Part 2/3

On my first full day in Korea, I got an early start around 7:30 am. I checked out of the jjimjilbang (Korean all-night spa) and headed to Dongdaemun station. That day I was meeting a friend from America who happened to be in Seoul at the same time for work. We were going to meet at Gyeongbok Palace when it opened at 9 am.

I was worried that I would get lost on my way to the palace, but the Seoul subway system was very easy to use, even during the morning rush hour. It seems like there is a train every 3-5 minutes. I got there in plenty of time and got to see the palace in the early morning light.

Gyeonbukgung

When my friend got there we bought our tickets and took a look around. There were English signs in each area to tell us what we were looking at. I was very happy to see that Gyeonbok Palace was the birth place of the Korean alphabet (Hangul) and the first place in Korea to get electricity. It was very beautiful. I could also see that it was heavily influenced by Chinese architecture.

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There was a large garden at the palace, but it was too early in the year for any of the trees to be blooming. I’m sure it would have been beautiful a few weeks later.

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Gyeonbukgung pavilion

Near the palace grounds there are two museums, the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea. I had time to tour both. The National Folk Museum had a lot of English explanations posted around and was educational and enjoyable. The National Palace Museum had very little English, but the exhibits were beautiful. The National Palace Museum provides free guided English tours. I didn’t arrive in time to go on one, though.

My Chinese zodiac animal is the rabbit.
Rabbit statue

Before we left we were lucky to catch a reenactment of the changing of the guards at the palace gate.

Gyeonbukgung Palace Guards

After Gyeonbuk Palace, I said goodbye to my friend and headed over to Changdeok Palace. This palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace buildings were a little similar to Gyeonbuk Palace, but the layout was different. There was also an even bigger garden, but it can only be viewed on a guided tour. I didn’t think it would be very nice this time of year, so I skipped the garden.

Changdeokgung

I saw a palace building with a parking space for cars for the first time here.

Changdeokgung building

After touring the palace grounds I walked over to the Bukchon Hanbuk Village that was nearby. This is an area of Seoul that has very old traditional houses that are still being lived in. Many of the houses were surrounded by high walls however. The area was perfect for a quiet stroll, and the streets were lined with shops and restaurants. I enjoyed this peaceful area.

Bukchon Hanok Village

After getting some bibimbap (vegetables and an egg served on rice in a hot bowl)for lunch, I decided it was about time to check into my youth hostel. I booked a hostel in Dongdaemun so that I could stay close to the action. Dongdaemun is close to many of the big tourist attractions, so I think it was the perfect area to stay.

I came across some performances in Dongdaemun that night. It looked like a dance competition.

Dongdaemun dancers

That night, I decided to check out another night market in Myeongdong. I really liked Myeondong a lot. It felt a lot like Shibuya or Shinjuku in Tokyo. There were vendors lining the streets selling clothing, jewelry, handbags, souvenirs, and food. There were also regular stores like H&M and Zara. From Myeongdong you can see the N Seoul Tower, which lights up every night. I explored a lot of side streets and thought about buying some souvenirs, but I had a feeling they were overpriced. This night market wasn’t open as late as Dongdaemun. Shops started closing around 9pm. I had Korean style barbecue for dinner and then made my way back to the hostel for some much needed rest.

Part 3 is coming soon!