Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seoul-searching: Secret Garden at Changdeokgung Palace

After Jongmyo Shrine, we were supposed to cross a pedestrian bridge to get to Changyeonggung Palace then to Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden. Unfortunately, we were informed that the bridge was closed to the public for some time now (I wonder why it was not stated in the resources I've read....) so we had no other choice but go back to the main entrance and traverse the streets along the shrine and palace walls to get to the palace entrance. It was a hot, sunny day so you could imagine us - sweaty kids and hungry adults - traversing Seosulla-gil in search of Changdeokgung Palace. We reached the main road (Yulgok-ro), crossed over, turned left following the palace walls, then turned right to get to the main gate along Changdeokgung-gil.
It could have been a shorter (and more relaxing) walk had the pedestrian link not been closed. And following the trails of royalties as they crossed between shrine and balance long ago would have been like walking back in time. But we got to Changdeokgung Palace entrance anyway (thanks to snacks that fueled us and jokes that took our minds out of the long walk) and headed straight to the ticket counter to ask for the Garden tour schedule. The kids were not that enticed by another palace/shrine tour after walking around Jongmyo Shrine but I thought the Secret Garden may interest them. The next English tour for the Secret Garden was not until 1:30pm so we purchased tickets first then looked for a place to have lunch. By the way, visitors cannot opt for a Garden only tour admission ticket. It's always a package, which meant we had to pay for both the Palace and Secret Garden tickets even if we were not going to visit the palace. 

We found a Korean restaurant along the street just across The Palace. It gave us time to rest our feet and legs before venturing into another walk down historical and cultural lanes. By 1pm, we were back to The Palace for our Huwon / Secret Garden tour. It was a one-hour tour and one of a few English tours of the day. The tour starting point was quite a long walk from the main entrance to The Palace grounds so we had just enough time to get there before the tour started.
Ira, first in our pack, following the Korean tour guide

We started the tour from the entrance to the Secret Garden going uphill, following the main pahtway that took us up to the forested area. The Secret Garden is a combination of the natural beauty of nature and man-made structures built specifically for the royalty's pleasure. It was a place where the kings and the royal family can relax and appreciate the beauty of nature through the changing seasons. When I first read about the Secret Garden and how beautiful it was I didn't really think it was that expansive. It takes up almost 60% of the entire area of the Changdeokgung Palace. There were several lotus ponds, small pavilions built along the stream, and even pavilions specifically for the grandchildren of then kings and queens to play around in. It was really a park for royalty.

We went up and down hills and staircases, through several pavilions and along streams and ponds. I could only imagine how peaceful and beautiful this place is during spring or fall (which according to travel guides is the best season to visit the gardens). 

It was a long tour, and summer took a toll on some visitors, including some of us. It was really hot. There were several tourists who retreated We weren't able to finish the whole tour, unfortunately. The kids were hot and exhausted, although they did enjoy the frequent stops which gave them time to play catch with each other. My brother-in-law also hurt his lower back in one of the steep walks that he had to rest for a while. The last leg of the tour required us to go up several flights of stairs to go over a hill to the other side which was the final stop. We couldn't risk any further injury to my brother-in-law as it was only our second day in Seoul and we still had a few more days to go. With a heavy heart, we ditched the tour and walked back to the main entrance (which was the only permitted way we could break away from the tour group). We abandoned our planned itinerary for the rest of the day and retreated to our hotel for a well-deserved rest in our air-conditioned room. 

We ended our day with a trip to Banpo Bridge....

We may have to go for a second round of Palace and Garden tours, on a different season. It will definitely be a different experience, given the better climate and different scenery. Maybe the kids (older by then) can appreciate the combined tour of The Palace and The Secret Garden, too.


Address: 99, Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 

How to get there:
(a) Subway 
Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station (Subway Line 1, 3 or 5), Exit 6. 
Go straight along Donhwamun-ro Street for 10min. 
- Anguk Station (Subway Line 3), Exit 3. Go straight for 5min. 

(b) Buses going to Changdeokgung Palace and Huwon: 7025 / 109 / 151 / 162 / 171 / 172 / 272 / 601 - Get off from Changdeokgung Palaces bus stop.

Admission Fees:
Palace grounds - 3,000 won ($3.55) 
Secret Garden - 5,000 won ($5.92) for adults, 2,500 won ($2.96) for children 


Travel tip of the day:

When travelling with kids, your days may not go as planned no matter how prepared you think you are. They may not like to stay in certain attractions or want to linger longer in others. Sticking to the scheduled time is always a challenge. That's excluding unpredictable weather and other variables. Leaving out a spot in your itinerary may help in adjusting your schedule for the day. Be ready not to tick every attraction off your list, too. It's not the Amazing Race after all but a holiday for the kids to be able to explore and the family to enjoy at a relaxed pace (that's the goal of  having a holiday, isn't it?).

Additional itinerary suggestions:

1I have the following places included in our original Day 2 itinerary:
    • Changdeokgung Palace tour
    • Bukchon Hanok Village 
    • Gyeongbokgung Palace tour
    • Gwanghwamun Square
    • Cheonggye Plaza
    • Cheonggyecheon Stream
They are all within walking distance from each other. Allot an hour or so for palace tours, more for Hanok Village including the gardens and Time Capsule Plaza. This can keep you busy for the whole afternoon till early evening. 

2. You can opt to stay till night around Cheonggyecheon Stream or go for night tours of the Palace (please check respective websites for annual schedule).

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