Seoul’s palaces

One of the most touristic attractions of Seoul is visiting its palaces. However, there is more than one… there are 3 famous ones. All of them are similar but at the same time they are really unique and have their own particularities. If you have time in Seoul to visit the 3 of them it’s a unique experience that you’ll never experience outside of Korea. But if you have a short amount of time make a choice and visit one or two of them.

The first palace that I visited was the Changdeokgung palace. It was the second villa of the king after the main one : Gyeongbukgung.

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Because it was the first palace that I visited in Korea I was really impressed by the architecture, the drawing and the colors of the place. The Changdeokgung palace is composed of different buildings, so you can spend some time there. Actually, I visited this palace twice, once during winter and once during spring. I preferred to visit it during winter because the place was empty. I could fully appreciate the beauty of the place.

What I particularly liked in Korean palaces were the drawings and colors. Every building is painted in a really colorful way. This is not only the case for this palace but for all the palaces in Korea. For me, it was what made Korean palaces so beautiful.

 

Version 2The particularity of the Changdeokgung palace is its secret garden. At the entrance, you can get another ticket to visit the secret garden of the king. This visit is in English few times a day. You can’t go on your own it’s a group visit.

The secret garden was built for the King and his family in order to rest and enjoy the nature. Nowadays, the secret garden reveals a true beauty.

The tour is around one hour and a half and the explanations are really good. It gives you the history of the place and also some information about the palace itself. It really helped me to imagine Korea at this time.

I visited the secret garden twice during winter and early spring. Of course, I recommend to visit it during spring (not early spring but full spring) or autumn because the colors of the garden are becoming even more charming.

If you are going to the Changdeokgung palace you should not miss the secret garden which is really beautiful to see.

 

The second palace I visited in Seoul is the most famous one : the Gyeongbukgung palace.

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This palace was the main royal palace of the king during the Joseon dynasty. The main buildings of this palace looked really similar to the previous palace but its particularity was its size. The area of the Gyeongbukgung palace is really big and you have a lot of small areas to explore.

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What I particularly liked in this palace was still the colors of the painting which were stunning. I also liked the fact that the area is big, there is a lot to visit. Moroeover one of the buildings of the palace is in the water which was beautiful.

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If you have to visit only one palace in Seoul I would recommend seeing this one because it’s the most well known. Moreover, even if there are more people the area is spread and you have a lot to see.

 

Finally, the last palace I visited was the Deoksugung palace. This area is made of few palaces which were inhabited by the royal family during the Joseon dynasty but were used to receive guests.

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I didn’t really love this place because the palaces are pretty but after seeing the other two palaces, this one is less impressive. However, I found it funny to be really near big buildings with huge screens. It showed me the contrast of Seoul.

If I was not a big fan of this place why I am talking about it?

Because of the royal guards ceremony!  Every day at 11am, 2pm and 3:30pm a representation of the guards ceremony in traditional costoms is given. This is the particularity of this place that I loved. I was in love with the ceremony and the show given. To see it, you don’t have to go into the palace but just stay in front of it.

 

This is a really good experience of my staying in Korea and if you have the opportunity to see it don’t miss it, you’ll be impressed by the atmosphere.

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Now the hardest part for you is to choose between these three different palaces in Seoul… If you don’t want to choose just visit all of them! (the 2 first palaces are really near so it’s easy to visit the 2 of them).

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Korean traditional dances

All over Korea, tradition is important. Most of the time it’s seen through the clothes, the food, manners… another way to discover Korea is through dances. When I was in Seoul, I saw a show of Korean dances with traditional clothes and musical intruments. Here few pictures of these dances.

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A day in Busan

I couldn’t stay in Korea for almost 6 months and not go in the second biggest city of the country. However, I did realize that at the end of my trip so I didn’t have much time to spend there. But in one day I decided to see as much as I could ! So here my one day trip in Busan:

Because of my short timing, I took an easy option: the drop-off  bus in order to reduce the time of transportation. My first stop in Busan was Oryukdo islets which are basically really tiny islands near the coast. You can see them from the coast and even walk on a glass bridge on the sea. However, you can not go on the islets themselves.

