We decided to explore old Seoul before venturing to other parts of the city, figuring that we’ve to have an understanding of bits of its history to appreciate it. So we made a trip Gyeongbokgung Palace, the oldest and most beautiful palace in Seoul, as our first stop, exploring it with the help of the Korean tour guide we booked (for free!) and then walked to the Bukchon Hanok Village, a neighborhood on the uphill, filled with traditional houses.
Gyeongbokgung is said to be the grandest palace in Seoul. It’s gone through a lot of crap for centuries, but despite that, the city is continuously attempting to restore it to its former glory.
The palace was built by King Taejo, the first king and founder of Joseon dynasty in 1395. Its was the main palace with thousands of rooms within it, the center of administration of the dynasty. Somewhere in the 1500s, the Imjin War happened, the Japanese burned it down. It was abandoned for some hundred years. Later in the 19th century, King Gojong, who found the Korean Empire, restored the palace once more, only that it was burned down by the Japanese again, the Imperial Japan in the 20th century. A city hall was built by the Imperial Japan just right in front of the main gate of the palace, a symbol of imperialism, infuriating the Koreans.
You can just hear the Korean tour guide’s resentment toward the Japanese 😐
After the war, the government began restructuring the palace bit by bit, although I’m sure it’s nothing as grand as it was before. The palace used to be home of thousands of room, but now it’s very bare.
The palace grounds is huge. With our tour guide, we walked for 2 1/2 hours to cover most areas, listening to the stories that she knew of all the places and the perspective she had as a Korean. It was good to have her around — if not for the guide we wouldn’t know the significance of a lot of things — like the stories behind the banquet hall or the pavilion.
Here’s the location:
Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village, located on an uphill residential neighborhood located on the east side of the palace was home to many bureaucrats (…or highborns) that were working in the palace, centuries ago. The neighborhood has been well-preserved traditional Korean homes with hanok roofs and has a cultural center for visitors who want to know more about it.
So we attempted to walk here from the palace, it’s supposed to be close by. Got lost multiple times because navigating Seoul with Google Map it is not as easy as it is in Tokyo. This place is uphill, so after walking 30 minutes from the palace on a normal pace, we had to climb high slopes to reach it. So letih.
The area had a lot of traditional houses (although there were plenty of modern ones), good photo opportunities! We just walked around the area although there’s much to do here. I’m sure we’d be able to hear interesting stories if we had booked a tour guide for this, too.
Here’s the location:
From knowing almost nothing about this city, within half a day we got a good feel of Seoul’s history 🙂
Book a free Seoul city tour with a Korean tour guide here.