To pick up from the last blog, we are on a subway heading north to Seoul with our luggage in tow. We chose to spend our last night in South Korea in Seoul instead of at my friend’s house because it takes an hour and a half to go from one to the next and that took up too much of the day. Our first stop on the way north was at the Suwon station to see Hwaseong Fortress (last blog), the second was at the Seoul Station to drop off the luggage at the hotel a block away, and the third stop was at the Anguk station to visit the Changdeokgung Palace Complex.
In the early 15th century, the King Taejong ordered the construction of Changdeokgung Palace Complex at an auspicious site. A Bureau of Palace Construction was set up to create the complex, consisting of a number of official and residential buildings set in a garden that was cleverly adapted to the uneven topography of the 58-ha site. The result is an exceptional example of Far Eastern palace architecture and design, blending harmoniously with the surrounding landscape.
Changdeokgung was the most favored palace of many Joseon kings and retained many elements dating from the Three Kingdoms of Korea period that were not incorporated in the more contemporary Gyeongbokgung Palace (which I will hit on tomorrow). Sadly, only 30% of the site is original since the Japanese destroyed lots of it during the 1910-45 occupation. The best part of this palace is the Secret Garden, which takes up over half the palace grounds. To see the Secret Garden you have to get a separate ticket, as it is only shown as a guided tour. Do not go to the Secret Garden expecting to see a flower garden, because this garden is more of natural wooded area with small shrines, pavilions, lotus ponds, and a library. Back in the day only the king, queen, princes, and invited guests were allowed in.
Just south of Changdeokgung Palace is Jongmyo Shrine, but the two sites are closed on different days, so check the schedule or you will come back to the area on two different days like we did. Of course that did not turn out to be a bad thing since we walked around the surrounding neighborhoods and spent more time in the area.