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This was a solo trip without my wife. I was lucky enough to be allowed to add a week of vacation to the end of a business trip that had brought me to China. My hotel called me a cab after work in China on a Friday and off I went, all by myself from a country whose language I don't understand to go to a country whose language I did understand at all and in which I could not even say "hello". Well, that sounded like a lot of fun. And off I went...
I got to Gyeongbokgung-Palace just in time for the change of guard ceremony. It was built in 1395 and the main royal palace during the Joseon dynasty. Like Changdeokgung Palace, it was reduced to ashes during the Japanese invasion of 1592. It took until 1867 before itw as rebuilt, just to be destroyed by the Japanese again in the early 20th century. Restoration to its old glory finally started in 1990.
The change of guyard ceremony was a bit unusual as I had the impression that it was heavily improvised and some older folks kept telling their fwlloe actors where to stand and what to do. Anyway, it was a show worth visiting.
This is the largest traditional market in South Korea. You can find almnost everything here. There are blocks and blocks full of stores and street vendors. I took maybe two hours to walk through the streets with endless colorful signs and enjoyed the ever changing odors of the many different foods and herbs that are being offered here.
Google maps told me that it would be an easy walk from the subway station to get to Isandong.
Well, it did not tell me that those were all backroads through a maze of tiny roads between tall walls and roadways that should not even be there. Well, I somehow made it.
It took more time and energy than expected to stroll through Namdaemun Market and to get to Isandong and now I had even more window shopping planned in Isandong. I decided to cut it down to just a short walk...and boy was I wrong. Isandong is its own world of high end shopping and interesting places. To make matters worse, there was some kind of festival with music and shows going on. Well, I decided to go with the flow and enjoy what the Koreans came here for.
Korea House and Namsangol Hanok Village
After Isandong, I decided to rest my hurting feet in Tapgol Park and then it was on to Korea House where I was planning to see a play. My timing this day was great as I arrived about two hours early. Early is good as it gave me time to buy a ticket, find some food and .. to briefly see Namsangol Hanok Village which is right next to Korea House.
So, I spent about an hour in the village and, even though nothing there is original, I enjoyed walking around and I decided to just ignore my hurting feet as I was tooe xcited to see more Korean culture.
The play at Korea House was titled "Sim Cheong" and I can honestly say that this was one of the best plays I have ever seen. It was a mix out of traditional Korean theater and misci played on treaditional Korean instruments mixed with light shows, film projections and modern music and sound effects. Like in the US, they even involved the audience and they made it funny.
Sim Cheong is one five stories of the Korean pansori storytelling and, it is the most tragic one.
The story is about Sim Cheong whose mother dies after she was born she was raised by her elderly father who, over time, begins to lose his sight and is therfore unable to work and forced to beg in the streets.
One day her father falls into a ditch and when a monk passes by, he told him that if he pays 300 bags of rice to his temple then the priests will pray for him to regain his vision. Great. When Sim Cheong's father comes home and tells the story, they realize that they don't have the 300 bags of rice. It breaks Sim Cheongs heart to see her father suffer and so she decides to go out and get the rice.
The next day she heard sailors complaining that the King of the Sea was angy and wreaking havoc on them. The only way to please him was to sacrifice a maiden. Sadly, nobody in the families was willing to scrifice their daughters. Sim Cheong then made a deal with them: give her father the 300 bags of rice and then they could sacrifice her.
They did and she was thrown overboard a ship. Instead of dying, she woke up in a beautiful underwater palace and it turns out the King of the Sea was a nice guy. The underwater scenes were simply phantastic!
Sim Cheong was now living in the palace and grew homesick. After a while the King of the Sea took pity on her and let her go back to her world in a giant lotus blossom. The lotis blossom was picked up by the same sailors that sacrificed her. As it was so beautiful they brought it to the king as a present, unaware that Sim Cheong was inside. Once presented to the king, the blossom opened and the king saw Sim Cheong. He was so overwhelmed that he asked her to marry him.
Sim Cheong agreed and made him promise that for their wedding celebration they would invite all poor, disabled and blind beggars.
The king agreed and at the wedding banquet, Sim Cheong saw her father again, who had almost not made it. It turns out that her father was still blind as the monks' prayers were unable to help.
Sim Cheong recognized her father and called out to him, ‘Father, it is me’. Her father looked up on hearing her voice and somehow he got cured and was able to see for the first time in many years. The End.
Wow, wow, wow! That show was definitely worth every penny.
Sadly, photography and videography was not allowed during the play.
I arrived in Seoul, found the subway and made my way to the hotel which was only a few blocks from the subway station. After check-in, I was all excited and ready to explore. My first destination: Han River Park for a Han River Dinner Cruise. I get there and sorry, sold out. Bummer.
Well, they still had seats available on a sunset music cruise. That did not sound bad; I just had to get some food from the street-side fast food stands beforehand. Luckily, everybody accepts credit cards and I was ready to roll.
Before I went on the cruise, I explored Han River park with it beautifully manicured shrubs and the thousands of people who just seemed to enjopy themselves on a nice warm evening. Interestingly, there were hundreds of small tents and I still wonder why people were staying in tents overnight.
The cruise itself was probably the same as the dinner cruise with the added benefit of seeing the sunset. I am glad I chose that cruise. The views from the ship and the serenity on the cruise ship were the total opposite from the very busy life in Seoul. There was live music in the ship's auditorium and I can only guess that it probably was traditional Koren music. It sounded nice, but I preferred to stay outside and watch the city float by.
One of the most impressive sights was shortly before we turned around, we passed under a bridge that had water jets spraying water into the river and the water jets being beautifully illuminated in many different colors.
Changdeokgung Palace "East Palace" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in 1405 as one of the Five Grand Palaces built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Changdeokgung Palace was rebuilt in 1611 after it burned down in 1592.
The palace is accessible for self guided tours. Only few of the buildings can be entered, but that does not take away any of its charm. I took a tout through the palace grounds that are only accessible by guided tour. The tour took 2h and there was a lot of walking through the beautifully laid out and manicured gardens.
Korean Folk Village
This isn open-air Korean folk village that showcases how Koreans lived in the past and it showcases various artists that do rope walking and horse riding and a traditional Korean wedding. It is close to Seoul and thus busy. After reading muliple reviews online I thought that it was a good idea to go to Suwon Fortress afterwards. I wish I had not done that and planned the better part of a day for the Korean Folk Village as it is large and has many interesting buildings and demonstrations that I had missed.
The Suwon Fortress is another Unesco World Heritage Site. Its protective wall used to surround and protect the city of Suwon and the palace. The well restored remnants of the city wall and the palace are accessible amd make for a good and long walk.
My hotel: Trang Blue Hotel
I stayed in this hotel for 4 nights. It is a short walk away from the SIllim metro station from which the main tourist attractions in Seoul can be easily reached. The hotel is located in a quiet street parallel to a busy road. There are many restaurants and other shops within a few feet of the hotel.
My room had a queen size bed and few furnishings. The walls were had faux marble tiles on them. There were not too many of power .outlets in the room. The room had a flat screen TV mounted to the wall, a water heater pot and a fridge. The bathroom looked very modern with a bathtub and a separate shower with rain showerhead and a Japanese high tech toilet.
The A/C was efficient, but it blew the cold air right onto the bed. Buffet-style breakfast was included. It was served starting at 7:30am.
It had limited choices, mostly Korean breakfast items but also break, butter and margarine and fruits and different drinks (coffee, tea, fruit drink).