Thursday, September 11, 2014

Seoul-searching Day 2: Jongmyo Shrine

On Day 2, we had a sumptuous home-cooked meal before embarking on a shrine and palaces tour day, if we were to follow our itinerary to the dot. We left mid-morning, taking the train subway Line 1 to Jongno 3-ga Sation. The train rides really get the kids excited. They always look forward to tapping their T-money cards and waiting for the trains (specially if there are TV screens that show where the train currently is). They even enjoy comparing the types of seats for every train we take. When the kids are a bit older, like in their primary years, they are also more involved in getting to know what route we take every time we go out. They help check the train system map and count the number of stops to get to our destination. Ira is also inclined in checking the balance of his card whenever he taps in and out, helps in his math skills I guess.

First on our list was Jongmyo Shrine. From exit 11 of the Jongno 3-ga Station we weren't sure which street to take so we followed the traffic signs pointing to the shrine. I had a feeling though that we were going the wrong way so I stopped by a police station and asked for directions. The police officer kindly drew a simplified map to show me the way. When you're in an unfamiliar place you can easily get lost if you don't have your bearing yet, and that was what happened to us. After receiving directions and hand-drawn map from the police officer, we were more confident we were heading on the right track. 

We went back to exit 11 and headed straight along the road until we reached a park and turned left. From that street there were already signs leading to the shrine so we just followed them. The area was undergoing renovation so there were a lot of detours. We finally reached the main gate and proceeded to the ticket counter for inquiry. There are free tours every Saturday but we wanted to explore on our own.

A UNESCO World Heritage lister, Jongmyo Shrine is the oldest preserved royal Confucian shrine. It houses the memorial tablets of Joseon kings and queens since the 14th century. Traditional ancestral ceremony is still being held annually on the first Sunday of May. 

From the entrance of the compound there is a raised walkway that leads to the different shrines / structures within. Be careful not to walk on these pathways as these are specifically for the spirits. They did have signs in some areas but not all tourists notice them so accidental stepping/walking along the pathway was warded off by roaming shrine caretakers. 

If bringing smaller kids or teenagers along, it's better to inform them beforehand to behave in a respectful way - no running around, no unnecessary noise. After all shrines are not places for them to play in. We had to constantly remind the kids of the unwritten rules since most of the time it's the running around and laughing out loud that make the day more enjoyable for them.

A tour of the Shrine(s) provides a glimpse of royal ceremonies being done since ancient times. There were several buildings, some with artifacts and exhibits while others have small TVs which show how rituals were done in the shrines. Before entering any of the buildings footwear must be removed and left outside. We went into one of such rooms and found the seats amusing because we have not seen anything like those before - rows of seats on the floor, and they had backrests! We sat for a while, took shelter from the hot sun, while the children check the exhibits in other rooms.

a performance of traditional Korean shrine chants

It could take an hour or so to go around depending on how interested you are in getting to know more about Korean history. The children were not really history buffs (but I'm hoping they will turn around soon) so we didn't take much time at the shrine. 

If you plan on going on the same month as we did (June), I suggest bring your sunglasses, hats or umbrellas and put on sunblock. It was scorching hot and we spent time mostly trying to avoid the sun by staying under tree shades or walking close to the buildings or walls where we could hide under their shadows. The kids sometimes didn't mind being under the sun though as long as they had a big, open space to explore.



Address: 157, Jongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul-si
(a) Jongno-3(sam)-ga Station (Subway Line 1), Exit 11 (10-min walk from station). Just walk straight along the road upon coming up the staircase.
(b) Jongno-3(sam)-ga Station (Subway Line 3, 5), Exit 8 (10-min walk from station.)

Free tours (available on Saturdays only): 
Feb-May, Sep-Oct 09:00-18:00 / Jun-Aug 09:00-18:30 / Nov-Jan 09:00-17:30 
Closed on Tuesdays

Admission Fees: 

adults (19 years old and above) KRW 1,000
youth (7-18 yrs old) KRW 500
FREE admission for children 6 and under


Next stop, Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace.

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