Korea Day 3 (3 Jan 16) – Changdeokgung and the Secret Garden

The original plan was to do both Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung on the same day with Bukchon Hanook Village slotted in between since the two palaces are nearby each other. However, this was not possible due to the amount of time that is needed to roam around each palace, especially when we plan to visit the Biwon or the Secret Garden in Changdeokgung. Coupled with the fact that we woke up later than we should (well we are on vacation after all, the beauty of free and easy trips is time is up to us to plan and adjust). Getting to Changdeokgung is a breeze thanks to the convenience the Korean Subway System brings. To get to Changdeokgung, one would need to alight at Anguk Station. Take Exit 3 and Changdeokgung is a mere 5 mins walk from the exit.


There are five palaces (namely GyeongbukgungChangdeokgung, Changyeonggung, Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigungspreading around in Seoul. Changdeokgung, built-in 1405, served as a secondary palace to Gyeongbukgung and was the first to be rebuilt when all the palaces in Seoul was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592. Since Changdeokgung was the primary palace where the King and his ministers decided state affairs for about 270 years.
Donhwamun is the main entrance to Changdeokgung

Biwon (The Secret Garden)

Biwon is the very reason why we visited Changdeokgung, covering about 2/3 of the entire palace grounds. There is a limited number of visitors allowed daily into this Secret Garden. When we arrived at Changdeokgung, we realised that the last English tour for Biwon is about to start. Hence we decided to do the Biwon first and allocate the rest of the time to roam around Changdeokgung. We quickly got the tickets to Biwon Tour and Changdeokgung. To access Biwon, one must join a guided tour, which has 3 runs daily for the English tours during Nov to Feb (and 4 English tour groups from Mar to Oct). Biwon was known by several names, Huwon and Geunwon, but the name Biwon was officially known after King Kojong, the 26th King of the Joseon Dynasty and the first emperor of Korea, bestowed the name to the garden. Biwon was constructed to serve as a leisure place for the Royal family and palace women for centuries.

A rectangular pond – Buyongji Pond, greets visitors to Biwon and this is the first sight after walking for around 3 mins from the entrance to the garden. The pond was covered with a thin sheet of ice at the time of the visit. Three buildings are surrounding the pond. Nearer to the entrance to the garden is the Buyongjeong Pavilion, the only building with a criss-cross roof in the entire Biwon area. There is a building nested on a small slope opposite the pavilion, known as the Juhamnu Pavilion, this is the place where the scholars hired by the King used to study. There is also a reading room for the King inside this 2-storey building. It is a shame that this building was out of bounds to visitors these days. On the side of the pond, between Buyongjeong and Juhamnu Pavilions is a single storey red structure. This structure used to be the examination hall for scholars taking the royal exam. There are a certain peace and tranquil lurking around this area, and visiting this place is certainly therapeutic.

Buyongji Pond greets visitors as they step into Biwon
Juhamnu Pavilion rests on top of a slope with an examination hall at the side (the red building)
Panoramic shot of Buyongji Pond
Buyeongjeon Pavilion rested at the edge of the pond
The pond is frozen at the time of our visit
Juhamnu Pavilion
Entrance to Juhamnu Pavilion
The roof of the red building beside Juhamnu Pavilion
Examination hall
Examination hall
Me at the examination hall
Another view of the examination hall
Examination hall

After given about 5 mins for us to roam around this small area, the tour guide proceeded to lead the group to Ulduhap and Aeryeonji Pond. The Aeryeonji pond small square-shaped pond lies beside a rather small building (Ulduhap) that looks rather common, which is different from the rest of the brightly painted palace buildings. It is here that the crown prince once studied. The tour made a brief stop here for us to take some pictures and we moved on to the next area.

Aeryeonji Pond
Entrance to Ulduhap
On top of this gate reads “Longevity door”
Me at Ulduhup

The third stop on this guided tour through the Secret Garden is the Jongdeokjeong Pavilion area. This area comprises of three pavilions and a small house overlooking an irregular-shaped two-segment pond. A pavilion (Gwallamjeon Pavilion) that is situated at the edge of the pond is built resembling a fan, while the other on higher ground is a slightly bigger octagon-shaped pavilion (Jongdeokjeong Pavilion), overlooks the two sections of the pond. There is a small building nestled on top of a small slope that overlooks the lower pond. Between this building and the octagon-shaped Jongdeokjong Pavilion is a small red building (which is nowhere near the ponds). This would be one of the most scenic spots in the garden, especially when it was covered with snow in the winter and red foliage in the autumn. Perhaps due to the controlled number of people, walking through this garden feels very peaceful and zen.

Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
The ponds at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area is irregular shaped, unlike the ones we have seen before this
Pond at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
Another view of Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
2 of the few pavilions at Jongdeokjeong area
This octagon-shaped pavilion is the biggest of all the pavilions at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
Fan-shaped pavilion sitting at the edge of the pond
Fan-shaped pavilion
Me at the fan-shaped pavilion
This lone building is built on higher ground at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area
Another building that offers no view of the ponds
Another pavilion located at the upper stream of the pond at Jongdeokjeong pavilion area

The next stop – Ongnyucheon Stream requires a fair bit of walk upslope, it seems that the Ongnyucheon Stream is situated on the highest ground in this garden. Walking through the garden in winter (where the snow has yet to fall) is rather unique. The garden at this time of the year is covered with mostly brown, draped with trees which leaves has fallen and occasional greenery for winter plants. The Ongnyucheon Stream is a manmade waterfall, spring water is used for this waterfall. The design of this waterfall was to blend in with the surrounding landscape. It is a pity that during our visit, the waterfall was not function, maybe due to the water being frozen at this time of the year. There are several buildings built in this area, with the waterfall function, I thought this would be a very nice place to relax in the days of the Joseon Dynasty.

Stroll through the woods before we reach Ongnyucheon Stream
There is another pavilion along the way to Ongnyucheon stream
There are a few pavilions at the Ongnyucheon stream area. This is one of them
Ongnyucheon stream, due to the climate no water is flowing through the stream
Walking through the woods at Biwon
My friend at Ongnyucheon stream area
This is a manmade waterfall feature at Ongnyucheon stream area, however, due to the climate no water was spotted flowing through
Me at one of the pavilions at Ongnyucheon stream area
Close up view of the ceiling of the pavilion
Ongnyucheon stream
Some trees at Ongnyucheon stream area
Me at Ongnyucheon stream  area
My friend at the Ongnyucheon stream area with two of the few pavilions in the area
Another pavilion at Ongnyucheon stream area
A stand-alone building at Ongnyucheon stream area
My friend with the building at Ongnyucheon stream  area

The final stop during this guided tour is the Yeongyeongdang Hall. The buildings that form Yeongyeongdang Hall was not brightly painted, but covered in earthy tones. These buildings do not resemble one that the King will be used. The halls look like a residence of some sort complete with room and what appears to be a kitchen. The guide explained that this place was used to hold ceremonies where there is a change of title for the King or the Queen. We were told that this place was also used by one of the Korean King as a retreat from politics whilst the crown prince ran the country temporarily. Due to the rain, the grounds of the hall feels muddy. We were given some time to roam around the hall area before the guide led us back to the entrance, through a part of the garden that has mostly plants and no buildings, skirting the outer parameter of Changdeokgung before hitting Donhwamun gate.

The exterior of Yeongyeongdang hall
Me at Yeongyeongdang hall, there seem to be buildings that one can stay in here
My friend at Yeongyeongdang hall compound
Proper living areas with kitchen and stables can be found in Yeongyeongdang hall
My friend at one of the living quarters in Yeongyeongdang hall
Yeongyeongdang hall
The view outside Yeongyeongdang hall

Changdeokgung Palace Grounds

We re-entered Changdeokgung through Donhwamun. The 5-panel 2-storey bright red main gate of the palace looks like a pavilion on a larger scale. It does screams of the King’s authority over the Korean Empire. The entire gate is made of wood and is very well preserved despite being built in 1412. Unlike most palaces where the main gate is preceded by another gate leading to the throne hall, the layout of this palace has the throne hall to the right of the main gate. Immediately in front of the main gate are some buildings and a shrine enclosed in a short wall.

Palace grounds after Donhwamun 

Crossing a small stone bridge, passing through another door on the left is the door to the throne hall. Passing through 3rd door (since Donhwamun) opens up to a massive square before the throne hall. There are tablets laid on the floor of this square marking the position various ranked officers would stand when the court session takes place. At the heart of this area is the throne hall – Injeongjeon. From the outside, Injeonjeon throne hall looks like a 2 storey building decked out in the iconic green and red colour schemes that are commonly found in Korean structures. Peeking into Injeonjeon (visitors are only allowed at the door of Injeonjeon), one can see the wooden interior is a single storey building with high ceilings. The ceiling of the throne hall is decked out with elaborate and well carved intersections of wooden pieces painted with mainly green and red colour murals. The throne the King sits during court proceedings is placed in the centre of the hall, with paintings of mountains and waterfalls forms the backdrop of the yellow throne. The throne hall itself can accommodate a substantial amount of people. I was rather impressed with the simple yet authoritative the throne hall presents itself.

