Last Saturday (9 Jan), I had planned a pretty big day for myself. I wanted to head to Gyeonbokgung Palace with some Canadians girls in my program and also my Korean buddy, and then meet up with my Melbourne friends to check out N Seoul Tower. I was incredibly pumped to get the day started!
I met up with the Canadian girls early in the morning and we quickly headed to Gyeonbokgung station, make sure you take exit 5. Once you get through the exit, you definitely won’t miss the palace. In front of the palace is a large statue of King Sejong. He’s most famous for creating the Korean writing system, as he wanted to help make all Koreans literate, he also led major strides in economics and literature. Behind him is the palace, together they make an absolutely stunning sight.
Entry into the palace is about 3000 won, but Seoul has 4 main palaces plus one main shrine. If you want to visit all 5 attractions, you can buy a big pass for 10,000 won (which I ended up getting). Once inside the Palace you can get a free English guided tour around the main areas. The tour guide explained aspects of the palace such as the significance of mythical creatures such as Phoenix (which denoted the king’s celestial power). We also learnt that the roof fixtures were figures from the story of the Monkey King – they were carved on to protect the palace.
We also went around to see the main throne room, and also the King, Queen and concubines sleeping quarters. I was astounded at the King’s room, it was about 3 times bigger than the flat I had when I was living in Cardiff! The Queens room was intricately decorated and she even had a garden near her front door which supposedly looked amazing in Spring. Our guide told us the Queen’s room was divided into yin and yang, and the queen would sleep on one side, and copulate with the king on the other, to promote energy and fertility.
The story of the concubines was probably what interested me the most. We were told that they were usually girls from a high class, and were selected by the Queen. If the Queen was unable to have any sons, she could adopt one of the concubine’s, but that child would then be considered her’s and never see his mother again. Furthermore if the Queen died, one of the concubines would be able to take her place. To be honest, I was surprised there weren’t any attempts on her life from the concubines!
Once we finished the tour we headed to the Folk Museum which has free entry. The Museum and a number of exhibitions – one on everyday life of peasants, one of the development of Korean food,
another on life and death and a new one on Monkeys (in honour of the coming Chinese New Year). I really enjoyed the one on Life and Death and the Monkey one! The Life and Death showed different funeral customs and procedure, as well as some traditional medicine remedies such as acupuncture dolls and a model exorcism to get rid of disease. As I was leaving I was able to catch the changing of the guards, which happens at 11am, 2pm and 4pm. It’s absolutely amazing to watch and takes you back in time.
Throughout the palace there are some statues and little houses that I wish I got a chance to see. All together I probably spent about 2-3 hours in the palace but wish I had an extra hour or so! But unfortunately I had to quickly head back to my University’s station to meet up with the Melbourne girls! Onto part 2 of my big day!