Monday, July 4, 2011

South Korea: The Royalty Experience in Gyeongbokgung Palace

My first palace experience was in March 2007 in Bangkok when I had my own palace- hopping along the Chao Phraya river. But coming to Korea, particularly Seoul, is quite different.  From then on, for every palaces or temples that I had gone to, I have Korea to compare.

Amidst high-rise buildings and modern skyscrapers of Seoul, the vibrant city of South Korea takes pride in its five royal palaces where royal families lived.  These contain relics that were used by royals and served as living proof of the 500-year-old history of Korea. 

Gyeongbokgung Palace - the oldest palace of Joseon built in the founding year of the dynasty in 1392.
Deoksugung Palace  - located next to Seoul City Hall, this is the only palace among the five to have modern stone structures and a Western-style garden.
Changgyeonggung Palace - built by the 9th king of Joseon for the three queen mothers out of filial devotion
Changdeokgung Palace - the second palace built after Gyeongbokgung Palace where the kings of the Joseon Dynasty resided for the longest time. Listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 1997.
Gyeonghuigung Palace - used after the Japanese invasion of 1592.

Note: Related information copied from Visit Korea Tourist Brochure

To fully experience the royalty of the five palaces, tourists can avail the Integrated Ticket of Palaces.

From the exit of Gyeongbokgung Station, we passed by the National Museum and walked a few meters to the ticket booth of Gyeongbokgung Palace. We first asked the English tour to make our trip around the palace more meaningful and jotted down the schedule of the Changing of the Guards Ceremony and the Royal Parade. But I think we just joined only half of the tour with our impatient soles wanting more to explore the palace at much faster pace but with many stops for photo-ops.
Like restless preschoolers, we're excited to join the flock of tourists for the English tour and then became impatient to know what's next; then finally left behind when we took too much attention getting pictures of ourselves
I don't understand the bits and pieces of architecture nor the intricate details of the history attached to it but I got interested in looking at the very detail of some of the architectural structures inside the Gyeongbokgung Palace as the tour guide explained the story behind those to us.
the intricate architectures surrounding the palace
Take for example (1) the monkeys at the edge of the roof of the main hall of the palace - those had served like the watching guards of the palace or  the complicated meaning or sort of a password on the carvings in the cobblestones.  Also, our tour guide mentioned that (2)the king had his six concubinage pointing her finger to the cottages or "quarters" as the right royal term, where they stayed - and it's in the same area! The queen can decide if they will adopt the son or daughter of the concubines.  The palace consists of (3)official quarters, living quarters and resting places.  The throne hall, (4)Geunjeongjeon, is where the king granted audiences to the officials, presided over large function and meet foreign envoys.  This is the largest and the most formal hall in the palace. Gyeongoeru Pavillion that (5) floats on a man-made lake across a man-made hill called Masensan was built to serve as a venue for feasts.

We witnessed the two most important activities or rather rituals of the dynasty times - Changing of the Guards Ceremony  and the  Royal Parade.

The Royal Parade like one of the scenes in Jewel in the Palace (K-Drama)

Changing of the Royal Guards Ceremony
More than knowing the story of a certain historical place, the behind the scenes /main story matters the most! That is, the captured moments or the famous brand's ad line "Kodak Moments"!

our "kodak moments" in Gyeongbokgung Palace

The Royal families have had their share of grandest perks and pleasures but I'm pretty sure a bunch of headaches as well. As Spiderman said, "Great power comes with great responsibility".  And I don't think I had my sort of royalty experience like that.

Rather, I'd summed up the best royalty moments from my Gyeongbokgung Palace experience:

1.  Wearing the Royal Guard suit.  Should have been the Princess but hey, "This is free!" You should just have patience to fall in line and wait for your turn.
2. Having a photo with the celebrity-looking-royal guard.

if only he is allowed to move, he could have poked me!hehehe!
3.  Watched the Changing of the Guards ceremony live! It felt like I'm one of the actors of the historical k-drama!

4.  Talking to a Korean pre-schooler who's very eager to practive his English, a picture with Ajummas and Ajjussi and with other fellow tourists - this the experience that travelling has given me - talking to strangers like me in a foreign land like them

with some Aussies and Ajummas
5. Carefree with my girlfriends - and we loved posing sexy!

Below, I'm sharing the "A Must-Do" in Gyeongbokgung Palace:
1. Ask for the English Tour schedule. You'll appreciate more the culture and history of the palace.
2. Watch the changing of the guards ceremony. this is the reenactment held since 1996 that takes place every hour from 10AM to 3PM. the tall and handsome guardsmen are ready to take photo with the tourists after the ceremony for free.
3. Royal promenade - you can see the king and his queen followed by court ladies and guards strolling in the royal residence. it's like watching live korean epic drama.
4. Avail their free use of royal guards costume and experience how it feels like to be in royalty (even just a guardsmen =))

how to get there:
1. Exit #5 of Gyeongbokgung station (subway line #3)
2. Exit #2 of Ganghwamun Station (subway line #5) and walk 400 meters

entrance fees:
adult - KRW3,000 (Php120) also valid to national palace museum and national folk museum

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