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Thursday, 14 June 2007

Taking a Tour of Changdeok Palace

There are "Five Grand Palaces" in Seoul and so far I have visited two of them. The biggest and grandest palace is Gyeongbokgung. The other palace I've checked out is Deoksugung. Today, you're going to see the third palace I've added to my list, Changdeokgung. This palace was registered as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1997.

According to the Life in Korea website:
"Construction of Changdok Palace (historic site #122) was started in 1405 by King T'aejong, and it was completed in 1412. In 1463, King Sejo expanded the palace and created Biwon (secret) Garden. The Japanese burned all the buildings during 1592. Although rebuilt, many of the buildings have burned and been rebuilt several times. Thirteen of Korea's kings lived here for a total of over 270 years, a longer period than at Gyeongbok Palace. The palace grounds cover over 110 acres. Thirteen of the original buildings remain, with an additional 28 in Biwon Garden."

The interesting about Changdeok Palace is that you must be accompanied on a guided tour to check it out. Why you ask? Well, in the past they had some troubles with people not respecting the palace so they changed the policy to guided tours. You can have the tour in four languages: Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and English.

Guess what tour I went on? Nope, not the Chinese tour (I can understand and speak Cantonese, not Mandarin) but the English tour. I went on this tour with my buddy Tae, who is the local expert on all things Korean (he teaches me things like how you can make a "NOT!!!" joke with Koreans by saying the Konglish term "BUNG!" instead; it's been tried, tested, and true at work, hehe).

Here's the main palace gate, Donhwamun Gate, built in 1412:

We were a few minutes late so we had to jog a bit to catch up to the tour (thanks to my gym membership, I was able to run for more than 10 seconds without losing my breath, haha) Our tour guide was an English speaking Korean. She did a pretty good job explaining about the palace to us.

Here's a video of the tour in action. Our tour guide is describing the architecture of the buildings:

All of these palaces are surrounded by building as they are in the heart of the city:

These are the living quarters of the Emperor and his Queen:

Another section of the palace had these doors, that when opened could also be raised to the ceiling for better air circulation:

Curious as to where the whole "heated floor" phenomenon came about? It started a long time ago. This picture explains it all:

This was one of my favorite little doors. It was the "poop" door, where the Emperor would leave his "business" in a pot and a servant would open this door and remove of the excrement--talk about a stinky job!

This is Huwon (it means "rear garden"; also known as the Secret Garden) that was built behind the palace. It is surrounded by a lush forest with lots of plants and greenery--I was surprised to see this in the city! Anyways, it was previously closed to the public and was only recently opened for viewing. It was a garden for the Emperors to enjoy and relax themselves:

Here is a a video of the "Secret Garden"--you can check out for yourself:

This lotus pond was home to some of the largest goldfish I've ever seen:

Near the end of the tour, you will see this Chinese juniper that is believed to be over 750 years old. Its branches are supported by wooden beams. Either way it did look pretty darn old:

Here are a couple other miscellaneous pictures for you to enjoy:

My visit to Changdeok Palace was interesting and it was nice to go on a guided tour in English. I commented to Tae about how the architecture looked similar to Chinese and Japanese buildings. He explained that there are subtle differences distinguish these buildings to those who are aware of them. I would recommend visiting the palace, in particular the trek to the "Secret Garden" as I was able to breathe in some "fresh" air!

Want to check out the palace yourself? Here is all the relevant info, courtesy of Life in Korea:
[Changdeok Palace]
Feb. - 09:15 ~ 15:45 Enter every 15 and 45 minutes past the hour.
Mar. - 09:15 ~ 16:45 Enter every 15 and 45 minutes past the hour.
Apr. ~ Oct. - 09:15 ~ 17:15 Enter every 15 and 45 minutes past the hour.
Nov. - 09:15 ~ 15:45 Enter every 15 and 45 minutes past the hour.
Dec. ~ Jan. - 09:45 ~ 15:45 Enter every 45 minutes past the hour.
* The last entrance time varies according to sunset time.
Closed Mondays
[Biwon Garden]
3 times per day: 10 AM, 1 PM, 2 PM; takes 3 hours (closed on Mondays)

Adults (19 to 64 years old): 3,000 won
Youths (7 to 18 years old): 1,500 won
* Children 6 and under, seniors 65 and over: Free

Subway lines 1, 3 & 5, Jongno 3 (sam)-ga Station, exit 6, 10 minutes walking
Subway line 3, Anguk Station, exit 3, 5 minutes walking


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the videos. Sounds like you had a good time.

Bat-Mac said...

Hey - great post and great post!

I live in Tokyo and I am leaving for a weekend in Korea tomorrow at midday with a Canadian friend.

I got pulled to this blog as I was looking for information about Biwon, of which there is very little on the net.

I take it that if you go on a Changdeok Palace tour, you don't autoatically get taken to Biwon? You have to go on a seperate Biwon Gardens tour which alone takes three hours. How long does the Changeok Palace tour take alone?

I was going to leave this question a few days ago as I felt a bit cheeky asking but I have made some phone calls to Korean Tourism and no one has been able to answer me.

Hope you can help. I will check back here tomorrow midday in the hope of a brief response.



Gary said...

Hey Mac,

Thanks for visiting the blog! If you take the Changdeok Palace tour, you automatically get taken to the secret garden. They only recently opened up the gardens to the public. We paid for the English guided tour, and it took us to Biwon near the end of the tour. The entire tour took us about 2 hours or so I would say. Hope this helps!

Bat-Mac said...

Thanks for the help Gdog - literally just got back from Seoul and had an awesome time! Will definitely be back as soon as I can. Let's hook up for a beer when I do!

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