Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁) & The Secret Garden (후원)

Monday, 22 February 2016

After a brief trip to Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁) for our hanbok experience, we made our second trip to the historical landmark the next day as a tourist. Changdeokgung Palace was the second palace to be constructed after Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁) and is the most preserved palace in Seoul.

But like many of the palaces, it also suffered a tragic history of destruction due to the Japanese invasions in 1592 and the political revolt against King Gwanghaegun (광해군) in 1623. However, when it was finally reconstructed again in 1646, Changdeokgung Palace subsequently became the main palace for over 270 years—making it the longest-serving royal residential place in Korean history. In fact, it was home to many kings, from King Gwanghaegun to King Sunjong (순종 융희제), who was the last ruler of the Joseon Dynasty.

More so than the palace itself, it was the Secret Garden or Huwon (후원) of the royal grounds that made me want to visit Changdeokgung Palace the most. But because you can only visit the Secret Garden by joining a guided tour, I made an online reservation first to secure a place. I initially booked for the 11:00am English tour, but because we were late, we joined the Chinese tour at 12:00pm instead. (We didn't have to make another booking for the Chinese tour because there were many spots available that day.) If you don't buy the Combination Ticket for Palaces, there's a separate fee for the Secret Garden. But if you do, just show your ticket to the people in box office and they'll exchange your ticket for theirs.

Located at the rear of the palace, the Secret Garden served as a resting place for the royal family. It was once called the Forbidden Garden or Geumwon (금원) because access was only given to the royal family—even high government officials weren't allowed to enter the garden without permission from the King.

It even felt magical walking up from the entrance of the Secret Garden, because we were instantly greeted by many different colours of foliage. I've never seen anything like that before so I was really glad we went at a good time. Apparently, there are no trees like that in the main palace. Not to mention that there are over 100 species of trees in the garden alone!

The highlight of the Secret Garden for me was definitely Buyongji Pond (부용지) and the Buyongjeong Pavilion (부용정), along with Eosumun Gate (어수문) and Juhamnu Pavilion (주합루) in the background. When we first arrived, it felt like we were entering some private sanctuary—it was amazing.

However, my most favourite photo from the Palace and Gadern was of Aeryeonjeong Pavilion (애련정), which is located just on the side of Aeryeonji Pond (애련지).

The tour took about one and a half hours, but we were so close to running off when it hit the 60 minute mark because we were absolutely freezing. Even my feet were starting to get cold! (And when your feet are cold, your body temperature starts dropping fast.) So as soon as the tour was over, we just left immediately and didn't bother with exploring the rest of the palace. The tour itself, however, was really interesting and our tour guide was friendly and entertaining. Granted, I would've enjoyed it much more if it wasn't for the cold weather, but it was still a good walk nonetheless.

It's true that the buildings might start to look a bit repetitive if you're visiting all the Five Grand Palaces in Seoul, but every palace has its own charms and distinction. For me, Changdeokgung Palace wins with its beauty because it's entire complex was actually built following the natural topography of Bugaksan Mountain (북악산), such that any artificial landscaping was kept to a minimum—unlike Gyeongbokgung Palace which imposed itself on the site. So if you're looking for a lovely, laid back and less crowded attraction, definitely check out Changdeokgung Palace—especially the Secret Garden because there's nothing like it in any other palace.

Changdeokgung Palace (창덕궁)
99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
서울 종로구 율곡로 99

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