Friday, March 30, 2012

Seoul Day 4

Fri 30/3

The tomb raider

Our final day was spent visiting yet another Unesco Heritage site, just around the city also to Seolleung / Jeongneung (a.k.a. Seonjeongneung) royal park tombs. We took the Seolleung Station (Seoul Subway Line No. 2). The weather is really cold today, no sunshine, so I had to wear the gloves. Admission is only KRW 1000.

Located in downtown Seoul, this place offers tranquil and pleasant promenades for couples and office workers. Seonjeongneung houses the burial mounds of King Seongjong (1469-1494), his wife Queen Jeonghyeon, and King Jungjong (1506-1544) of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).
Upon entering the grounds, you can see a red gate (the red colour denoting holiness) with a taegeuk (yin-yang) symbol. The stone paths leading to the sacrificial building are noteworthy because there are two stone paths—the elevated path is for the dead King and the lower one is for living people. In the past the memorial rites were performed in the sacrificial building. Small sculptures on the eaves called Japsang were carved in the shape of animals such as monkeys and were believed to exorcise evil spirits. Next to the sacrificial building, there is a pavilion and a tombstone which is obviously the tomb of the King. Sculptures of sheep and tigers surround the tomb and are guardians of the dead King. There is also a statue of a military officer bearing a sword. In front of the tomb is an outstanding sight called the 'Mangjuseok,' which is a pair of stones designed to guide the dead King to his tomb. Unlike the tombs of the Kings, the queen’s tomb, Wanghureung, is simple. It doesn’t have any pavilions or sacrificial buildings, but is surrounded by only stone sculptures as guardians.

the path- only use the path on the right. the left path is for the king's spirit

That's the tombstone

Japsang sculpture

Japsang scupltures to ward off evil spirits

Seonjeongneung has a lush forest, and benches on the promenade provide an ideal place to relax. There are numerous small hills with clusters of trees that create a border between the mystery and serenity of the royal tombs and the hustle and bustle of downtown Seoul
Facts excerpted from here was cold

the forest

We then proceeded to the Namsangol Hanok Village. We took the Chungmuro Station (Seoul Subway Line 3 or 4).
This village has five restored traditional Korean houses and a pavilion, a pond and a time capsule, which make it a perfect spot to take a walk. These houses were rebuilt after the traditional houses of Joseon Dynasty and belong to those of various social classes, ranking from peasants to the king. Admission is free, but if you want to participate in the activities, you have to pay some fees. Some of the activities are:
1) Five-colored Experience
2) Traditional Culture Experience Program for International Visitors
3) Learning Korean Traditional Dance and Music
4) Kite Flying (Nov-Feb)
5) Art Stage for Citizen
6) Namsangol Open Stage
7) Seoul Exhibition of Intangible Cultural Asset
8) Hanok Village Characters

from a real hanok village re-assembled

interior of hanok village

We tried the traditional wear - hanbok here. You have to pay KRW3000 to loan the costume, and have your own camera to take pictures of you in it of course! No photographer is around, so you have to ask for help from other visitors or the staff there.
Facts excerpted from here

Hanbok - besor lak baju tu hehe

Since it's still early, we decided to head to Seoul Tower, which is just behind the Namsangol Hanok Village, at Namsan Mountain. At the advice of Tammy, we took the yellow bus at Chungmuro station and payed KRW 550, and alighted at the base of the Seoul tower. As per Tammy's reccomendation, we didn't go up the tower, just hung around outside and took pictures. It was really cold! brrrr.... Admission fee to the tower is KRW9000. There is also the Namsan mountain park here where you could hike up to the Seoul tower. But you'd have to be fit to walk up :)

that's the yellow bus we took & behind is the tower

some hiking to be done to reach the tower

Seoul tower

We finished quite early today, plus it's extra cold. So we decided to head back to our halal eating place at Itaewon. We had Korean food again at Murree today. At the restaurant, we chatted with another group who took an 8 day trip to Korea which includes an excursion to Jeju island for 3 days. The island is absolutely beautiful. Next time perhaps.

Bibimbap and bulgogi

Murree Korea Muslim food- the one and only nearby Seoul Masjid @ Itaewon

Then we went back to our hostel, freshened up and took a stroll by the cleaned up Cheonggyecheon Stream just around the Dongdaemun area. There is also a bus tour but we didn't take it. It was really cold, so we jsut walked for a while, then head back to the hostel and had maggi mee for supper! We did saw some ducks swimming in the stream. Eeee these birds can stand the freezing water!

Cheonggycheon stream

Doota shopping mall

Looks yummy


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Seoul Day 3

Thurs 29/3

Palace visit

We started our day earlier today at 9am, after breakfast at the pantry. Our destination today is nearer, just around the city centre to Geongdokbung Palace. We took the subway to Gyeongbokgung Station (Subway Line #3). Admission is KRW 3000.

