It was Basil’s fourth visit to Seoul and the first for me. Here’s what we didn’t expect. There are way too many places to discover, hike, or dine. It was hard to choose and we opted for sights that seemed mandatory. With Basil working during the week, we were left with weekends to explore Seoul – together. On this particular Sunday, we tried to cram all that we could see in a day. Not a great idea in the peak of summer.
Changdeokgung Palace Complex
Our first stop for the day was Changdeokgung Palace Complex. It was much hotter than the previous day. Getting early – helped us beat the crowds. There are free guided tours in English and Korean. We missed the guided tour by a couple of minutes and decided to wander around ourselves. The main entry gate to the palace is stunning and worth looking at closely. Past the bridge is where the actual palace complex begins.
It’s equally fascinating to get lost in the Changdeokgung Palace Complex. There will always be an entrance door – leading into – a quieter section of the complex. If you want to lose the guided tours; it’s best to enter into an open door. Even if you haven’t opted for an audio guide, placards give a brief history of each structure.
My first impression of the Palace Complex was that it was austere. Comparisons with the Forbidden Kingdom crept, although, it isn’t fair to do so. Large entry gates with tiled rooftops – leading into different halls, rooftop guardians to ascertain importance, Chambers for the King, Queen, and Concubine, assembly halls for court, and sprawling gardens – make the Palace complex – a maze of entry and exit points.
A notable feature, is that, the palace structures do not follow a particular line of symmetry. We could spend hours admiring the tiled rooftops, but, it was nearing lunch hour and it started getting hotter. The secret garden required a separate ticket and we decided to exit the complex – to see other sights on the way.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we headed towards Insa-dong. Insa-dong is best described as a kitschy tourist street with a lot many souvenir shops, traditional Korean restaurants, and street artists. Insa-dong also seems to be a popular venue for dispensing public information or staging demonstrations.
Alleys intersect the main street. We didn’t have as much time to explore all of them. After picking up few souvenirs we headed away – towards Jogyesa temple. On our way, we came across an elderly man painting hand fans. Although, I feel, I have reached a point wherein I cannot collect any more souvenirs – I found it hard to resist buying a hand fan. He gladly posed for Basil, giving us his best smile.
I’d read (blogs & local sites) about temple stay programmes. It’s something I wanted to experience. Although, I doubted, if we’d be able to do one in any of our blank days. The Jogyesa Temple office offers assistance for travellers interested in temple stay programmes.
There was a prayer service being conducted in the main temple. Devotees bowed down in prayer with incense sticks in their hand. We decided to take a walk outside and admire budding lotus flowers in the pond.
Along the Han
By the end of the day, I was tired, and wanted to go back to our apartment. Basil convinced me to spend time along the Han. And I’m pretty glad we did. The temperature dipped a bit and it’s perfect to see families and couples enjoy a lazy Sunday evening. On our way back, we took of our shoes, and walked in a stream of water – running parallel to the river. The perfect end to a long day.