 

The fact of seeing theses small islands wasn’t the best thing ever but there were a path where you can hike. The hiking path is enjoyable, being in the “nature” and at the same time being so close from a modern city. Indeed, if you look towards the islets you’ll see nature but if you turn toward the city you’ll see the big buildings which are characteristics of Korea.

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My second stop was in the city center to see the famous Jalgachi fish market. Because Bu_DSC6528san is near the see, there is one of the biggest fish markets there. After seeing the one in Seoul this one is still impressive but looks really similar.

There are a lot of different species of fishes, octopus, crabs, dry fish… The particularity of this fish markets is that you can eat your meal there. They prepare for you the fresh fish and you eat it on small tables in the market. One of the most famous specialties in Korea is eating living octopus. This meal is called Sannakji. I couldn’t try because it looks so weird for me… The small pieces of octopus are still moving in your plate and if you eat it, it will still move in your mouth. 

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Then, my next stop in Busan was to see the famous Haeundae Beach. This beach is really famous because at night it’s really lighted through the huge buildings near it. However, by day this beach looks like a normal beach. The only particularity is that Korean are in the sea there. Indeed, Korean don’t really swim and when they go in the water it’s with their clothes and with some buoy.

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Near the beach, there is the marine area with a lot of tall buildings. They are really impressive because they are also really bright and grouped.

 

My last stop in Busan was my favorite one. I went to the Haedong Yonggungsa temple. This temple really doesn’t look like all the other Korean temples. This one is between the sea and the forest and looks beautiful. _DSC7980

There is a lot of things to see there, by crossing different bridges to go see the temples, watch all the different golden buddhas and pigs (yes I don’t know why pigs). The colors of the temple are really brights, drawings are impressive… This temple is really rich and going to visit it is not a waste of time. Moreover, even if this is not an empty place (not crowded as well) the atmosphere is mystical and full of serenity.

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One of the characteristics of this place is also the small buddhas all over the area of the temple. And it’s really cute !!

 

 

Visiting Busan in one day was really intense but at least I could see a lot of things. However if I get more time I would see the beach by night and the famous bridge of the city by night. Discovering Busan by night would have been another experience!

 

PS: if you want to discover more about Busan go check my other article talking about a small colorful village in the city : https://travelwithtinablog.com/2016/04/26/busan-gamchon-village/

Korean traditional clothes: Hanbok

People dressed in traditional clothes can be seen all around the country but more especially in Seoul. Koreans love to wear them for special occasions or just to enjoy . The Korean traditional cloth called Hanbok is different depending on the gender. Women’s hanbok is stylish, colorful and elegant with its short jacket and long skirt. Men’s hanbok is also stylish with its vest and outer coat on the basis of trouser and jacket. Hanbok can be from the more simple one to the most sophisticated that is usually wore during traditional weddings.

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This young Korean is wearing a hanbok and what’s funny for almost all of young people wearing these clothes are the shoes. They are the contrary of the clothing, showing Korea’s developing in traditionality.

 

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People wearing hanbok are most of the time in groups or couple. Korean couples even in everyday life are matching everything. They can wear the same clothes, have the same shoes, same accessories… So, when they wear Hanbok most of the time their clothing are matching.

 

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Hanbok are worn by girls from different ages. Most of the time people wearing Hanbok are young (between 16 and 25).

 

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This Hanbok is not a simple one. As I mentioned before some hanbok were worn by simple people, others by the bourgeoisie and others by the queen. This one was most probably for highest people in the society.

 

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When Koreans are wearing Hanbok they are always taking a lot of pictures. Even without that they do take a lot, for a special moment like that they will find the best postures for hundred of pictures.

 

To wear a Hanbok, if Koreans don’t have it they don’t buy it. There are a lot of places that you can rent Hanbok for the day or for few hours. So you could try, walk around a bit with it and get back to casual clothes after that.

