Second Day in Seoul – Changdeokgung, Secret Garden, Bibimbap, Hanboks and Gwangjang
Today was our first full day in Seoul. We made our way to Changdeokgung Palace in time for the 10:30 am English tour, only to find that the tour actually started at 10:15 am. Oh well, self-guided tour it is.
During summer, the palace is open from 9 am to 6:30 pm. Admission to the Palace only is 3,000 won (2.66 USD) per adult. We bought the Royal Palace Pass for 10,000 won (8.88 USD) each which gives us entry to Changdeokgung, the Secret Garden,Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine (ticket valid for 3 months).
Changdeokgung Palace was known to be the favorite palace of the kings of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) because of the spacious and beautiful garden at the back. The palace was constructed in 1405 as a secondary palace. After its destruction during the Japanese invasion (1592-1598), it was rebuilt in 1610 and served as the main palace for about 270 years.
Injeongjeon Hall is the throne hall, which was used for holding the most formal of state events such as audiences with ministers, coronation ceremonies and receptions of foreign envoys.
Seonjeongjeon Hall is the ruler’s council hall and the only structure remining at Changdeokgung palace with blue-glazed roof tiles.
The king’s residence is Huijeongdang Hall where the king slept and informally worked, while the queen resided in Daejojeon Hall. Nakseonjae Hall was built by King Heonjong (24th king of Joseon) for his favorite concubine.
We booked the 11:30 am Secret Garden tour. The garden can only be viewed by guided tour and it is highly recommended that you book this ahead of time. Bookings can be done online here up to 6 days before your desired tour date. Sure enough, our tour was completely full. Our tour guide was excellent and spoke perfect American English.
This tour was well worth doing. The gardens are beautiful. However, keep in mind that some degree of fitness is required; the garden is very hilly with steep inclines/declines and there are many steps at one point. The paths are generally paved and there is anti-slip matting in place on the steeper sections.
After the tour, we headed into Insadong and back to Ssamzigil. This time we went into the basement level to Gogung for bibimbap. We shared a traditional bibimbap and a dolsot (hot stone pot) bibimbap, plus many side dishes. It was so good.
Cost: 11,000 won (9.77 USD) per bibimbap.
After lunch, we headed to the Insadong Tourist Information Centre to pick-up a few brochures and to have a Hanbok Experience. For 3,000 won (2.66 USD) per person, we could try on one traditional Korean costume each for 20 minutes. The lady at the centre was very helpful in helping us get dressed up and with taking our photos for us.
There are also many hanbok rental places around where you can rent outfits for two hours (10,000 won (8.88 USD)) or four hours (15,000 won (13.32 USD)). If you are wearing a hanbok when you visit a palace, you get free entry.
After a few hours rest at the AirBnB, we took the subway to Gwangjang Market. The subway in Seoul is very easy to use. All of the signage is in English and Korean. There are safety gates in place along the platforms. Fanfare-type music announces the arrival of a train to the platform.
Gwangjang Market is a short walk from Jongno-5 station. At night, it’s mainly the food stalls that are open. The market was really busy; many Seoulites out and about on a Saturday night. We were hoping to try the bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), but the queues were incredibly long, so we selected a stall where we had tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), mayak kimbap (Korean-style nori rolls) and japchae (vermicelli noodles). The lady running the stall was lovely and the food was delicious.
After dinner, we headed down the the Cheonggyecheon stream, an 11 km narrow stream that was once covered up by an elevated highway post-Korean war and was since redeveloped in 2003. It is a really nice walking area with many people out for an evening stroll. At one point we passed a duo playing music with many spectators in tiered seating enjoying the impromptu concert.
Stores can be open really late in Seoul. We headed to Cheongnyangni to visit the Lotte Mall. Although the Lotte department store was already closed, we stopped into a Hi-Mart electronics store. We came across people testing out the high-tech massage chairs and decided to join them. Pretty good free massage! Next, we headed to Lotte Mart to pick up tomorrow’s breakfast, then back to the AirBnB.
What a great day. The Secret Garden was definitely the highlight.