Korea October 2014 Part 4 – Changdeokgung, Gyeongbokgung, Gwanghwamun

You can’t go to Seoul and not visit any of its “Five Grand Palaces”. Built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty (14th-19th century), Changdeokgung now stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I’ve been here twice before, but this was the only time I was able to catch the Secret Garden tour a.k.a. the tour that people online are always raving about. I checked for online tickets a few days before my trip, but was only disappointed to find out that they were sold out for most of autumn.

Knowing that we couldn’t go to the Secret Garden tour anyway, my mom and I took our time at DPP before taking the hop on, hop off city tour bus again to get to the palaces. To our surprise, they were still accepting some last minute walk-ins 15 minutes before the English Secret Garden tour! THANK YOU, TRAVEL GODS.


The Secret Garden is about 15-minute leisurely stroll from Donhwamun Gate, the entrance of Changdeokgung. And my mom and I got off the bus 10 minutes before assembly time. You can only imagine how out of breath we were when the tour started, haha. Still, our timing couldn’t be any more perfect!



One of the main structures near the entrance.



Our English tour guide! She was great! The group was big (and sometimes scattered), but she was able to keep most of us interested.

She introduced the Secret Garden (or Huwon) as the royalty’s place of rest and leisure. It actually takes up 60% of the whole Changdeokgung, so it would definitely be a shame to only go to the main Palace.



For a long time, people were forbidden to enter this garden. It’s great to live in the 21st century!


The two-story Juhapru Pavilion served as a library and reading place. The gate in between the pond and the library is called Eosumun. ‘Eoso’ is a name that suggests that a ruler and his subjects should a have relationship like fish and water.


Fall and winter are probably the best times to go to the Secret Garden. I’m not sure how this would look in spring, but I’ll surely die from exhaustion if I visit in summer. The whole tour is more than an hour long, and requires a lot of walking. Worth every minute though.



“Buildings in harmony with nature.”




I am obsessed with these colored wooden beams / dancheong.

Some people may think that traditional structures in Korea, Japan, and China have a tendency to look the same since they almost all come from a similar belief/religion/origin, but if you look closely, they’re all very different and unique. From the details alone, you can tell which ones are from which country.


Gwallamjeong pavilion. The roof looks like the ribs of a fan! The pond also has a very unusual shape.



The leaves haven’t turned completely red yet, but a little was still better than nothing!


Cheonguijeong, the pavilion on the left, has a thatched roof. Many people may find this odd because most of the pavilions at the Secret Garden have the same colorful design/theme.

It was created this way so the king could empathize with the farmers. Until now, an annual roof-thatching ceremony is held to change the grass and ropes of the roof.


A lot of structures in the Secret Garden were created for reading and relaxation. People are still permitted to use them for their original purpose… which is awesome!


Suddenly, no colorful structures anymore! This is Jangrakmun, a residential compound for common people.


The structures here don’t have any of the Secret Garden’s signature multi-colored paintwork anymore.

Posing here because I’m a common person, lol.



Sometimes, the royal family would come visit this area, and role play as common people.


The Yeongyeongdang Residence on the left was a place where court officials would offer food and wine to the king and queen. On the right is Seonhyangjae, a place where books were stored and guests were entertained. The royalty living here during the Joseon dynasty were quite scholarly, and put a lot of importance into learning, reading, and the arts.


Japsang rooftop figurines were believed to prevent evil spirits from entering the palace.



Had to move on to the next hop on, hop off bus stop right after the Secret Garden tour.


There was a parade at Gyeongbokgung!


Not the first time I’ve been to Gyeongbokgung and it was starting to get dark, so I ended up just taking photos from outside. Gyeongbokgung was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. I’m more a fan of Changdeokgung though!


Banana boy spotted.


Side-eyeing Gwanghwamun royal guards.


More rooftop figurines! After this, we just walked around the palace’s vicinity a.k.a. Gwanghwamun Square.


King Sejong or Sejong the Great! From EXO Showtime and the 10000 won bill, lol

He is the creator of the Hangul alphabet. Below this golden statue is a museum dedicated to him. My mom and I briefly checked it out. We discovered his greatness *o*


Words of wisdom~



More Seoul posts soon!