Seoul, South Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace was built in 1395 as the main residence of the newly founded Joseon Dynasty. Gyeongbokgung means, ‘the new dynasty will be greatly blessed and prosperous’. The Japanese burnt the palace down during their invasion in 1592 and it wasn’t rebuilt until 1867, with the restoration comprising of 500 buildings. In 1911 during the Japanese occupation the palace was completely destroyed. A programme of restoration of Gyeongbokgung Palace has been ongoing since 1990.
I have become slightly obsessed with the little figures that adorn the tops of palace buildings.
There are changing of the guard ceremonies twice a day by the Gwanghwamun Gate.
The Gyeonghoeru Pavilion is Korean National Treasure No. 244, and was used by the king to hold banquets for foreign envoys.
The palace site was deemed auspicious, according to Korean geomancy, because it has a mountain at the back of the grounds, the Bugaksan Mountain.
I was a little too early to see the leaves turn colour, although I did find this tree slightly ahead of the others.
Jongmyo Shrine is where the spirit tablets of dead kings and queens are enshrined and sacrificial rites are performed for them based on Confucian principal. When a queen or king died, a three year mourning period took place, after which the spirit tablet of the deceased was brought to the Jeongjeon and enshrined there.
Jongmyo Jerye, the memorial service held every May since 1464, is one of the oldest ancestral rites held today, and was designated as Masterpieces of Oral Tradition and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001.
I got to the shrine too early for the guided tour, which is the only way to see it, so I was advised to go across the road to the roof top of a building where I could get views of the city.
My stay in Seoul is at an end and I’m rather sad to leave it because there is so much more I want to experience here. The only reason I came to Seoul was because I was going to Japan and Seoul is sort of on the way so it made sense to stop off here first. I only had four full days here, and it just wasn’t long enough. I have only scratched the surface of this city of contrasts; people in national dress, who, without exception, have a mobile phone, and the palaces, huge areas of land filled with restored buildings, gardens and water features, sitting in amongst some of the most amazing modern architecture.
Seoul makes being a tourist very easy and my experience started with the excellent tourist information desk at Incheon airport. When I showed the information person my hotel address and asked for the best way to get there, I got presented with maps, an information booklet and a bus number. Regular readers will know I don’t have the map reading gene and I’m not good with buses. Ten minutes later, I had purchased a T-money card (the amount of money I was advised to put on this lasted me the whole stay without me having to top it up), and was in the queue waiting for the airport bus to take me to my hotel. I had a printed, enlarged, section of the map showing me the two minute walk to get to my hotel, and I got there without a hitch.
The subway was easy to understand and use, inexpensive and clean. I liked that they played music (different tunes at stations), to alert people that the train was going to arrive, with most passengers looking down at their electronic devices, the musical alert triggered a move towards the waiting points on the platform. The stations are in English as well as Korean, as are the announcements. Like any other major world city, traffic is horrendous, so the subway was a much quicker way to get around.
All the sights are signposted in English, the free guided tours of palace, and information leaflets, are available in English. The tourist information booklet I was given at the airport information desk is one of the best I’ve seen, and I used it everyday to assist with my itinerary, I have it with me now to check my facts while writing this. I know it’s a cliché, the Koreans I came across were friendly, helpful, polite and smiley. South Korea is in my top ten of best places I have been to.
If you are thinking of visiting South Korea, I highly recommend it, don’t do what I did though, give yourself at least 2 weeks, to really soak up the experience this beautifully, amazing country will give you, and even longer if you want to venture out of the capital.