The first night I spent in my hostel was nice and warm and I had a really good sleep, after visiting so many places the day before. As mentioned before, this trip to Korea was the first trip I’d done, so alot of things I get excited or surprised about might seem a little… suaku.. but it’s the little things that matter, right? 😀
When you’re in Korea during spring time, the nights are cold and you’ll need a thick blanket. Even without aircon – that kinda blew my mind. Lol. Once again, at this point in April 2013, I had not experienced anything other than Singapore’s weather before, so it was new to me!
Another one of those little things that surprised me was how insanely cold taking a shower would be. Like seriously, it was probably about 10 degrees in the mornings there, and it was so cold I would get chills. Just standing there in the shower would give me goosebumps. Lol.
The mornings are warm but nice and cool, so proper thermal wear would be handy. And I obviously didn’t have that, which meant on several occasions I was freezing my butt off. In this picture I was wearing three layers (excluding underwear) and I still felt chilly. And do not wear thin leggings like I did – invest in some thick stockings.
Got my hazelnut latte from Ediya on the first floor of our hostel building. The toast is from further up the street – exit Backpackers’, turn right on the main road, and just a few shops away you’ll see a little toast shop on your right. There’s usually a line in the mornings, but the service is pretty fast and the food is whipped up on the spot. You can’t really see it here but this is a bacon and cheese toast. What did I tell ya? Breakfast for champions! Mmmm, bacon.
Our itinerary for our second day around Seoul was centered around one district, so for budget travellers, this will save you some money and time as there’s lots to see in the area.
We made our way through Chebu-dong, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Samcheon-dong, Insadong, and then to Myeongdong. In this post, I’ll focus on the first two.
I’ll bring up this map in this post and the next, to show you how to follow the same route to go through all the attractions in one day.
One of Chris’s friends was taking us to a good place for lunch, and at that point I didn’t know where I was going. I just followed the group lol. And just a short walk away from the subway station, we arrived to this place:
Toksokchon Samgyetang Restaurant! Tosokchon isn’t on the main street, but in an alleyway, however it’s not too hard to find and just a short distance from the train station.
I did some googling and apparently, this is one of the best rated samgyetang (Korean ginseng chicken) places around Seoul. And usually there’s a really insane queue with a waiting time of at least half an hour. But thankfully, we got there early, around 11.30 am, and we got a seat right away!
And you really need to get there early to beat the queue – here’s the amount of people already outside the entrance (queue starts inside) when we left the place, somewhere after noon:
The whole place is set in traditional Korean tatami style, which I really love. You take off your shoes outside your room, sit on the floor with the low tables. And the air flows in from the outside so everything just feels really fresh and healthy.
They served us some jars with cabbage kimchi and radish kimchi – I need to just reiterate how awesome the kimchi in Korea really is, compared to what you get in Singapore or elsewhere.
They also serve a little glass of ginseng wine or 인삼주. I took a little sip of it and boy does it pack a punch. It’s really strong but there’s a soothing after-effect. But then I was told you’re actually supposed to put it into the ginseng chicken soup! It’s supposed to enhance the flavor of the whole dish.
And the main stars of the show have arrived! This, my friends, is another gem of Korean cuisine. I’m sure many of you would have tried it, but this is the real deal. The broth is creamy, and it doesn’t taste too herbal or too bland like some of the samgyetang I’ve tried before – this is just right, and jam packed with all the best flavors. Apparently it’s boiled with 30 ingredients! I poured the wine into the soup too, and from what I remember the taste of the alcohol didn’t overwhelm it at all. It just brings out the rest of the flavors of the soup really well. Thumbs up!
And the chicken is full of flavor too, and slides right off the bone really easily. And that chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice, so that bowl itself is one full meal. We had white rice on the side too, and I couldn’t finish it because it was really quite a big serving for me. What a satisfying breakfast to start the day! 😀
The meal cost about 15,000 KRW per pax, which is about 18 SGD / 14 USD. If you want to try Tosokchon the next time you’re in Seoul (and you should), here’s the directions on how to get there.
