Welcome back, Diary, as today we explore Gyeongbokgung Palace!
It took me a couple days to finally feel like it, but walking through the ancient walls of the palace made me feel like I’d finally arrived in Korea – this was the Korea I came to see. And I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
From the moment you arrive at the Palace – it’s easy to reach, right in the heart of the City Hall precinct of town – you already feel worlds away from the non-stop bustle of cars, honks, and skyscrapers of the Seoul cityscape. At the entrance to the gates, there stand ornately-dressed guards holding fearsome naginata-esqe blades, with colourful coats. These fellows are something like London’s Queen’s Guard. They remain completely still as hundreds of people take photos and pose, whilst even more people flock to see the flamboyant changing of the guard ceremonies.
The first courtyard is flanked by the mountains in the distance, lovely, tall green things looking very vibrant in the South Korean autumn. The walls are tall and encase you, and the architecture looks to good to be true; so imperial and ornate, it’s exactly what I expected it to be and precisely what I wanted it to me like. It’s so amazingly detailed, it’s remarkable to think that a culture could be so proudly strong and imperial to build a palace such as this, but also so artistic as to add all the greens, blues and yellows to the buildings, and to add the sculptures atop the roofs. It’s somehow both intimidating, and welcoming.
From the first courtyard, the Palace ground branch out in multiple directions, weaving in and out of labyrinth like walls and building structures. I took a left and made my way around, entering a beautiful garden area complete with a wonderful pond that was apparently used for entertaining.
The reflective waters were super colourful with the mirror of the autumn trees surrounding it. Brilliant reds and oranges, and wonderful golds surrounded the pavilion, and I could really imagine being there in old times, surrounded by the trees, the water, and the sound of birds, with a view of those ancient mountains in the close distance. It was a really impressive sight, and I spent a good half an hour in this section, trying to take the perfect photo. Perhaps it’s a little poetic that I don’t feel like I got one; the scope and breadth of everything before was far too much to try squeeze into one photograph. Nothing did it justice, and nothing ever could but the awesomeness of my own two eyes.
Moving on, the landscape of the palace grounds completely changed as I made my way through a glade of blossom trees, towards a subset of buildings in the corner of the grounds.
There was something about this little corner of the grounds that really appealed to me; it was a little more quiet; there were less people making their way through this area, and for some reason, the fact that this area was used as a living area was a fact that injected a real personality into it. I remember walking into this section, and beaming broadly to myself, as it felt like I could’ve easily been transported back in time, and been right amongst the denizens of the grounds in ancient times. I stopped for a moment, and sat on a hill, pulling out my notebook and hastily scribbling a few notes about the buildings, and how I could best describe the locations.
I ended up drafting the storyline and concept for an entirely new series of fantasy novels, and even began scribbling drafts for a map of this new world!
I think that was something I really took away from this day; was just how vivid my imagination became walking the paths and narrow buildings of these awesome Palace grounds. I really came away from this day re-energized and raring to go, which was really good for, since I felt so drained from the day before.
After my little distraction, I stood up and made my way round to the next area, passing a little building filled with urns. In the days of the palace, this building was used as a storage area for food and drink, and servants would have been sent here to grab ingredients for upcoming banquets.
Around the other side of this building a whole new area opened up. There was another pond, with a small island sitting in the middle, with a shrine. It was bordered by more wonderfully colourful trees, and of course, the mountains in the close distance.
This was the image in all the guides, so it was good to see it in person and get amongst the culture, too, as some of the buildings boring the pond were the living quarters of the King and Queen. Walking around, and learning all the history between the Koreans and the Japanese, and the successful and failed assassination attempts by Japanese ninja on the royalty. It was really intriguing stuff to learn!
Neighbouring the pond was a small, unassuming building, into which I saw many people entering. Curious, I walked over to discover that the building was in fact a small library and museum. It even had a small cafe and chairs that looked out into the pretty pond area, and you had to put on slippers upon entering.
Stepping away from the pond, the grounds continued even further! It was crazy, when you thought the grounds were just about all explored, a new section opened up right before you and offered you something new to explore. It was amazing, you wonder how many people actually lived within the Palace walls, and if it was only the royal family… what did they do with all that space?!?
There’s even an attachment next door to the palace grounds that leads out towards the National Folk Museum of Korea. I didn’t have a chance to go inside, but the outside looked pretty cool.
After I was done perusing the grounds of the Museum, I made my back towards Gyeongbokgung, chasing on more picture in front of my favourite section before heading back to the subway for the ride back to Gangham.
I hung around the pond for maybe half an hour, waiting patiently for an english-looking person who might understand my request, and in the end, it was a lovely Korean woman who offered to snap a pic for me. It was a really good way to end the day – after all the trials of Korea, it was really great to immerse myself in the Korea I came to the peninsula to see.
I was only just getting started.