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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Palace burnout

Seoul's stunning mountain backdrop never fails to impress.

The Joseon Dynasty, one one of the world's longest-lasting dynasties and ruler of Korea until 1910, built five "grand" palaces and frankly, I'm starting to get a little burnt-out. After having visited Changdeokgung and Deoksugung, I'm still awed by the massive scale and ornate embellishments but mostly, they all look the same.


Which is why I walked through the gates at Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace), took a stroll around the courtyard and decided, "Nah. I've had enough."


Luckily Gyeongbokgung has extensive grounds outside the main palace so it's a pleasant place to meander even if you never buy a ticket for the main compound.

Overview of the compound (photograph of a photograph)

After being destroyed by the Japanese in the 20th century, efforts are now underway to completely refurbish and rebuild the palace. As of 2009, only 40% has been rebuilt but you can some of the original designs and ornamentations on display in the yard.



Gyeongbokgung is also the site of the National Palace Museum of Korea, which displays artifacts from every aspect of royal life. Elaborate palanquins, ancient scrolls and a recreated self-striking water clock are just a few of the sites to marvel at.


I especially liked royal costumes over the years. Up close, there are many intricate details and a stunning array of peacock-esque colors. These are adult (top) and children's (bottom) clothes from the early 20th century:



Best of all, the museum is free during 2009 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Korea's first museum. Isn't it crazy that it wasn't until 1909 that a museum was established here?

If you're in Seoul for just a short trip, there's really no reason to see more than one palace. Personally, my favorite was Changdeokgung because of its beautiful "secret garden" and relaxing atmosphere. It was also the first one I visited so maybe there's a sentimental attachment, too.


What's your favorite tourist attraction to visit when traveling? Palaces? Museums? Shops? I like seeing a little of everything!