Korea Day 6 (6 Jan 16) – The Ancient and the Modern: From Gyeongbokgung – The Pride of Joseon Dynasty to Night View of Seoul at Namsan

Entrance to Gyeongbokgung, the pride of Joseon Dynasty

Hunting for Lunch

We arrived Gyeongbokgung at around noon. Gyeongbokgung is easily accessible via the very efficient subway system in Seoul. There is a station next to the palace, Gyeongbokgung Station. From  the exit of the station, the palace is right in front of the station. As we did not have breakfast yet, we begin hunting for food nearby. As we were walking past Gyeongbokgung, we bumped into the hourly changing of guards ceremony at the main gate of the palace. The guards are dressed in ancient Joseon dynasty outfit, with a serious look on their faces, these role players take their job seriously in replicating what was being done in yesteryears. After watching the changing of guards ceremony, we continued our quest in hunting of food. We walked into a street that seem to be populated with restaurants, and settled in one of the restaurants that serves modern Korean food. As we were famished, we ordered what seemed delicious on the menu. The food indeed was tasty (not too sure if our hunger made it seemed delicious), however as we over ordered the quantity that we were able to finished, we had quite a bit of leftovers.

Taking the Subway to Gyeongbokgung station
We saw the change of guard ceremony the moment we arrived at the entrance
Change of guard ceremony at Gwanghwamun
The role players took their role seriously during the hourly change of guard ceremony
We have no clue where to find lunch and walked along this street to hunt for lunch
We bumped into this street and turned in to look for lunch
Eventually we ended up in this street
Ambience in the restaurant
One thing I like about Korean restaurants is that they always come with side dishes
I ordered pork cutlet for lunch, it is quite a big portion
My friend got the kimchi soup noodle
We also gotten Korean fried chicken
We traced our way back to Gyeongbokgung after lunch

Gwanghawmun Square

After lunch, we traced our footsteps back to where we came from – Gyeongbokgung. We headed towards Gwanghawmun Square, which is directly in front of the main entrance to Gyeongbokgung. At the centre of the square, a huge statue of King Sejong was being erected. The statue depicted the king sitting on his throne, with a book on his left hand and a gentle smile on his face. King Sejong is the inventor of the Korean Language. In front of the statues are some artefacts that was invented by King Sejong. A celestial glove, rain gauge and a sundial was placed in front of the statue. After taking some photos, we continued our walk towards Gyeongbokgung.

Rain gauge in front of statue of King Sejong
Taking a wefie with King Sejong
This road leads to Gyeongbokgung

Gyeongbokgung

It did not take us long to reach Gyeongbokgung. Gyeongbokgung is the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty until it was being destroyed by fire during war and was abandoned for around 2 centuries. The palace was restored in the 19th century during the reign of King Gojong. It was however, being destroyed by the Japanese in the 20th century. Since then the palace was being reconstructed to what we see today. Being the largest of the five palaces in Seoul today, Gyeongbokgung is situated north of the city.
Panoramic shot of Gwanghwamun, the gateway to Gyeongbokgung
Taking a wefie at the entrance of Gyeongbokgung
Gwanghwamun, the entrance to Gyeongbokgung
A stone lion guarding the entrance of Gyeongbokgung. There are a number of such statues around in the palace, which is believed to ward off evil spirits
At the entrance, we witnessed another change of guard ceremony. After the ceremony, we headed inside the palace grounds and gotten our tickets for entry into the palace. The main gate of the palace, Gwanghwamun, looks like 2 big pavilions stacking on top of each other. The double roofed, 3 storey gate has wooden structures painted in bright green and red, a typical colour scheme for royalties in Korea (as seen in Suwon Fortress and Changdeokgung), is perched high atop of a stone wall with 3 arch entrances. Passing through Gwanghwamun, a large courtyard awaits the visitors before one would reach a second gate in the palace grounds. Heungnyemun, the second gate as one enters the palace, guards the entrance to the throne hall. Heungnyemun, compared to Gwanghwamun, has a much simpler architecture. The gate also has 2 roofs stacking on top of each other, and painted in elaborate decors on its under roof. The base of the 3 arch wooden gate is painted in red. There are 2 additional doors at either side of the gate, forming part of the walls protecting the throne hall area. 

