Monday, September 29, 2014

Seoul-searching Day 3: Changing of the Guards at Deoksugung Palace

The rich history of Deoksugung Palace brought about the reenactment of the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony. The Royal Guards were responsible for the opening and closing of the palace gates as well as protecting the King residing in the palace during the Joseon era. After a thorough research by scholars, the Changing of the Guards ceremony has attracted much attention since 1996. Who wouldn't be enthralled by a performance that dates back centuries?
Deoksugung Palace Changing of the Guards

After snacking along the street out Namsangol Hanok Village, we took the train to City Hall Station to watch the Changing of the Guards at Deoksugung Palace. When we got there, the 2pm ceremony has already started so we decided to have our very late lunch and come back for the 330pm schedule. We went for a Western lunch for a change - that's burger and fries for once. There were several dining options near the Palace so you would't get hungry.

By 3:15pm we walked back to the palace as crowds gathered in front of the gate, waiting for the ceremony to begin. The Changing of the Guards ceremony was mesmerizing to watch, like I was taken back into the ancient times of kings and queens. We watched as they marched around with their colorful costumes, complete with swords, flags, bows and arrows, and musical instruments. I noticed that there were 2 children, probably 10-12 years old, who played what seemed to be important roles in the ceremony. They were as serious as the other older guards. How lucky (and probably honored) they were to be a part of this tradition. 

The on-duty guards started their formation at the main gate waiting for the handover. The other group of guards who were to replace them came from the street at the side walls of the palace. They wore different costumes in the most vibrant colors which I think also represented what position they were holding.

After the ceremony, visitors were allowed to walk up to the guards and take photos with them. Of course, we were there, front and center! We zigzagged into their formation and had our photos taken with the guards carrying the flags, with the ones in the middle of the square, and finally, with the 2 main guards at the entrance. How cool was that?! It's not very often that one can take photos with beautifully costumed Royal Guards.
at the main entrance of Deoksugung Palace with the palace guards
There was a booth across the main gate where visitors can try out traditional Korean costumes and have their photos taken with the guards. From what I know it was free but you have to sign your name in because there is a long list of visitors eager to be dressed in Korean costumes for a memorable photo op with the guards. My travel companions were not as interested as I was though. If you have spare time and willing to wait given the long list of names, I think this will provide you another unforgettable Korean experience.

main gate of Deoksugung Palace where the palace guards started their formation for the ceremony




the booth where traditional Korean costumes can be borrowed from
This was a well-spent 30 minutes of our Seoul-searching adventure, even if we didn't visit the Palace grounds.

Travel tip of the day:
  • Take note, the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony lasts for 30 minutes and is scheduled three times a day at 11m, 2pm and 330pm. I suggest be there 5-10 minutes earlier to get a good spot and finish the whole ceremony to be able to join in the most-awaited photo-taking with the Royal Guards. Being early also means you can sign up ahead of the others for the traditional clothes, thus, shorter waiting time.

I hope you include this attraction in your Seoul visit. You will never go wrong.

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