you sure have your choice of palaces when you visit Seoul. i only managed to get to two, Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung (the most popular ones) but definitely prefer Changdeokgung for three reasons: the buildings seem to be slightly more interesting*, the crowds were a lot less (maybe this was just a function of when i went?), and the amazingly serene secret garden (aka “huwon” or “biwon”).
* i should say that to the untrained eye (like mine), once you visit one palace, you’ve kind of visited them all (is that blasphemous?) since erm, many of the smaller buildings look the same. yes, there is something to be said for the grandeur of the larger buildings, but yeah, if you have time to visit one palace, i suggest this one.
sidebar: a note about the secret garden it’s only accessible via capacity-controlled guided tours. you can reserve a spot up through the day before on their website but do it early since they do get booked up (like DMZ tours). the thing is, it’s nothing more than reserving a spot — you don’t prepay and there’s no penalty for missing your reservation, so if you can’t make your booking, be nice and cancel so others can get in! if you can’t get a reservation, though, don’t fret. there are spots available the day of. the earlier you get there the better your chances of getting the time you want.
i got there a little after 9 (when it opened) and easily got a spot (out of the 50? 70? remaining) for the 11:30 English tour. i went and had breakfast, got back in time for the 10:30 free guided tour of the palace itself, which finishes close to the secret garden entrance.
the garden is well worth the effort to visit. even though the tour groups are large, you feel miles away from the center of Seoul. if only i had come in a couple weeks when it’s fall foliage season!
Mandu and ox tail soup for breakfast. And wayyyy too much kimchi salad since lady saw idk wtf I was doing & helped. pic.twitter.com/x5zCL6kfQA
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) October 3, 2014
and now the instagram shots:
these are from the garden: