It’s day 2 of my Seoul solo trip and I have a day to spend before the start of the Youth Forum on Monday. I’ve spent the entire Saturday learning about Korea’s history by visiting the National Museum of Korea and the War Memorial, really great learning experiences there. Today, I decided to visit the famous Gyeongbokgung Palace and the adjacent National Palace Museum.
Let me start, it was amazingly, brilliantly, searingly, despairingly HOT! The moment I stepped out the subway, I immediately felt the heat wave emanating from the square between the two gates separating the palace from the road. Within minutes, I was drenched and I cursed myself for not wearing a dry-fit shirt. But other than the fact it was hot, I began to appreciate the beauty of the palace.
Having been to the Forbidden City in the past, Gyeongbokgung was nothing new to me. In fact, it felt very familiar, the ring-like structure surrounding the main palace, while little rooms here and there for court officials and concubines to stay were all present. Unlike the Forbidden City, the palace was on the smallish side, in fact after having gone through about three layers of the compound I was in the throne room. But therein lies the difference between the two palaces, the Forbidden City’s throne room was sparse and looked dilapidated whereas Gyeongbokgung’s was preserved and looked like the emperor had just left his throne yesterday.
After visiting the throne room, I walked around the entire museum, enjoying the beautiful gardens and marveling at the pagoda structures that were ever present. After a while, the whole trip started getting a little bit tedious, I was seeing the same thing over and over again. There were some rooms that were interesting, but the lack of a guide, be it an audio or personal guide made this trip a bit dull. The significance of the rooms and the symbolism of the sculptures all throughout eluded me.
About an hour after I had entered, I suddenly heard sonorous drums and the sound of a band playing, running towards the sound, I was just in time for the changing of the guard. The last time I had seen such a ceremony was ages ago (Tomb of Unknown Soldier in DC) because most of the tourists were afraid to venture out in the open with the searing sun right above them, I had a front row view of the ceremony. Filled with pomp and ceremony, the dazzling blues, reds, and yellows were a sight to see.
Undoubtedly, watching the changing of the guard was the most exciting part of my visit to Gyeongbokgung. Nevertheless, it was still fun to go inside a centuries old palace and see how the royals of old lived. My goal next time is to come when the season is a bit cooler to really enjoy and appreciate this place.
161 Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu
Open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am – 6pm
Admission: KRW 3,000
Closest subway station: Gyeongbokgung