 

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Lovely areas of Seoul: Hongdae, Insa dong & Buckchon

When I first discovered Seoul, capital of South Korea, I was shocked by its modernity, technology but at the same time, I found a soul to the city. It’s kind of unexplainable but Seoul is one of the big cities where despite the new buildings you will find some areas full of charm. I would say that there is a lot of places in Seoul with this soul but the one I really liked were Hongdae, Insa Dong and Buckeon …

1-  So, the first place I want to talk about is the area of Hondgae. This place is very well known at night because of its many bars and night clubs. However, I also liked this place during the day which is really rare for a place where night life is present(not the morning though because everything is close) . What I  particularly liked I think was that this area was much more “alive” than what I could see in some parts of Seoul. There are a lot of restaurants, street food sellers, clothe shops … If you are going there be aware that there is nothing to visit there,  you just have to  enjoy the atmosphere of Hongdae. At night, the place is becoming more than alive, all the bars are full, there are some musicians in the street playing performances, crowded streets…

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2-  Another place that I loved in Seoul was Buckeon village. Buckeon is surprisingly next to big buildings, famous palaces. After crossing one street you’re in the middle of a new Seoul. This area is full of little streets typical of the old Korea. The rooftops are nicely curved, the walls of the houses are white and brown. I can’t really explain the architecture of the houses but you can see on the bellow pictures that they are really typical of Korea.

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In this area you shouldn’t be afraid of going into the small streets, most of the time this is where the most beautiful houses are. Moreover, you can go in some of these traditional houses and visit them.

One of the most beautiful parts of these houses are in my opinion the doors. All the doors are really different and really stunning. They can be golden, with drawings, silver… Whatever, they all look beautiful and match into the spirit of Buckeon.

Walking into the streets of Buckeon also means seeing a lot of Koreans dressed with traditional clothes, signal saying “be quiet please, people are living here” and also a lot of art on the wall of some houses. I was really surprised to see some street art in this traditional area. However, this street art is soft, sensible, beautiful. The drawings are really matching with the atmosphere of the place and it gives more charisma.

Buckeon is a small part of Seoul that should be seen by people who want to see more than the modernity of the capital.

3- The last place that I find charming in Seoul was the area of Insa Dong. The place is really near Buckeon so you can see both areas in the same time. What I particularly loved there was the little streets full of shops, cool restaurants, weird food, street art…

So let’s take that in order: Insa Dong had so many small restaurants and shops. In the smallest streets, you’ll find the cutest places.

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The other thing to know is that in the biggest streets the area is more for tourists, so you’ll find souvenirs and more expensive restaurants.

In Insa Dong, some buildings are open, full of wonderful things inside, art, love locker, shops, or just a place to walk in and enjoy.

 

Lastly, Insa Dong has some weird but good food. I tried two snacks that I liked and found really  pretty (or just funny). So the first one was an amazing fairy floss, it was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist to buy one.

The other thing was a Korean pancake filled with either chocolate or red bean paste. The thing is that this pancake was shaped like a poo. It was really funny and pretty good.

Insa Dong is a good place to spend time in you want to have fun in a cool area of Seoul.

So here are my three areas of Seoul that I really found charming and where I could spend more time if I get bored during an afternoon.

Magic lantern festival in Daegu

In every big city of Korea, Buddha’s birthday is celebrated during few days through religious ceremonies, parades, shows and many other things. Because Seoul is the capital, the most impressive celebrations are located there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend there so I went to the city of Daegu to see the lantern festival.

So, I spent the day in the city of Daegu which I really liked. At the evening, the festival started. It’s in a stadium, with a stage, a speaker and a chorus. Before going into the stadium I crossed the park leading to the stadium and there was some float for the parade. They were all really colorful and I loved them. Even if for some people this is a bit too much and kitsch, I though it was joyful.