Another hourly change of guard ceremony. We were told this would be the last session of the day
Change of guard ceremony
My friend in front of what would be a guard post in the olden days
Passing Heungnyemun, between the gate and the throne hall is a large courtyard. Similar to that of Changdeokgung, there are tablets on the ground of this courtyard marking where the various rank officials would stand when the King is holding his audience sessions with his subjects inside the throne hall. I would imagine the higher ranker officials will be housed inside the throne hall, while the relatively lower ranking officials would stand, according to their ranks as inscribed on these tablets, in this courtyard. Before we head to Geunjeongjeon, we exited left of the throne hall area headed for Sujeongjeon. The lone building red building of Sujeongjeon, was once used as an office for the cabinet. The building is fairly simple in its design and decor. Opposite Sujeongjeon is a cafe and a gift shop where one can grab a cup of coffee or get some souvenirs.
Heungnyemun is a wooden structure that looks like 2 pavilions stacking on top of each other. This gate guards the entrance to the throne hall
Heungnyemun up close
Geunjeongjeon – The throne hall
Sujeongjeon
Me at Sujeongjeon
Another view of Sujeongjeon from the cafe

We moved backed into the throne hall area and headed to the throne hall. The throne hall, Geunjeongjeon Hall, is nested on top of 2 raised platforms. The throne hall is where the King held important state functions and court officials’ audiences. It also served as a venue where the new kings were being crowned. The decor of the interior of the throne hall is rather simple, covered with black tiles with high elaborated decorated ceilings, painted with red and green colour schemes. In the centre of the hall is the throne, perched on a raised platform, decked in red with a painting of mountain as a back drop, the throne hall looks different from that in Changdeokgung. In comparison, the throne hall in Gyeongbokgung looks smaller and modern, while that in Changdeokgung looks roomier and older. There are some furnitures in Geunjeongjeon, which probably serves to show visitors how the throne hall was decorated in the olden days.

It seem that all royal places are painted in green and red colour schemes in Kore
Under roof of Geunjeongjeon is pretty elaborate in its design
A guardian statue at Geunjeongjeon to ward off evil spirits
The throne inside Geunjeongjeon Hall
Taking a wefie with Geunjeongjeon at the background
There are a number of such statues around the palace to ward off evil
Around the throne hall

After taking some pictures of the throne hall, we headed to the rear of the throne hall to the Sajeongjeon Hall. This simple stand alone building is one of the three buildings directly behind the throne hall. It is at Sajeongjeon where the king carried out his daily kingdom affairs, akin to the office of the king. The interior of Sajeongjeon feels like a miniature version of Geunjeongjeon. There is a smaller throne in the centre of the building, with portrait of mountain again as backdrop to the throne. Together with the buildings to the left (Cheonchujeon) and the right (Manchunjeon) of the Geunjeongjeon, this area forms the office quarters of the palace. The king would use the building in the centre, whereas his ministers uses those to the left and right.

Inside of Sajeongjeon, which looks like a scaled down version of the throne hall. This is where the King used to work and discuss country affairs with his ministers
Sajeongjeon on the left and the building far right is Manchunjeon, which are two of the three buildings that forms the office district behind the throne hall
Sajeongjeon with Cheonchujeon in the office district
Sajeongjeon up close
Cheonchujeon up close
Inside Cheonchujeon which serves as the office of the ministers
Inside Cheonchujeon
Around the office district of Gyeongbokgung

Passing a gated wall to the rear of the office quarters, we arrived at the living quarters for the royal family.  The centrepiece of this area is the king’s sleeping quarters – Gangnyeongjeon Hall. The centre portion of Gangnyeongjeon Hall was left open for visitors to see how it looked inside. This open area is rather large and I would imagine this is where the king would entertain some of his subjects and even his queen and concubines. There wasn’t any furnitures placed here at the time of our visit. There are some buildings around Gangnyeongjeon Hall, which are closed to visitors. To add to the confusion of the purposes of these other buildings around the King’s chambers, there isn’t any signages around to explain the purpose of these buildings. I can only imagine these are perhaps quarters for the king’s bodyguards, who were likely to keep watch over the king while he is in his chambers.

Panoramic shot of Gangnyeongjeon hall, the sleeping quarters of the King
A large living room of some sorts in Gangnyeongjeon hall
Some other buildings within the compounds of the king’s sleeping quarters. We overhead a tour guide explaining to the group that the reason for having a sandy floor is so that the movement of assassins managing to get past the heavily guarded entrance of the palace can be heard
Around the King’s sleeping quarters
Some buildings around the King’s sleeping quarters
Back alley around the King’s sleeping quarters

As we did not get a copy of the map around the palace (the compounds of the palace is really huge), my friend and I roamed around the remaining palace grounds, without knowing what is what. At certain point, all the buildings looked the same to us and we were starting to get bored. As we were walking around from buildings to buildings, we ended up in an open area where we saw a frozen pond with a man-made island in the centre, connected by a small bridge. On the island is a 2-storey pagoda building decked in mostly green painting. I reckon the pond and the pagoda built in front of a mountains forms a picturesque and tranquil scene.

We roamed around the palace, having no clue the significance of these unmarked buildings
Exiting the compounds of the palace to the back of Gyeongbokgung
Hyangwonji pond and Hyangwonjeong pavilion forming a picturesque view with the mountain as the backdrop
Panoramic shot of Hyangwonji pond and Hyangwonjeon Pavilion

Walking past the pond, we headed to the buildings to the north of the pond. This set of buildings looks very simple and small as compared to the other areas of the palace.  A little research reveals this compound- Geoncheonggung residence is an annex of the palace where the king and the queen would stay to enjoy some peace and quiet, away from the hectics of running the country. There are a few buildings within the compounds of Geoncheonggung consisting of the sleeping chambers for the king and the queen, as well as a library.

My friend at the entrance of Geoncheonggung residence
Inside the compounds of Geoncheonggung residence, which is located the furthest north within Gyeongbokgung
Me at one of the buildings in Geoncheonggung residence. This might be where the king used to sleep
Other buildings in Geoncheongung residence
My friend in Geoncheonggung residence
Roaming around within Gyeongbokgung
We are still inside Gyeongbokgung grounds

A Side Detour To the Korean Folk Village

We continued our tour inside of Gyeongbokgug and came across a side entrance to the palace. This happens to be an entrance to the Korean Folk Museum. A staff stationed at the entrance came up to us and encouraged us to visit the Korean Folk Museum. Entrance to the museum is complementary and we can gain re-entry into Gyeongbokgung with our ticket later. As we thought we could afford a moment of detour, we decide to heed the advise of the staff and make a quick visit. As we were not really interested in museum visits, we saw some interesting structures at the compounds outside the museum and headed to these structures instead. This is the open-air exhibition area which showcases rural life as well as modern and contemporary streets of Korea. We headed to the rural area to find a farm house and a mill on display. Nearby the rural farm house is an open area with spirit posts, which were used by the villagers to prevent natural disaster and bring about bountiful harvest. Next to the mill, is a Street of Memory, which comprises of street scene of Korea in the 1970s. There are some shops replicated here. We headed back into Gyeongbukgung after taking some pictures here.

The Korean Folk Museum is located at the side entrance of Gyeongbokgung
This is a guardian that the Koreans prayed to for peace and good harvest
Korean Folk Museum
A typical farmland in Korea
Replica of a farm land in Korea at the Open Exhibit area
Typical Korean Farm house
Typical farm house
Next to the farm house is a mill where ox were used to mill harvests
Spirit posts which the villagers prayed to prevent natural disasters and for good harvest
The “Street of Memory” depicting a typical Korean Street scene in the 1970s
Some of the shops here include a photograph shop and a tailor shop
My friend in front of a shop selling clothe
Some of the replica of shops on the “Street of Memory”

Back into Gyeongbokgung

Heading back into Gyeongbokgung, we continued where we left off. By this time, the palace is about to close and we could only brush through some of the buildings, hoping to cover as much as we could in the remaining time we have in the palace before it calls off the day. As we headed southwards towards the entrance of palace, we came across the Jagyeongjeon Hall, the living quarters of the adoptive mother of King Gojong, Dowager JoThis hall is composed of two rooms with Ondol (heated) floors, Bogandang and Jagyeongjeon Hall and a veranda, Cheongyeonnu, to the southwest. The east side of Cheongyeonnu is connected with another room. 

The walls surrounding Jagyeongjeon Hall where the adoptive mother of the King used to stay in
Outside Jagyeongjeon Hall
Some of the buildings inside Jagyeongjeon Hall
This is the main sleeping chamber of Dowager Jo
A guardian statue protecting the Dowager
The building where the Dowager used to sleep in
Peeking at the other side of the wall inside Jagyeongjeon Hall
Scene inside Jagyeongjeon Hall
Inside the compounds of Jagyeongjeon Hall
The holes at the bottom of the building was where firewood was burnt during winter to keep the floors warm
Backyard of Jagyeongjeon Hall
Panoramic shot of the back yard of Jagyeongjeon Hall
Feature wall at the backyard of Jagyeongjeon Hall
Outside Jagyeongjeon Hall

As the palace was about to close, we hurried back to the entrance of the palace and decided to stop at the throne hall to take some pictures. After taking some pictures, we headed out of the palace.

Back to Geunjeongjeon
Geunjeongjeon at this hour is rather empty as most of the visitors has already left
Final shot of Heungnyemun

Bukchon Hanok Village

One of the places we wanted to visit is the Bukchon Hanok Village. Bukchon Hanok Village is a a residential area which still retains the traditional Korean house architecture. As the village is smack in between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung, it is a short distance from Gyeongbokgung. We relied on Goggle map to bring us there on foot. As soon as we reached where Bukchon Hanok Village, we were expecting to see some traditional housings the moment we reached Bukchon Hanok Village. We were disappointed to see some modern architecture, we continued to walk towards a more secluded part of the area and soon some traditional buildings came into our sight. As it is already close to nightfall, most of the tourists would have already called it a day here. Strolling along the alley of Bukchon Hanok Village, looking at the various traditional houses is indeed a joy. Soon all the buildings looked repetitive, we decided to get out of Bukchon Hanok Village and visit Namsan once more, hoping that there will not be a crowd like day 1 of our trip in Korea.

