September 27, 2011

Chasing Time at Gyeongbokgung Palace

When our tour guide announced that our next stop would be Gyeongbokgung Palace, the weight that was gradually growing on my eyelids suddenly disappeared.  Being a history buff, the magnificent structures of the Joseon Dynasty were on the top of my list of the must-sees in Seoul.  However, my excitement quickly fizzled out when I looked at the window as the sun was about to start its descent.
Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.
We arrived at the Gyeongbokgung Palace Compound at around 3:30 p.m.  I was a bit disappointed that we did not alight at the Gwanghwamun Gate, the main and picturesque entrance of the complex.  Instead, we took a peripheral access that fronts the National Folk Museum of Korea.
The National Folk Museum of Korea inside Gyeongbokgung Palace
The building that houses the museum is majestic.  Built in 1972, the five-story structure was patterned after the Palsangjeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple.  I would’ve really wanted to climb its grand staircase, but the clock was already getting impatient with us.  I didn’t mind ditching the idea, though.  Judging from the number of steps that I had to take to reach the top, I was pretty sure that my heart and lungs would give up on me midway through the climb.

Despite my decision not to flirt with cardiac arrest by testing my mettle on the grand staircase, my stamina was still surprisingly taxed -- inside the National Folk Museum of all places!  Our tour guide only gave us 40 minutes to survey the thousands of artifacts that were on display inside the building.  Doing that on a leisurely stroll is next to impossible.  Thus, we brisk-walked our way through the whole collection!  That was quite disappointing considering that the intricacies of some of the displays demand time and attention.  I really would've wanted to go to the details of each exhibit which depicts the typical daily life in Korea during various periods.
An interesting exhibit inside the National Folk Museum of Korea
After mimicking the participants of the Amazing Race, we were allowed to catch our breaths on a leisurely stroll towards the Sinmumun Gate.  As we made our way towards the exit, we chanced upon Hyangwon-jeong, one of the famous sites in Gyeongbokgung Palace that was built by King Jeongjo for his and his family’s relaxation.  This garden features a small pond with a manmade islet that supports a beautiful two-story pavilion.  The sight was so serene that I forgot that Ms. Julia was already making her way to the finish line!
Hyangwon-jeong garden inside Gyeongbokgung Palace
Upon exiting Gyeongbokgung Palace’s rear gate, we took a few minutes to take some pictures in front of the Blue House, the Head of State’s official residence.  I would’ve wanted to stay behind and walk around the compound longer, but filial duty (and a laughable amount of Korean Won inside my wallet) made me decide to stick with the group.
South Korea's Blue House with Mt. Bukak on the background
If you plan on dedicating only a few measly hours for a tour of Gyeongbokgung Palace, then you may want to revise your South Korea itinerary if you really want a serious engagement and experience of the place.  The buildings' ornate and intricate designs alone would require more than just a glance to elicit a true and meaningful appreciation of the same.  It is worth to note that Gyeongbokgung was the first and main palace that was built by the Joseon founder.  Hence, it should not be surprising to know that the compound's layout has been conscientiously and beautifully designed to be fit for a visionary monarch.  This historical tour guarantees a treat for the mind and the senses.  The enormity of the compound demands that one dedicates at least half a day for this excursion.

The Sinmumun (rear) gate with a glimpse of Mt. Bukak

How to get there

Going to Gyeongbokgung Palace by train / subway is easy.  You’ll find yourself right in front of the complex by taking subway line # 3, Gyeongbokgung station, exit 5.  You may also take line #5, alighting at Ganghwamun Station’s exit 2.  This would require a ten to fifteen-minute walk, though.

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