I had planned to get up early today to start my Chuseok adventures at their fullest. Unfortunately, I was still recovering from the sniffles that had been passed to me earlier in the week by the students. It was nothing serious, just a sinus thing, but it never fails to happen to me during the holidays. I would be running late, but I was sure I could make it to my destinations for the day: Jongmyo Shrine and Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden. I boarded the train for Jogno 3-ga Station at Incheon City Hall Station transferring at Bupyeong Station.
I was in search of Jongmyo Shrine, but stumbled first upon the Palace, so it seemed reasonable enough to start there first instead. I arrived around noon and the next tour to the Secret Garden wasn't until one thirty. The next Palace tour in English wouldn't be until two thirty so I thought I would wait and tour it after my tour of the Garden. (I didn't stop to think that even thought the Palace tour was only one hour, the Garden tour is an hour and a half, so I wouldn't have made the Palace tour).
Misreading the map, I thought the entrance to the Secret Garden was outside of the Palace walls and so made my way around outside. I came across a small garden enclove close to the Palace gates, stopped for a moment then continued on. Eventually I found Changgyeonggung Palace, which connects to the other side of Changdeokgung Palace. It was then that I realized my mistakes: Firstly, I needed to go inside the Palace to get to the Gardens; Secondly, I should have bought a combination ticket ($10/10,000 won) to all four Palaces and Jongmyo Shrine rather than buy them separately (a total of $14/14,000 won). Luckily, I still had time to observe a bit of the palace on my way to the tour and I had only yet bought my tickets to the Garden and the Palace (totaling $8/8,000 won).
The tour began and I realized that this would not be a small group. I estimate about forty plus people from all over the world were on that tour. Still, it was lovely nonetheless. It was over seventy acres of private garden in which the royal family could relax and unwind. However, it was not a flower garden. It was more of a forested area dotted with s beautiful ponds and small buildings.
Buyongji and Juhamnu were at the heart of the gardens. It was an area of study and retreat as the royal libraries were held here in this peaceful place. There was also an area visible from one of the pavilions that was used as an archery range. One of the kings who frequented this area was said to be an exceptional archer. He was known to hit every shot but the last which he intentionally missed as a sign of imperfection. He believed it was better to be humble than be perfect because things that were held high above the rest soon lost balance and fell.
At Aeryeonji and Uiduhap, we arrived at a place of reflection and wisdom for one of the oldest kings of the Joseon dynasty. They were simple buildings, not decorated in an ornate style, but left simple and natural. It was here that we crossed through Bullomun, a gate made of a single stone, whole rather than pieced together. It was thought that to pass through this gate, one would live a long happy life. Coincidentally, this king had an unnaturally long life for that time period. Whether that was the work of the gate or his unusual high-fiber diet is unknown.
YeonGyeonDang was a place of celebration. In a time where practically no one lived past fifty, Crown Prince Hyomyeong had this complex built for a place to celebrate his mother's fortieth birthday. Again, this was a simple place with few lavish decorations. Eventually it became a place to receive foreign dignitaries in a calm atmosphere.
We moved on to the Jondeokjeong Area, filled with beautiful ponds a various pavilions. It was here that my camera refused to take any more photos. The memory was full and from here on I lost several beautiful photo opportunities.
Finally, we reached my favorite area, the Ongnyucheon Area. Small pavilions lined a lovely little brook (which I believe was called the Jade Brook at the time). King Injo, a lover of great poetry would sit with his officials here and compose poetry. The played a game in which the recipient of a wine cup that was sent floating down the brook had to compose and recite a poem when he received the cup. If he could not do so, he was had to drink three cups of wine as punishment. Needless to say parties of this sort became very popular.
Our last stop at the Garden tour was the New Seonwonjeon Area. This place was not originally part of the Gardens and was altered by the Japanese Invasion in 1921. The Mongdapjoeng pavilion is one more of imposition than beauty as it was used to view the military encampment in 1759 and was located at an opportune place to view archery practices at the nearby field.
I was tired by the end of the tour. Our guide mentioned at some point that it was 31°C (84°F) during our tour, which I usually don't find too hot, but on a ninety-minute hike through a seventy-acre garden while recovery from a head cold, I wasn't feeling too great. Still, I refused to leave without seeing the Palace.
On my way to the main entrance of the palace I passed through Gwolnaegaksa, the of the government offices. Each building held a different administrative purpose, and was located conveniently next to the Old Seowonjeon Site, where royal ancestral rites were performed and the Injeongjeon Area where major ceremonies including coronations, receptions of foreign envoys and other state affairs were held.
In front of all of this was the Donhwamun Area, an imposing place fronted by a magnificent main gate. This was where the king would greet his subjects. It also held Sinmungo, a drum that could theoretically be struck by any citizen waiting to file a grievance complaint. Next to the Injeongjeon Area was the Seonjeongjeon Area, where the king held counsel with high-ranking officials. Its use also by the queen for her affairs, such as parties celebrating the ancestors is still debated by historians. The magnificence of the place even today gives one a sense of awe, with its bright colors and elaborate designs.
Huijeongdang was considered the king's bed chamber, but it is also said that he took his work here as well. Its position next to Seonjeongjeon and the amount of work the king was said to do makes this understandable. Behind Huijeongdang, is the Daejojeon Area, the queen's residence. This beautiful place, however, does not have the happy memories it ought to have. It held the last meeting of the dynasty deliberations over the Japan's annexation of Joseon. The Seongjeonggak Area next to Daejojeon is the residence of the Crown Prince. It was here that he studied, had his library and took archery lessons.
Far off to the side, away from the buildings of government affairs and royal residences is the Nakseonjae Complex. It is a series of simple buildings, plain with no colorful paint and was used primarily for the king to relax and read. Throughout time, it was also used as a residence for the Crown Prince's wife, the Queen Mother, and a Royal Lady chosen to be the mother of the King's heir.
Halfway through my tour of this extraordinary palace, my phone died. I knew I still had an hour, maybe two to see the Museum of Art next to the Palace, but knowing the ease it takes for me to become absorbed and lose track of time, I did not want to risk missing the last train home. At any rate, I was exhausted as it was and was happy to go home.
I plan on making another trip, perhaps in the winter or later in fall, to see all of the Palaces as well as Jongmyo Shrine. The combination ticket, which allows you to see all of this, is valid for one month after purchase so it would certainly be a convenient buy. I look forward to updating you on this endeavor.
Colleen Well, I was trying to rate this a 5-star but I didn't click on it correctly. Sounds like a very great trip & tour.