Look at the map above for a visual representation of the directions – get off the subway at Gyeongbokgung station exit 2, and once on street level, go straight until you can make a left turn. Turn left onto 자하문 로 5길 (Jahamun-ro 5-gil Road), and the restaurant is just a couple of metres up ahead.
토속홍 삼겨탕 (Tosokchon Samgyetang)
85-1 Jongno-gu, Chebu-dong, Seoul
A short walk away from Tosokchon is the Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복공 / 景福宫), which roughly translates to and means ‘Greatly Blessed Palace.”
Apparently that’s a map of historic places in Seoul, but I didn’t notice it until I zoomed in on this picture on my computer. I was too busy looking up at the skies and trees – the weather was amazing that morning.
We got to one of the entrances of Gyeongbokgung Palace! From here I didn’t think much of it, it just looked like a big park to me at this point. But believe me, further in lies great beauty!
A lovely trail with a gorgeous view. I just love how you can see mountains like that from a lot of places in Seoul. Brings nature so much closer (and back) to society… And the air here, inside this heritage park, is so fresh and cool.
Plus, my skin feels 10 times better and healthier in Korea! I really have no idea why – it doesn’t feel dry or oily at all, and my pores feel really small and unclogged. And it’s really good for me, because I am a lazy girl and hardly use any beauty products (though I should really start to) and the air there made my skin so much better!
Is it because the air there is fresher, or cleaner? Please let me know in the comments if you have an answer to this. I need to bottle some Korean air and bring it home the next time I go there lol.
As we got further inside, we saw a crowd gathered around the sand courtyard – there was a parade going on! There were more than a dozen men decked out in full Joseon era costumes (and beards), bearing colorful flags and marching in neat lines.
They’re all really serious actors, and the costumes are really beautiful. Apparently this was a re-enactment of the opening and closing of the royal gates, and guard changing position ceremonies, and according to the Visit Korea website, the parade ended on Dec 31, 2013. I’m not too sure if it’s still ongoing now, but we were lucky to witness it! You can read more about the parade here.
And I also think it’s quite fascinating how a fragment of Korea’s royal history is re-enacted with modern Korea as a backdrop. All those fancy buildings in the background serve as a testament to how much Korea has grown as a country. And yet at the same time, it has such a rich, strong history and culture that it works hard to preserve.
On another end of the sandy courtyard is where the ticket booths are. You have to buy a ticket to enter the palace grounds, and it costs 3,000 KRW per adult ticket. That’s about 3.50 SGD / 3 USD, really affordable.
Once you have the tickets, these are the gates through which you enter.
Simply stunning, isn’t it? This particular palace was built in 1395 – more than 6 centuries ago. It has been burnt, rebuilt, taken over, and rebuilt again several times over the centuries. It was even re-purposed by colonial Japanese, in attempts to instil Japanese values and eliminate symbols of Korean culture and heritage.
But the massive structure and grounds still stands today, and that, to me at least, serves as testament to how much this and all other historical sites in Korea really burn alive in the hearts of the people. While many of the structures within have withstood the test of time, in recent years the government has laid out restoration plans to preserve and rebuild this beautiful piece of its history – restorations are still ongoing and not fully complete.
Look at the amazing details on the roof… And there’s nets over the carving – I assume this is to keep birds and small animals out to better preserve the structures.
Once you head in, you’ll be greeted with rows of this:
Plenty of cherry blossom trees! OMG! And we thought we were looking at the end of spring – but no, we managed to catch some cherry blossoms right before spring faded away.
And I was so glad I managed to get a good macro shot of the flowers. The selfies didn’t turn out so well though, haha.
Head through another gate, and you are greeted by another amazing sight.
