Seoul: Day 1 First Subway Ride – Hongdae – Changdeokgung Palace – Huwon
Travel Period : 30 May – 5 June 2017 (Tues – Mon)
7 DAYS 6 NIGHTS IN SEOUL/JEJU ISLAND
TO HONGDAE FOR LUNCH
Since Roinhome, our Guesthouse was located in the Hongdae area, we decided to eat there and explore the area. I found a restaurant through some online reviews and headed there. Jenny said we just needed to walk ahead to an area to reach the nearest subway station (Hapjeong Station). However, we discovered the 15-minutes walk was really too far, with our heavy bags and children. I guess, to citizens living there “a 15-20mins” walk is “very near” and do-able. To us, coming from a tired overnight flight and living in a small country where transport is available for every 5 minutes walk… a 10-20-minutes walk (sometimes, a little uphill) was agony.
PROBLEM WITH T-MONEY
Reaching Hapjeong Station, we encountered our first difficulty. My mum couldn’t pass through after tapping her T-money card as she was a little slow in moving through. The doors were the old-fashioned type where one need to turn the barrier. I looked to Vin for help and realised he couldn’t pass through too! He was away from us at the handicapped barrier with Ling on stroller. Hence, the three of us were in and the two of them were out. It was quite exasperating as they had to walk all the way to the far end to find a station master to help. It was several attempts to and fro before we finally reunited and went to take our first train ride.
After taking a stop to Hongik University Station, it was another 6 minutes walk before we reached the restaurant for lunch. It looked nothing like the one we planned, so I wondered if it was another branch. By then, we were really famished. Still, there was another flight of stairs to climb as it was located on the second floor.
We settled down to a table of 6 in a happy mood, wanting to experience a nice meal. However, on our first taste of Korean bibimbap, we were taken by surprise at the spiciness! Vin had to keep going to the drinking machine (free flow) to refill cups of water. We really didn’t know authentic Korean cuisine is so much more spicier than what we had experienced in Singapore. In the end, we didn’t enjoy much of the meal since it was all just veggies and rice in spicy sauce. The BBQ meat was not bad though. Fortunately, I hadn’t touched my rice as I was feeding Ling, so I was able to give Dar white rice before it was mixed with the spicy sauce.
I think it was from this meal on that we swore off all spicy food in Korea for the rest of our trip. We were all afraid of a poor stomach ruining our travel plans.
After eating, our initial plan of exploring Hongdae was scrapped. As mentioned, we didn’t sleep well on the plane and took a long walk here…Thus, at that moment, we didn’t feel like doing any window-shopping.
We decided to head to Changdeokgung Palace, the first Korean place of interest on our itinerary.
On a side-note, I had wanted to go Gyeongbokgung Palace but only realised after we booked the air-tickets that it doesn’t open on Tuesdays! Therefore, here’s a tip, make sure you check the opening hours first of each place you want to go to before you start booking tickets. We were in a rush to snatch up the tickets first before they were gone and didn’t plan carefully.
GETTING TO CHANGDEOKGUNG PALACE
Walking back to the same subway (Hongik University), we took the elevator down. It is usually located far away from the entrances of the subway and one need to search around. This made our life easier, as Ling was on stroller with our heavy diaper bag and jackets bag.
> Read: “South Korea Seoul: Tips and Experience” on navigating the confusing subways.
On seats, we always choose the section of the subway for needy people such as elderly and people with children. Koreans are civic minded and wouldn’t sit in these seats. They are often empty even though the train may be packed. Vin and I took turns sitting with the stroller if there are really no other seats elsewhere. Strangely, we seldom see children while taking the subway (only saw twice throughout entire trip).
We transferred another line before reaching the nearest subway, Anguk Station.
LONG WALK TO CHANGDEOKGUNG PALACE
I’m not too sure if our way is the correct way. Even after exiting from the subway, we took a 10-minutes walk to Changdeokgung Palace. The path had some upslopes so we needed a lot of energy to walk and stroll our toddler.
GETTING THE TICKETS
Before entering, we had to walk across the main entrance to the right side where there was a ticketing office. Vin had reserved the “Secret Garden (Huwon)” tour online together with the entrance ticket (before our trip) so we made payment at a separate counter to collect the physical tickets to show the guards.
It was afternoon and the weather got really hot. It was almost piercing to be looking at the sandy ground surrounding us. That was when I realised that we had forgotten to pack our walking/hiking essentials, our hats! =.= I was quite upset with myself on this. I always need my hat in sunny Singapore because I have thin hair and my scalp gets sunburned easily. The summer weather there felt even hotter! Guess I just have to bear with it or use an umbrella, I told myself.
While waiting for Vin to settle the tickets, we went to the washrooms located just beside. One could change their infant there. Scroll down below to read Baby Needs – An odd changing table.
FIRST EXPLORATION OF CHANGDEOKGUNG PALACE
Our “Secret Garden” tour hadn’t begin yet so we could explore the palace. Seeing how there were many people crowding on the right side, we decided to walk to the left, where there was an interesting courtyard. It turned out to be the “Gwolnaegak-sa“.
Gwolnaegaksa was the location of a collection of government offices. These offices handled royal family and political affairs.
After some photo-taking, I realised it was great that I was travelling with my parents. I could ask my Dad to help us take a family photo! It was his first time using our DSLR, so he took sometime to figure it out but nevertheless, the result was good enough.
We let Ling out of the stroller and she became very active, exploring around the place and insisted on holding onto the brochure. When she spotted the building used as a reading hall, she even pointed to it.