This door leads to the throne hall 
Me at the door before the throne hall
Passing through this door will lead to the throne hall
Me at the door before the throne hall
Injeonjeon – the throne hall. Officials used to stand according to their rank int the square outside the throne hall
Me and my friend at the square outside the throne hall
Underroofing of Injeonjeon
My friend with Injeonjeon at the background
Inside Injeonjeon is the King’s throne in the centre
Some buildings at the side of Injeonjeon
Elaborate ceiling decor inside Injeonjeon
My friend at the square outside Injeonjeon
Panoramic shot inside Injeonjeon

Heading right from Injeonjeon, passing through a corridor and a side door, we end up in front of Huijeongdang Hall. Compared to the throne hall, Huijeongdang Hall is a smaller building, but yet still decked out in the green and red colour scheme. This is the hall is where the King Chamber is located, which doubles up as his workplace. This hall is linked to the rear building with a series of sheltered corridors.

This side door at the throne hall leads to Huijeongdang hall
Huijeongdang hall
The corridor that leads further into Huijeongdang hall
Sleeping quarters for the King in Huijeongdang hall
View of Injeonjeon from Huijeongdang hall
Around Huijeongdang hall
A series of such covered corridors linked Huijeongdang hall to Daejojeon

Behind Huijeongdang, through a maze of covered corridors is where Daejojeon is located. Daejojeon served as the residence of the Queen. Compared to the King’s Chambers, Daejojeon has much simpler decor. There is a living room of some sort at the centre of Daejojeon, furnished with pearl and marble laid wooden furniture. Without a guide explaining the details of these palace grounds, roaming around on our own does not provide much significance to the areas that we have visited. After a while all the buildings looked the same to us.

This corridor leads to Daejojeon
Around Daejojeon
This is the Queen’s residence at Daejojeon
Some buildings at Daejojeon
Korean architecture at Daejojeon
My friend at Daejojeon
These corridors are one of the few that links Daejojeon to Huijeongdang Hall
Close up view of the corridors
Peeking inside part of Daejojeon
A living room that is attached to the Queen’s quarters in Daejojeon
My friend at Daejojeon

Heading out of Daejojeon through Huijeongdang, to the right of these buildings is where Seongjeonggak Hall is located. Seongjeonggak Hall is initially used as the residence of the Crown Prince, which has later become a library before taking its last task of being the royal hospital. This hall has a rather unique structure that one end of the building is laid on the flat ground, and another end on a raised platform, making it a split level building structure.

Part of Seongjeonggak hall
Me at  Seongjeonggak hall
 Seongjeonggak hall
My friend at  Seongjeonggak hall
Building in  Seongjeonggak hall
One of the living quarters in  Seongjeonggak hall
My friend at  Seongjeonggak hall
Me in front of a building at  Seongjeonggak hall

As it is approaching closing time, we hurried to a separate, dull-looking stand-alone building complex, locating to the right of the road to the Secret Garden. The Nakseonjae complex was built as the King’s quarters, despite being the King’s quarter, the King then decreed that the building to be kept simple in its construction. This complex was later used as the quarters for the wife of the last Crown Prince. As we walked into this area, it looked pretty much the same as the other buildings we have seen within Changdeokgung, but simpler and smaller. We hurried out of the palace grounds as it was approaching its closing time.

We did not take too many pictures in the Nakseonjae complex partly due to the closing time is near and partly due to its simpleness does not seem fit for a king to living in.
Inside Nakseonjae complex

Dinner at Tosokchon Samgyetang

There are a few dishes that the Koreans are famous for other than the Kimchis and BBQs. Korean Ginseng Soup (Samgyetang) is one of the must-haves when coming to Korea. I Googled online after exiting Changdeokgung that Tosokchon Samgyetang serves the best Korean Ginseng Soup and the restaurant was always packed with queues of patrons during mealtime. We were lucky that at the time we were at the restaurant, it is way past mealtime and we did not have to queue for our dinner. The exterior of the restaurant looked traditional and small, but once inside, there seem to be plenty of dining areas for patrons. Customers would have to sit on the floor for a taste of their Samgyetang. We did not have to wait for long for our Samgyetang to arrive. The Samgyetang does not have too strong a herbal taste to it and the chicken is tender and not too dry. Inside the chicken, one can see the ginseng that is being used for the cooking and is stuffed with herbs and gluttonous rice. Tosokchon Samgyetang can be reached via Gyeongbukgung station exit 2 about 200m from the subway exit. After the dinner, we headed back to our hotel to rest for the night as we have to wake up early the next day for our trip to Seoraksan National Park.

Traditional shopfront 
There are plenty of sitting areas inside the restaurant
Samgyetang that we ordered
Side dishes
Customers have to sit on the floor to enjoy their samgyetang
The whole ginseng is used for the soup
Shops opposite the restaurant
Shops opposite the restaurant


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