Another courtyard – this one with bricked floors and a much more grandiose air about it. Turns out that building is 근전정 or Geunjeongjeon, the Imperial Throne Hall. Where the kings and queens sat, where they did business, watched parades, drank tea.. The Imperial Throne Hall was one of the few structures that survived the test of time – save for a touch-up here and there, what you see today is more or less what it was back then.
Within the courtyard, you can see stone tablets lined in two neat columns, along the left and right of the throne room.
These tablets were used as markers, back in the day, to indicate where officials were supposed to stand. And their locations on this courtyard were specified according to rank and file – the higher your rank, the closer to the throne room (and the royalty) you would be.
Past the throne room and its surround courtyard is a vast expanse of greenery and other small buildings of interest.
There were these cute girls walking around in hanboks, so we had to get a picture with them, right? 😀 I doubt they worked there though, they were probably just visiting as well.
Here’s another one of the few structures that survived the test of time, and stand today in its original form – the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion. Guarded between a fortress of walls on one end, and surrounded by a beautiful body of water, this was the place the King used to throw feasts for visiting envoys or guests. And why wouldn’t he, against such a beautiful backdrop?
It’s kinda like the Marina Bay Sands of old Korea – the place you’d bring your foreign guests to if you want to impress the heck out of them. Lol.
Another pond, with a pavilion. This one is the Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, another highlight in the palace grounds as this is another one of the few surviving architectures. Just imagine a concubine waiting to the King at the foot of those stairs, with petals falling in the wind…
Fun fact! The imperial structures that have survived the centuries (the Geunjeongjeon Imperial Throne Hall, the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, and Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, among others) are officially recognized as National Treasures of Korea!
As you venture around the grounds, you’ll see little walled up compounds, some with single roofed buildings within them – most likely the living spaces of people living on the palace grounds. Some of these compounds have descriptions outside – this one below was the living quarters for the King’s concubines. Note though, that not all the compounds are accessible to public.
Inside a separate compound, stood dozens of clay jars. These I think were fermenting jars used to make kimchi.
Another little hut on the grounds – this one is a constructed display of the living quarters of rural folk in the Joseon dynasty.
They have plenty of such constructs, so you really learn quite abit and can sort of immerse yourself into what life was like six centuries ago.
And at some point you will come across this gigantic structure:
This is the National Folk Museum of Korea, and it is located within the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds. Here, you can learn more about Korean folk culture and lore, and the agricultural lifestyles of Koreans from centuries ago.
Unfortunately the stairs you see in the picture are not open to public – I wonder what the view would be from up on top.
A little resting spot nestled between the trees, in front of the museum. The girl in the white sweatshirt was catching petals in the wind. I wish my camera was good enough to have captured that moment!
Side note: by the way, these and all my 2013 travel photos were taken on my Samsung Note 2. So the resolution or dynamics might not be as great as a standalone camera/semi-pro/DSLR, but I do try my best!
Plenty of elderly folk, I notice, go for walks alone or with their SO/families in these parks. I guess over there they do try to live healthier lifestyles!
Plenty of these statues were lining the large walkway outside the museum. Again, I wonder if they were actually conserved from the Joseon dynasty…
So upon entering the museum, there are actually lots of things to check out. They have various exhibitions on display, all of which somehow tell stories of Korea’s history.
Like this book – seeing how its ends are burnt, it was probably from before the palace burned and was left in ruins. It’s fascinating that it’s still kept so intact after hundreds of years.
In many of the photos above, you would probably have seen lots of tour groups… and couples. This is a great place to visit if you’re touring Seoul with your significant other. Great for a picnic, or just a fresh, relaxing stroll. This place offers a compelling mix of history and nature, and is a must-see if ever you are in Seoul. And of course, the landscape changes with every season, so visiting this place during different times of the year will yield amazingly different photos and memories.
In my next post, I’ll be journalling about more arts, culture, and shopping in Seoul – in Samcheon-dong, Insadong, and Myeongdong. And of course, more food too, lol!