Fourth Day in Seoul – Gyeongbokgung, Bukchon Hanok Village, Myeongdong
Today is Monday, and on Mondays most of the palaces and museums are closed, except for Gyeongbokgung Palace (which closes on Tuesdays instead). We timed our arrival to coincide with the first English tour of the day along with 50 other English-speaking tourists. Luckily, our hanbok-clad tour guide came equipped with a microphone and speaker system so all could hear.
Our tour guide started by explaining the history of the palace. How it was built in 1395 as the main palace of the new Joseon Dynasty. The name Gyeongbokgung means “the new dynasty will be greatly blessed and prosperous”. Things were going well until 1592 when the Japanese invaded and burned the palace down. The Joseon dynasty relocated to Changdeokgung until Gyeongbokgung was rebuilt in 1867. The restoration saw over 500 buildings constructed within the palace complex. In 1911, the Japanese invaded again and the palace was once again destroyed. Re-restorations have been underway since 1990.
The tour continued passed the Geunjeongjeon Throne Hall, the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion party building, Gangnyeonjeon Hall where the king slept, the queen’s gardens behind Gyotaejeon Hall (queen’s residence), the decorative chimney of the Jagyeongjeon Hall (king’s mother’s residence) and finally to Hyangwonjeon Pavilion (currently under renovation and could only be photographed by holding your camera above the fence — if you’re tall enough). The tour took approx. one hour.
There were a few more things to see within the palace grounds, but as we were starting to get peckish, we headed out the east gate. This brought us to the Folk Museum. Since it had free admission, we elected to take a quick look. It’s an interesting collection of displays providing a snapshot of life in Korea throughout the ages. Some displays were interactive. Attached to this museum is the Children’s Museum, which we didn’t visit.
Now our stomachs were rumbling, so we headed out, across the street and around a few corners until we reached the Luden Loquen Cafe within the Bukchon area. I specifically wanted to come here to try out their rice cake waffles and we weren’t disappointed. The lady working at the cafe was kind enough to warn us that the waffles were a big serve and one portion could easily feed the two of us. She wasn’t kidding!
After lunch, we wandered around Bukchon a bit more. The tourist infomation centres can provide maps to the more photogenic parts of the village. We also noticed map stands placed at various locations within the village.
We eventually ended up at the most photographed street in the village. The tourists were out in force. Nearly every door and every wall had a sign reminding people to be quiet as these beautiful old homes are lived in by normal people.
It was quite obvious that the hanbok rental places were doing very well in this area.
After a quick siesta at the AirBnB, we headed to Myeongdong for dinner and shopping. We purchased some skin care products from one of the hundreds of skin care shops in the area. Our sales boy was so good. He had a very polished and dynamic friendly sales pitch and I probably would’ve bought more and more products if my minder wasn’t with me.
With a bit of retail therapy taken care of, it was time for dinner. We wandered past a menu tout who must’ve sensed our interest. She thrust the menu at us to have a look and told us “mashisayo” which means “delicious”. Half of the restaurant’s offerings was BBQ, which is what we were after. The prices looked alright, so we took a punt and agreed to give it a try.
The Golden Farm restaurant is on a third floor and gives a good eagle-eye view of the shoppers below. We were seated at a window-side table. We decided to get the marinated galbi (beef rib meat) and the pork shoulder. The meal came with kimchi cabbage (of course), kimchi radish, spicy beansprouts, spicy salad, regular dressed green salad, tiny dried fish, samjang sauce, raw garlic, lettuce leaves (for wrapping the meat in), and a mystery green leaf vegetable in a honey sauce.
They cooked the pork for us first. Our server also grilled onions and mushrooms and the same time. Next they cooked up the marinated galbi. Everything was so delicious. Our gamble paid off.
Cost: 54,000 won (47.71 USD) for the pork shoulder, marinated galbi and two green teas. Price to quality ratio was satisfactory, especially since this was our last dinner in Seoul.
Time for more shopping. Now there were heaps more people out and about. So many people around on a Monday; I can’t imagine what the weekend foot traffic must be like. Shopping was supplemented by an ice cream in a fish-shaped waffle cone and topped with honeycomb for 5,000 won (4.42 USD). There were many options of street food available. Oh, if I only had a second stomach!
Once shopping and eating were all done, we made our way back to the AirBnB.
We’ve been pretty happy with our AirBnB (link to the property is here). The location is excellent — just a short walk to Insadong, Bukchon, Changdeokgung, Gyeongbokgung, Anguk station and the airport bus stop. Close to everything, but still very quiet as it’s set back from the main road. It’s much bigger than most AirBnB on offer in this area. Wifi is great, and a portable wifi egg was included in the tariff. Air-con is good, but at this time of year we had a nice cross-breeze going through the windows. The kitchen was well equipped, but we didn’t do any cooking with so many nice restaurants around. Plenty of closet space and lots of hangers. The owner seems quite nice. We met him shortly after our arrival to sort out any questions we might have. Things that may be deal breakers for some (but didn’t bother us): the stairs up to the apartment are VERY steep; the bathroom is a typical Korean wet bathroom (no shower cubicle to keep the water contained); no TV; and the bedroom gets pretty bright post-sunrise (bring a sleeping mask if you’re a night owl). If you’d like 23 USD off your first AirBnB booking (over 75 USD) please click here.
Seoul was a delightful place to visit and exceeded our expectations. It’s very easy to get around, Service is uniformly excellent. Tourist sites are well organised. It’s a paradise for food lovers and shoppers. I wouldn’t mind a bit more time here, but we moving onto the next chapter of this journey tomorrow.