Street scene of Seoul, on our way to Bukchon Hanok Village
Signs that we were near Bukchon Hanok Village
Look like a pretty modern street at the outskirts of Bukchon Hanok Village
As we walk further in, the traditional style houses started to emerge
Some of the traditional style houses along side modern buildings at Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Further into Bukchon Hanok Village is where one will find more traditional style houses
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Peeking into one of the houses in Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village
Street scene of Bukchon Hanok Village

Night View of Seoul At Namsan

By this time, we were rather familiar on which subway station to alight and how to get to Namsan Cable car station from the subway station. It did not take us long to reach the cable car station. We were not disappointed for our trip here. There was hardly any queue at the cable car station, we could board the cable car as soon as we bought our tickets. The ride from the cable car station to Namsan station took less than 5 mins and we soon found ourselves at the base of N Seoul Tower.
Near the base of Namsan Cable car station
Boarding the cable car towards N Seoul Tower
N Seoul Tower at night from the cable car

Namsan is famous for couples placing a pair of padlocks here and throw the key out at Namsan. To facilitate this, there are grills near the cable car station in Namsan set up for people to do so. The amount of locks here is practically countless. There are more unused grills around. We headed to the view point near the padlocks to catch a glimpse of Seoul at night. The view here is stunting, coupled with the cold winter wind blowing, and not too much of a crowd (only a handful of people were here at the time of our visit), the feeling is free and peaceful. From the viewpoint, we could see the busy Myeongdong shopping area, with the shoppers and cars near Myeongdong shrunk to the size of an ant, the feeling is great!

View of Seoul from the cable car
Getting close to N Seoul Tower station
On top of Namsan
Countless padlocks where it is believed that couples locking their pair of padlocks here will stay together forever
N Seoul Tower
More padlocks at the base of N Seoul Tower on top of Namsan
View of Seoul from top of Namsan
N Seoul Tower and the padlocks
N Seoul Tower at night
Pavilion at the base of N Seoul Tower
Panoramic shot of view of Seoul at night on top of Namsan
N Seoul Tower closed up

After we took some pictures of Seoul at night, we headed towards N Seoul Tower. At the base of the tower, we found out that we would have to pay entrance to get up to the tower. As we were hungry, we opted to spend our time filling our stomachs instead. We headed to one Korean restaurant and got our stomachs filled. Though the food at the restaurant isn’t really fantastic, the view from our table is enough to compensate for the lack of taste in the food.

View from the restaurant is enough to make up for the lack of taste of the food here
I ordered Jajiangmien
My friend had the omelette fried rice

After dinner, we headed back to the view point again and took in the view of Seoul at night. No wonder comments from people who have been here were recommending to visit this place at night. It gives one a different feeling, a feeling of peace and zen, rather than having to squeeze with the crowd we had the luxury of time and space. We also did not have to take pictures with people in them. As the temperature seem to get colder by the minute, we headed towards the cable car station for our ride back to the base. Alighting from the cable car, we followed the crowd to what appears to be a single cabin tram up to the base of the cable car station. At this point, I turned to my friend and commented “I felt cheated”. Now to walk up the cable car station from Myeongdong subway station requires one to walk up slope, with this tram system, it made getting tot he cable car station a breeze and effortless.

N Seoul Tower ticketing counter
View of Seoul from Namsan at night. It is very peaceful here, partly due to the absence of  crowds
Night view of Seoul from Namsan
The single carriage tram fetching people up from the base of the cable car station
Tram approaching our stop
Inside the tram

Last Shopping at Myeongdong

We headed to Myeongdong to walk around when we reached the base stop of the tram system. Myeongdong at this hour, despite close to 10pm, was still buzzing with life. Thought most of the shops are closing, the street food vendors and pushcarts selling goods does not seem to abide by the 10pm close shop timing. We did some final shopping and walked around, munching on street food as we walk along Myeongdong. As we had to wake up early the next day to catch our flight out of Seoul, on top of that we have yet to pack our luggage for our trip home, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the hotel.

Myeongdong at night
Last shopping at Myeongdong
Despite being at 10pm, these push carts does not seem to be closing
Still quite a crowd at Myeongdong
Tteokbokki!
Myeongdong at night
Myeongdong at night

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