Some facts about Geongbokbung:
Built in 1395, Gyeongbokgung Palace is also commonly referred to as the “Northern Palace” because it is the furthest north when compared to the neighboring palaces of Changdeokgung (Eastern Palace) and Gyeongheegung (Western Palace). Gyeongbokgung Palace is arguably the most beautiful and remains the grandest of all five palaces. Although so, it is not a Unesco Heritage site, but its sister palace - Changdeokgung (which we later visited to verify why it is chosen instead) is. Unesco site or not, it is totally worth your visit.

The premises were destroyed by fire at the time of Japanese occupation from 1592-1598. However, all of the palace's 7,700 rooms were later restored under the leadership of Heungseondaewongun during the reign of King Gojong (1852~1919)
The National Palace Museum of Korea is located south of Heungnyemun Gate, and the National Folk Museum is located east within Hyangwonjeong.
Tickets for Gyeongbokgung Palace are also valid at the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum. Unfortunately for us, the National Palace Museum was closed during our visit. You can also buy the Integrated Ticket of Palaces which will give you access to the Four Palaces (Changdeokgung Palaces (including Huwon, Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace) and Jongmyo Shrine(also a Uneso heritage site). The ticket is 10,000 KRW and may be used within a month after purchase.
I would suggest you to just buy the integrated ticket as it is cheaper than purchasing individual tickets for each of the Palaces (which we did for Gyeongbokgung + Changdeokgung + Secret Garden which cost us KRW3000 + KRW3000 + KRW 5000 = KRW11,000).

Facts excerpted from here.

Gyeongbokgung main gate

Pak guard

The main gate

The main hall

There is also a folk village setup in the compound of Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is admissable via your Palace ticket.
The folk village

Old barber shop setup

A quaint village setup

A comic shop

Just when we were exiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace at 1pm, they had a guard changing ceremony (just like Buckingham Palace), so we stopped by to watch it.

Guard changing ceremony

As I am a Unesco Heritage Site hunter, I decided to check out Changdeokgung Palace which is a walking distance away, so we walked there for about 15 minutes. I also wanted to know why it is a Unesco Heritage site, despite Gyeongbokgung being reputed to be more beautiful. Admission is KRW3000 for the palace only.

Changdeokgung Palace : A UNESCO heritage site!

Changdeokgung Palace was the second royal villa built following the construction of Gyeongbukgung Palace in 1405. It was the principal palace for many of the Joseon kings and is the most well-preserved of the five remaining royal Joseon palaces. The palace grounds are comprised of a public palace area, a royal family residence building, and the rear garden. Known as a place of rest for the kings, the rear garden boasts a gigantic tree that is over 300 years old, a small pond, and a pavilion.

Changdeokgung’s rear garden was constructed during the reign of King Taejong and served as a resting place for the royal family members. The garden was kept as natural as possible and was touched by human hands only when absolutely necessary. Buyongjeong, Buyongji, Juhabru, Eosumun, Yeonghwadang, Bullomun, Aeryeonjeong, and Yeongyeongdang are some of the many pavilions and fountains that occupy the garden. The most beautiful time to see the garden is during the fall when the autumn foliage is at its peak and the leaves have just started to fall.

Please note that for access to the garden (called Secret Garden), you have to purchase another ticket for KRW5000. I would say it is totally worth it to visit the garden as you'd feel like you are being transported back to another ancient world. So I reiterate for you to purchase the Integrated ticket to cover at least Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Secret Garden. I'd also say Changdeokgung earned the Unesco Heritage status due its Secret Garden and the harmonization of the Palace structure with the environment surrounding them (Mt. Bugaksan)

Facts excerpted from here.

Let's go to the Secret Garden!

We continued our journey today to Insadong street as per Tammy's suggestion (the Korean girl we met on the plane to Seoul). Insadong Street is one of the most memorable attractions in Seoul and represents the focal point of Korean traditional culture and crafts. Stores in Insadong specialize in a wide variety of goods that can only be purchased or appreciated in Korea: hanbok (traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), traditional teas, pottery, and folk crafts. There are also souvenir stores here, so we bought some here.

Facts excerpted from here

Insadong street

After shopping we went back again to Itaewon for prayers at the Seoul central masjid and had dinner at Murree Korean Muslim restaurant. We had bibimbap and bulgogi. Since we were famished from all the walking, we walloped everything! They are delicious anyway, and healthy.

Bibimbap and bulgogi

We went back to our hostel, refreshed ourselves, then ventured a bit around Dongdaemun area to check out the markets. We found out that the markets here mostly sell clothing and hot stall food, which looks very tantalizing in the cold weather. Drool... No souvenir stalls here though. We also noticed that there is a plethora of shopping malls which operates from 10.30am - 4.30am! Quite crazy. After that it was time for rest.

Dongdaemun at night