October 27, 2017
Our temple stay trip was refreshing; being surrounded by serenity rejuvenated my waning spirits. Too bad our stay at Jingwansa has to be cut short. Our friend, Voltaire is about to depart for the Philippines later in the day. This was supposed to be my original departure as well but due to the extension of Joy’s stay in Korea, I decided to prolong my stay. From October 27, I have booked a return flight for November 2. Despite the additional cost, I didn’t realize (at that time) that my extended stay in Korea would bring in more memories that I would forever be grateful for.
But before Voltaire departs, we’re going to tick off one more item from his itinerary – Changdeokgung, one of five royal palaces built during the Joseon dynasty. We are going to savor the last few hours with our friend exploring yet another palatial compound. Unlike the other palaces, Changdokgung has earned the recognition of being UNESCO Heritage site. At Jingwansa, we rode the 10 AM shuttle bus going back to the subway station then proceeded to Insadong Station which is located halfway between Gyeongbokgung and Changdokgung.
As we were famished, and to prepare for yet another energy-zapping excursion, we first went to look for a place to dine. There are many restaurants and cafés which serve Korean dishes around Insadong. Over the past days, we have been to Insadong area numerous times that it has become the area I am most familiar with. Aside from the restaurants, cafés and shops, there are many places to explore in Insadong.
The best places to eat in Insadong, however, are the ones located in the backstreets or small alleys. It is in these small alleys that we found the perfect place to eat. When we’ve had our fill, we went to look for a shop where we can rent hanbok, the traditional Korean attire. In the end, despite his insistence, it was only Voltaire who rented hanbok. Anyone wearing hanbok can enter the palaces free of charge. Joy and I, however, were a bit shy to try it. Moreover, the rental charge was a bit steep.
South Korea travel tip # 15: You’ll encounter the word “Han” countless of times. It pertains to “Korea”, the traditional name of which is Daehan. If you’ll listen enough, you’ll hear it attached to other Korean nouns. Common examples are han-bok (Korean attire), han-gul (Korean alphaet), and han-sik (Korean food).
South Korea travel tip # 16: For a more traditional Korean experience, try renting a hanbok in rental shops located all over the areas near Gyeongbokgung and Changdokgung, especially in Insadong. Rent is usually on an hourly basis.
When Voltaire was garbed in his rented hanbok, we proceeded to Changdeokgung. It was within walking distance of Insadong and within a couple of minutes of walking in the pleasant weather, we found ourselves in the entrance to Changdeokgung. As Joy and I are not in hanbok, we first had to avail entrance ticket. We entered the palace ground through Donhwamun gate, the main and the largest palace entrance.
Built in 1405 and completed in 1412, Changdeokgung was the second palace built by the Joseon kings, after Gyeongbokgung. Over numerous wars and invasions, the original structures were razed to the ground countless times. However, it was continuously rebuilt. When Gyeongbogkung was destroyed, Changdeokgung became the seat of power until 1868 when the former was rebuilt. Of the original structure, only 13 buildings remain on the palace grounds and 28 pavilions in the gardens. It has also been designated as Historical Site No. 122.
Compared to Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung is comparatively smaller. However, most of the structures in the two palaces share similar architectural traits although the former is more contemporary. The main toast in Changdeokgung is Injeongjeon the main palace hall, which, on initial glance, uncannily resemble Geunjeongjeon, the Gyeongbokgung main hall . Walking around the palace is trudging the path numerous Joseon royalties have walked in the past. One can’t help but feel that kind of nostalgia.
As it was a weekday, the palace wasn’t as crowded as I expected it to be. This gave us time to explore each nook and cranny sans the rambunctious crowd. Because of its size, exploring Changdeokgung was easier compared to when we explored Gyeongbokgung. There are numerous exhibits all over the palace grounds as well that gave visitors an intimate peek into the lives of Joseon queens. One such exhibit showed the queen’s beauty regiment, i.e. traditional makeup. Another exhibit showed the adornments that the Joseon queen usually wore.
Other buildings to explore in the palace compound include Seonjeongjeon, Daejojeon Hall and Huijeongdang Halls, and Juhamnu Pavilion. Seonjeongjeon Hall is the office of ruling officials where the king also holds daily meetings with his ministers. Huijengdang Hall used to be the king’s bed chamber before it was transformed into his workplace while Daejojeon Hall was the queen’s official residence. Juhamnu Pavilion is where the royal libraries were located.
After having satisfied our appetite for royal history, we waited for the second part of our tour – Huwon (Secret Garden) Tour. Huwon tour is not included in the Changdeokgung tour; the entrance fee is separate. There are two types of Huwon tours – the traditional and the guided tours. Naturally, we joined the English guided tour which begun at 2:30 PM. In our company are other nationalities, including Filipinos. There are Japanese and Chinese guided tours but their allotted time is different from the English tours. Japanese tour starts at 1:30 PM and Chinese tour starts at 12:30 while English tours start at 10:30 AM, 11:30 AM, 2:30 PM and 3:30 PM (February to November only).
We were supposed to stick to our guided group but since tours last an hour and a half, we decided to break off and explore the area on our own. We joined our group only until Buyongji Pond, the first part of the tour. As there were arrows guiding visitors on the next stops, it wasn’t difficult for us to be on our own. The next stop was Bullomun Gate and Aeryeongji Pond, followed by Jondeokgeong Pavilion and Pyeomusa House, then Ongnyucheon Stream and lastly, Yeonggyeongdang House.
I expected the Secret Garden to be filled with flowers and topiaries. However, it wasn’t like that as it was filled with tall trees and pavilions. Nevertheless, I enjoyed walking around because of the tranquility it beset. The thick foliage that embraced me made me feel as though I was in the countryside rather than in the heart of Seoul. Moreover, the cold breeze was refreshing. Although it was a long walk, it didn’t feel exhausting. Come to think of it, I was barely exhausted in South Korea even though we have walked a lot.
After exploring the Secret Garden, we walked back to Insadong to rest and to try Bingsu, a traditional shaved ice dessert and is Korea’s version of halo-halo. Voltaire has never tried one before. Joy and I, meanwhile, wanted to try it in South Korea. It wasn’t difficult choosing a café to try one. The one we crashed out in has this traditional flair, one that has that hearth-like warmth. Moreover, the owner was very happy to have us. We ordered to traditional flavor – red bean flavor – and it did not disappoint.
So that was how we spent our last hours in South Korea with Voltaire – munching a bowlful of shaved ice dessert! But my day is not yet ending! Do watch out for my solo adventure in the famed Seoul N Tower.