As it was too hot, we made her wear her new hat to prevent damage to her scalp. I told her that the weather is “hot” and she understood and allowed the hat to stay on. What a relief! She was actually very resistant to hats in the past until these few months before the trip, I started leaving my hat in her playroom for her to try putting on. Finally, she tried and left it on for a while, so I went to buy a suitable size for her age (Mothercare).
It was almost time for our 2.30pm tour so we left this area and went to the right side (from main entrance), with directions to the Huwon, Secret Garden. There was a long passageway with large patches of sand to its side, with no shelter. The sun was high up in the sky and scorching hot by then. I could feel my skin burning up as we walked through the long passageway (a good photospot if there were few people walking on it).
Walking towards the place, we spotted a refreshment and souvenir shop. We didn’t want to stop as it was almost time for our tour and we were still a distance away. Mum however decided that she really need a cold drink and went to queue. This was our first point of argument. Fortunately, it was just a short walk to the waiting area. We gathered inside the gate waiting for the rest of the people. Mum gave us a bottle of the soft drinks she bought and it helped quenched our thirst. That made me feel silly about arguing with her over the buying just now…still, if we weren’t on time, the group would have left without us.
HUWON (SECRET GARDEN)
We had read about the Secret Garden and decided to put this into our itinerary. It could only be accessed by a special tour at certain timings to preserve the garden. It is said to be beautiful in the fall so how was our Summer visit? In my opinion, I think we made the wrong choice to visit at this time of the year. There was a large variety of species of plants but just greenery all around, no flowers at all.
As we moved upslope with the stroller and downslope (it would be bad when we return), I started regretting. Did we make a wrong choice in bringing our toddler on a stroller? The sun was beating down hard on us. I tried to listen to the Korean guide but his English was inaudible. That made me disappointed as I could only make out certain bits of it. We were also often behind as our pace were much slower than the rest of the group.
Then, Ling decided to act up and started wailing in the first pond (Aeryeongji) we came to. I had no choice but to baby-carry her from then on so she could sleep. She refused to sit in the stroller.
The last slope towards a small garden Ongnyucheon (an end point) was particularly hard as it was soooo.. steep. Imagine walking up with a 9.6kg load on a steep slope…I almost cursed..while Vin pushed the stroller with our heavy bags. My parents weren’t the active kind so I was quite concerned and waited up for them.
The small landscaped garden was just…okay. We decided to leave from this point as the tour still seemed to be on-going. I was so tired carrying Ling and not interested anymore. To me, everywhere was with the same greenery and Korean pavilions. It didn’t have the “wow” factor I expected. As for the information about the various areas we seen, I had to go online to read more about them.
A staff who was following the tour group at the back told us to go back the same way (it’s a round tour). That’s when we realised this was the last part. Thus, we went back up the slopes and down again. The tour group was also walking the same way but we continued on to the exit, instead of visiting the last quarters (Yeongyeongdang).
Finally, we were back at the Buyongji area where we could buy refreshments and souvenirs. There were washrooms there too. We rested and bought mineral water and soft drinks as our water bottles were all emptied.
In our pre-trip plan, we were supposed to tour the remaining palace after exiting the Secret Garden but after all those walking, we had no more mood. We hadn’t seen the throne hall and meeting hall, two important places in the palace where the King received foreign envoys or held meetings with his ministers. Thinking we could see the same thing tomorrow at Gyeongbokgung Palace (didn’t get to visit in the end..sob), we headed to our next itinerary, Dongdaemum.
Verdict & Rating:
Changdeokgung Palace昌德宫: 3/5. The main palaces buildings are nice as I like ancient architecture but the place was too big and buildings too scattered to be able to explore fully. One would have to walk very far to visit each structure. Come with an energetic body in the morning if you are visiting in Summer. Too hot to walk in Summer. Visit in Fall for the best experience.
Historical Value: Changdeokgung had been destroyed majorly and underwent several reconstruction. The oldest existing palace buildings are early 17th century.
Huwon / Secret Garden秘苑: 2/5 . Note that I love nature places and we often admire plant species. However, this just didn’t wow me and was not really as beautiful as we had read about. Maybe it was the wrong season for us cos it looks just ordinary. (We are frequent explorers of parks and forests in Singapore and Overseas). If you have limited time like us, you should skip this and just explore Changdeokgung Palace. Otherwise, visit to satisfy the curiosity on “what’s so secret about it that we must take a tour”.
Tour: 1/5. The tour commentary was quite bad as with the large number of people and standing at the back, I could hardly hear. Either the microphone he was using wasn’t good or I couldn’t understand his Korean English. He also doesn’t wait for all to gather first before speaking. I don’t understand why there is a need to quickly speak once he arrive and then let us wait 3 minutes to explore the area/rest before moving on. A lot of people were bored just waiting around. By the time we reached after all those tiring climb, he had already finished speaking. I would prefer just moving on instead of wasting time. It was really too draggy under the hot weather. We could get the same information by reading online…
++ BABY NEEDS – ODD CHANGING TABLE ++
Stepping inside the female washroom, I found a diaper changing table in one of the female cubicles and there were two such cubicles.
Thus, I brought Ling to change. It was a bit of a challenge to change her in that small space. The table was too high around my chest so she was higher than me when she stood up. There was no space to stand beside it and we could only stand at the end of it. I wondered at this strange arrangement. Why don’t they have it outside in the female washroom? There were plenty of space near the sinks. Privacy for an infant? It would be troublesome to wash her if she pooped. Besides, imagine the amount of germs it has, located right beside the toilet bowl. O_O. We couldn’t use it too if someone who doesn’t have a baby occupied the two cubicles. Also, fathers can’t help to change babies…as there were no changing tables in the gents.