Tourists to Seoul often find it unusual and spoilt for choice with 5 palaces located right in the city center. Each palace served a different purpose during its heyday. While most tourists would choose to visit Gyeongbuk Palace due to its grand scale and old history, Changdeok Palace is in a close second. You cannot really go wrong with a TripAdvisor rating of 4.5 out of over 3,400 reviews and ranked number 6 out of a list of 700 odd things to do in Seoul. Needless to say, this place became the highlight of my trip, which was in the beginning of spring – picture perfect sweater weather and blossoming cherry blossoms everywhere.
Constructed during King Taejo’s reign (1400 – 1418), the “palace of illustrious virtue” took seven years to complete. Special attention is paid to harmonise the buildings with the natural surroundings. This style of architecture is unique to Korea and a major deviant from the rigid and symmetrical layout evident of the Chinese style. Not surprisingly, Changdeok Palace is purported to be one of the favourite palaces for Joseon royalties to reside in and served as a royal residence, including the last king of Joseon, King Sunjong.
The garden of Changdeok Palace is one of the most enchanting places in Korea, so much so that UNESCO placed it on the World Cultural Heritage List in 1997. Standing at 78 hectares, the garden takes up approximately 60% of the palace grounds; a major indicator that what’s inside is worth the while to explore. As with the palace, the garden is designed so that it flows naturally with the surrounding topography, with human interference cut to a minimum. It is also a place where the royal family entertained guests, the venue for banquets and military drills. What’s more interesting is that it is also a ground for ritualistic farming and raising of silkworms by the royal family in order for them to understand how their people lead their lives.
Be warned though that the terrain requires you to climb up and down small hills when one embarks on the guided tour (the only way to tour the garden), so be reminded to wear comfy shoes. You know you are out of shape when an elderly man with a walking stick climbs up steep slopes without stopping for breath. I cannot help but be fascinated at how Korean elderly are able to keep fit and active.
Tranquil and serene Buyeongji
Eosumun (鱼水门) is based on the old Chinese saying of su eo ji gyo (水鱼之交) which symbolises the inseparable relationship the king has with his subjects just like fish and water, reflecting the people-oriented way of life.
Ongnyucheon (玉流川) refers to the stream carving through the rock. It is said that the king along with his closest loyal subjects unwind by this stream, setting wine cups at the start and competing on whether they were able to compose a poem before the cups drop down
This area simulates a typical farmland and it is said that the royal family held their ritualistic farming process here.
Below are some of the things to take note before planning your trip here! I’ve done the prowling of information on the internet so you don’t have to. Note that this information is only for the Secret Garden tour. For detailed information, you can click the link: https://eng.cdg.go.kr/guide/guide_cost_01.htm
- Closed on Mondays
- English tours are set at 4 times daily (1030, 1130, 1430, 1530) during February to November; 3 times daily (1030, 1130, 1430) during December to January.
- Chinese and Japanese tours are at 1230 and 1330 daily respectively.
- ₩3,000 for general admission to Changdeok Palace and additional ₩5,000 for Secret Garden (which can only be accessed through guided tours)
- Online reservation is encouraged as only 100 people are allowed in each day to preserve the environment.
- Each tour lasts 90 minutes.
- Do check the official website to keep up with any upcoming programs or any last minute updates.
All that said, I hope that this entices you to visit this amazing place on your next visit to Seoul! Even though the process is annoying as tickets often need to be pre-booked, I guarantee it to be an unforgettable experience. In the process of exploring such a historically-rich and stunning place, I hope that you will gain a new appreciation of the beauty and culture of Korea.
All pictures provided are personal pictures of the author.
Author: Sook Yi