South Korea, Travel Diaries

Seoul on a Budget Day 03: Palaces, Secret Gardens and Shopping

On our third day in Seoul, we decided to travel back in time and learn more about South Korea’s rich history. We woke up on the third day to a rainy, cold weather — the kind of cold that creeps up to your bones, forcing you to consider hibernating on the warm room (courtesy of the ondol heating). But we were in Seoul and just outside the door, if we attempt to go beyond the bone-chilling rain, awaited another day of adventure.

So, after layering and procrastinating — we were finally out the door and into the ticket booth of Changdeokggung Palace. If you plan on spending a day palace-hopping in Seoul, I would suggest that you get the Integrated Admission ticket (4 palaces: Changdeokgung with entrance to Huwon (or the Secret Garden), Changgyeonggung Palace, Deoksugung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace) only for KRW10,000. This is a steal already, considering entrance to Palaces is usually pegged as KRW3,000 each plus a separate entrance fee for the Secret Garden at KRW5,000.  Since, we’re really not sure if we can visit all palaces during our stay due to the maddening rain and I really don’t want to commit myself, we ended buying the separate entrance rates (KRW3,000 + 5,000). We also availed of the English tour, which was offered at no extra cost.

I know I mentioned in one of my post that I am the type who shun away tours but I think for historical places like the palaces, it’s important to see the place through the eyes of someone who knew its history. If I were to go around the palace on my own, a bed room is just a bedroom, but joining the tour gave me perspective of how, one bedroom was used by the Widow Queen when her husband the King died. When he died, she moved out of her shared bedroom and went to another house nearest the Secret Garden because she can no longer stay in the room she once shared with her husband. Our tour guide was also kind and interacted well with her group so the tour was never boring.

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At the end of the tour, we were asked if we have separate tickets to the Huwon (Secret Garden) tour. We were then ushered to another part of the palace where another tour guide was waiting for us. Note — you can’t go on a tour of Huwon on your own. You have to be in a group in order to navigate the winding areas of the garden.

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A visit to the Secret Garden is a must-do for me. If you are in the Garden at the height of Autumn and Spring, expect a riot of colors out of the many flowers and trees inside the 78-hectare property. Originally conceived and developed for the pleasures of the Royal Family and the Palace courtiers, the Garden was originally off-limits to the public.

“The garden incorporates a lotus pond, pavilions, and landscaped lawns, trees, and flowers. There are over 26,000 specimens of a hundred different species of trees in the garden and some of the trees behind the palace are over 300 years old. The garden for the private use of the king had been called ‘Geumwon’ (금원, 禁苑, Forbidden garden) because even high officials were not allowed to enter without the king’s permission. It had also been called ‘Naewon’ (내원, 內苑, ‘Inner garden’). Today Koreans often call it ‘Biwon’ (비원, 秘院, Secret garden) which derived from the office of same name in the late 19th century. Though the garden had many other names, the one most frequently used through Joseon dynasty period was ‘Huwon’.” (WIKIPEDIA)

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The tour throughout selected areas of the garden can be a bit punishing, especially if you are like me who had bad knees and is an incurable klutz. Didn’t help that it was raining and some areas of the trail was slippery, but it was worth hiking through the forest.

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Because we were soaking wet by the end of the tour, we went back to Stay-in-GAM to change clothes and have a quick cup of coffee. The fact that their waffle, coupled with Matcha ice cream was delicious also helped replenish our energy.

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Re-energized and refreshed, we walked to Gyeongbukgung Palace where we decided to explore the palace grounds on our own. We were momentarily distracted by a cute guard who was dressed up in ancient warrior garb.

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We then went on a tour of Gwangwahmun Square and the King Sejong statue then raced to Myeongdong where we had hoped to have our pictures taken wearing Hanbok at the Seoul Culture and Tourism Office. Unfortunately, unlike my 2012 visit where I just dropped by and immediately accommodated, we were told that we had to set an appointment before we can have our pictures taken. We ended up hearing the 6PM Korean mass at the Myeongdong Cathedral and having early dinner at one of the chicken places in Myeongdong.

And then, we went shopping:

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I ended spending around KRW40,000 (about PHP1,600), including tons of beauty products, candies, socks and even a really cool bag which was on sale for just KRW10,000. If you plan on shopping in Myeongdong, it can be a bit of a stretch for your wallet, but again the trick is to know what you want and stick to a budget (if you have any). The numerous beauty shops lining the streets were offering a lot of good deals (70% from Nature Republic and about 50% off on selected Innisfree products).

Expenses: Palace Tours:
Tickets to Changdeokgung Palace + Hawon = KRW3,000 + KRW 5,000 = KRW8,000 (PHP322.00)
Ticket to Gyeongbukgung Palace = KRW3,000 (PHP120.00)
Waffle + Coffee = KRW8,000 (PHP322.00)
Dinner – KRW10,000 each (PHP403.00)
Pasalubong shopping = KRW40,000 (PHP1,600)

Day 3 total = KRW69,000 (PHP2,781.00)

Get more information about Changdeokgung Palace here

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3 thoughts on “Seoul on a Budget Day 03: Palaces, Secret Gardens and Shopping

  1. Pingback: My South Korea Part Deux Diary — Coming Soon! |

    • lanilakwatsera says:

      Hi! Sorry for the very late reply. I think you can buy integrated tickets from the Seoul Tourism Office (there’s one in Myeongdong) and if I remember it correctly, even at the ticketing office of Palaces 🙂 Have a great trip!

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