secret" royal garden
Recommended time to spend: 3 hours
Nearest train station: Anguk {Line 3}

Changdeokgung is one of the 5 Grand Palaces {the others being Changyeonggung, Deoksugung, Gyeonghuigung and the main palace, Gyeongbokgung} built during the Josean Dynasty. If I am not wrong, only Changdeokgung is listed as at UNESCO World Heritage site.

We went there with Songyi during from our walk along Cheonggycheon to Insadong. Changdeokgung is just 15 minutes away from Insadong. There are guided tours in English, Korean, Chinese or Japanese and I recommend taking the tour simply because the palace is HUGE and you can learn so much more about the history & beauty of the palace from the guides. They walk at rather leisure speeds and allow you time to stop and take photos too, so not to worry about going with kids or being rushed around.

Admission prices are KRW3,000, excluding costs of tours. For a general tour course just around the palace grounds {about 1.5hrs} it costs KRW 3,000/adult {ages 19 and over} & KRW 1,500/child {ages 7-18}. For a Huwon {aka Biwon, Secret Royal Garden} tour course {about 2 hours}, it costs KRW 5,000/adult {ages 19 and over} & KRW 2,500/child {ages 7-18}.

For the palace grounds, you can walk around by yourself without a tour. If you want to enter Huwon, you must join a guided tour. However, this year from mid-end Oct, you could walk around Huwon without a tour too. We were fortunate to go during this period and could stroll & sit at the various pavillions in Huwon to read a book {they specially put books there for visitors to enjoy!} or just admire the scenery. I'm not sure if this is the case every year because Songyi said this is the first time she came across this.

We chose to take the Huwon course and went for the 2.30pm guided tour. The only other session is at 11.30am, but you should check in advance.

Huwon is really gorgeous, and hard to imagine that such a huge natural forest exists in the middle of Seoul city. Songyi's dad is a landscape designer and she told me that the beauty of Korean landscapes lies in its ability of built structures to blend with the topography, instead of imposing on nature. Whereby for a Japanese bonsai plant we will groom and trim it to an elegant shape, Koreans will let their plants grow without inhibition and admire it for its natural beauty.

The weather was really good that day and we enjoyed trekking through the garden, or rather forest to me haha, like the Josean kings used to do in their days. Our guide wore a traditional Hanbok and gave explanations of each attraction and glimpses into how the Korean royals used to live. Huwon was previously open just to the Josean imperial family and palace women. Even the officials did not go in much, hence its name as a Secret Garden. Many pavillions dot the garden for the kings to rest and study, and surprisingly they are in excellent condition with vibrant traditional paintings. Something special to see is the Ongnyucheon {Jade Stream} area where the kings gave feasts. It includes a U-shaped water channel for floating wine cups from a tiny waterfall with an inscribed boulder above it. Actually it can barely be called a waterfall with the just trickles of water coming down but I guess in the peacefulness of that Secret Garden, it would sound and seem like a waterfall.

Some of the tree leaves were turning colour for Autumn, but Songyi said the best time to visit would be in November when the Autumn foliage is at its peak. Oh, walking through Huwon with a stroller is a little difficult because of its natural and hilly walkways, but still doable. In any case, it will be easier for you if you are bringing a young child to have the stroller since it is a 2 hours course.

After the Huwon course, we explored the palace grounds for a while on our own without a guided tour. The palace grounds are rather extensive but if possible, you should look out for cultural building treasures like Injeongjeon Hall, Daejojeon Hall, Seonjeongjeon Hall, and Nakseonjae. There are simple explanation boards of each important location.

P.S. Changdeokgung was one of the main filming locations for the award-wining Korean drama, Da Chang Jin :)

More posts on my Korean travels here.

Have you been to any old palaces or castles?


Unknown said...

This certainly looks like a wonderful place to visit Ai. So much to see! Take care and have a great week.

Unknown said...

Wat a lovely trip u guys went. I'm sure Japan will still be my fav place especially Hokkaido.

astrogirl529 said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, thanks for your comment. This place looks amazing, I wish to travel one day.

Javid Suleymanli said...

That was good place but before I had gone to the Korean Folk Village, so it wasn't that enjoyable at all :)

Lee said...

Wow, love the new blog look!

Gemma @ My Big Nutshell said...

So interesting.

I love a bit of history. Seeing some palaces in Croatia, England and France was spectacular.

Ai Sakura said...

Judy: thanks you too! hope you had a happy bday celebration :)

Angeline: I like Hokkaido too.. but my fave is still Kyoto.

Astrogirl: Ok no worries.. I hope you get a chance one day :)

Javid: Oh darn we missed Korean Folk Village! The one at Lotte World, right?

Lee: You noticed!!! *squeals* big hugs..

Gemma: Oooo those must have been lovely. I've only ever seen Asian castles and palaces.

EssentiallyJess said...

We visited some beautiful old castles in Indonesia on a school trip years ago; these pics remind me of them so much!

I don't think my kids could handle three hours there though! They probably wouldn't have the same appreciation! :)

Daisy, Roo and Two said...

I love your new look too!! Is that you and your husband in the header, too sweet!
Great info for anyone travelling!

Ai Sakura said...

Yup that's me and the boy in the header :)