 

To be up in the stadium you should arrive really early, if not you’ll just be in the middle of the crowd which still  gives a beautiful view of the lantern show. Then started the waiting time… Indeed, in the stadium there is a stage with speakers, dancers, singers but most of the time it was just prayer in Korean so I couldn’t understand anything. Even though, it was not the worst waiting time of my life… people are wearing beautiful dresses, kids are all dressed up, there is already some beautiful lanterns…

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When the sun got done, people got prepared with their lantern, started to put it out of their bag, take their lighters off and waited the signal to set fire!

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When the first lanterns were all going in the sky together it is a spectacular show that can’t really be described. You really feel like you are in a movie and don’t really realize what’s happening. This is maybe my sentimental sight which is going out but everyone looked amazed by the lanterns floating in the sky.

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During the launch of lanterns, someone gave us a lantern to try to make it fly. We were really excited to try (because we didn’t buy any there). However, don’t think it’s easy to set fire on a lantern and let it fly in the sky. It’s absolutely not!  When you set fire you have to wait until the balloon get hot and can fly by itself. But if it’s a little bit windy (like it was this day) you may just burn it… Yes, it didn’t fly but burned miserably on the floor…

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When all the lanterns are gone the parade started.On one hand I loved it because it was really lighted, colorful, so different from what I already saw. On the other hand, it was really short. Indeed, I don’t know if it’s Korean style or what but the parade which usually is quite slow to enjoy the moment, was really fast. People were not running but almost…

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After the parade there were still a lot of activities, streets shows… but we had to go back to our city.

I have an amazing memory of the lantern festival and it’s something that always made me dream… I’m not ready to forget it! If you have the chance to see a lantern festival, doesn’t matter where it is, just go for it!

 

The DMZ : at the North Korean border

North Korea, the most closed country in the world, synonym of torture and dictatorship raises some interest from foreigners. This enigmatic country doesn’t give any information to the outside world and maintain an inexplicable mystery.

Obviously, foreigners can’t go to North Korea as tourists or if they go the trip will be regulated and you’ll not discover the real North Korea. Despite the fact of going in North Korea I went to its border.

My first stop on my trip to learn more about North Korea was the unification observatory. This place is basically a high building on top of a mountain and is in front of North Korea. Indeed, a river is dividing the North Korea and South Korea parts. There you can look through binoculars and see the North Koreans working in the fields. Of course, you can’t see precisely people but you can still see them, their houses…

One of the most interesting parts of this trip was in the bus which guided us. A North Korean women who escaped North Korea one year ago was with us. She explained to us why she left North Korea, her journey through China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand before coming in South Korea. She gave us a lot of details and she had a touching story. However, I will not tell it here because a part of her family is still in North Korea and if they find them, the North Korean government will kill them (or at least put them in working camps).

Another stop on this tour was the bridge of freedom. We stayed about 15 minutes there and it was enough. It’s a bridge between North and South Korea which before connected both lands. Nowadays, the bridge is close and nobody can go on it. Instead of crossing the bridge people put some Korean flag or ribbon. It symbolizes the hope of unification between North and South Korea.

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Finally, the last stop is the one that everyone was waiting for : Panmunjon or JSA tour. Once the checking of all the passports by the militaries is done you’ll go in a UN bus to start the tour. The first thing that militaries (from USA and South Korea) told us was all the rules to follow. There are many rules but the most important ones are to not wave or point with your finger North Korean soldiers.

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We finally arrived at the place where North and South Korean soldiers are face to face. (the slogan of the militaries there is “face them all”). The soldiers which have these jobs are the most trained one. They should not move under any circumstances and look their enemy in the eye all the day long .

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We also could visit the room of negotiations because there were no North Koreans inside. If there is North Koreans inside the room, the door is lock and you can’t visit it. In the middle of the room, on the central table, there is a string which separate North and South Korea. This is the only place where you can cross the border and go to North Korea.

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Here the end of my tour of the DMZ. The day wasn’t funny but really interesting and full of emotions.