This is part of an ongoing travelogue, to start at the beginning click here.
Saturday, Day 7 in Korea, its a full week already! Today, we are doing the palace circuit. The plan was to wake up early, start with Gyeongbokgung, the biggest and most famous palace. 10.00 am is the changing of the guards. The we planned to visit Bukchon Hanok Village, eat the famous Toshokchon samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup), continue on to Changdeokgung, and if time permitting, visit samcheongdong.
Usually, tourist visit the palaces on their first day in Seoul, especially if the weather is good, and this requires a lot of walking outdoors, so best to do it when you are fresh and full of energy. For us, when we arrived on Sunday, it was mid morning and too late to visit the palaces. And Mondays and Tuesdays one of each of the two great palaces are closed. So rather than come here on 2 separate days, we decided visit other places of interest first.
Unfortunately, I think all the walking and travelling over the past week finally caught up to us, when I woke up in the morning it was almost 9.30am! In the past week in Korea, we’ve been waking up automatically at around 7.30am or earlier. Goes to show how tired we were.
So obviously we’re gonna miss the 10.00 am changing of the guard ceremony. No worries, there’s another one at 2.00pm. No chance of us missing that one, right…? Right?! So some juggling of our program – let’s visit Changdeokgung first, then walk over to Gyeongbokgung for the afternoon changing of the guard ceremony.
So we had time for a leisure breakfast at the hotel in their cramped and narrow pantry. They had white bread and toaster, cereal, jam, and coffee or milk and juice. Nothing fancy but enough to set us up for the day.
We also had to pack up for the day as the hotel was going to send out luggage to the other hotel Vestin Residences. So by the time we set off it was almost 11.00 am. The weather was clear but it was a nippy day for sure. Today was the day we all wore our matching Uniqlo Heatech turtlenecks 🙂
We took a cab to the palace. But for some strange reason, the cab driver dropped us off at the western entrance of Changdeokgung, instead of the more obvious Southern entrance. No worries, but there is actually another palace here called Changgyeonggung, and it connects to Changdeokgung inside. The ticket is really cheap, KRW 1000 for adults and KRW 500 for children, and when you enter Changdeokgung you top up your ticket with the difference in price.
Changgyeonggung is a small palace, but very peaceful and beautiful, especially since there was hardly anyone there at the time.
When you enter Changdeokgung Palace via the connecting entrance, you’re right at Huwon, or secret garden. We didn’t plan to visit it anywhere, as there is a fee on top of your ticket just to enter.
Changdeokgung is a much bigger palace, but nothing like Gyeongbukgung.
In most of the big buildings, you’ll these gargoyles on the corner ridges. Later during the Gyeongbukgung tour, I asked the guide what they were and she said they represented characters from the Monkey God legend. The bigger the roof / building, the more characters are depicted.
After the palace we walked out to Bukchon Hanok between the two great palaces. I was expecting a traditional village, but had problems finding it cos it seems the be modern shops all over the place.
After some wandering only did we find some of the houses we saw in the brochures. You need to walk the backlanes (not the main roads) and there really aren’t many of them to be honest.
we bought some souvenirs in one of the traditional homes converted to a shop.
We were running late for the lunch, cos we wanted to make it for the 2.00pm changing of the guards. So we had to hail a cab to take us a short distance to other side of the palace for the ginseng chicken soup. This place is purportedly the best in Seoul, but our cab driver hadn’t heard of it. But he did drop us off at the right location, and there was a long line outside the small restaurant!
Toshokchon is actually a hanok house converted to a restaurant, but we were surprised the line moved very quickly, less than 10 minutes and we were ushered in to be seated. Once you enter the shop, you’ll realize its not just one hanok, its a series of many interconnected hanoks and courtyards to make a huge restaurant.
On the menu there are limited items, but we only wanted 2 things – samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) and haemul pajeon. There are about 4 types of samgyetang, but we went for 2 bowls of the original and one black chicken. Samgyetang is a spring chicken stuffed with rice and boiled in ginseng soup until it becomes rich and aromatic. The chicken flesh with be soft and tender and the rice can be eaten like porridge.
Yes, it was indeed the best ginseng chicken we tried in Korea. A hearty and satisfying meal after a tiring morning of walking walking and walking. A word of advice though – the dish comes with a small cup of ginseng tea and a small vial of real ginseng for each adult. Decline it if you don’t want it – they charge you for it if you accept.