Changdeok-gung and Insa-dong

Seoul Travel Blog

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Jogyesa
Had a MUCH better day today.  (Thank goodness!)  Started at Changdeok-gung, one of Seoul's palaces, which only admits visitors on a guided tour; you aren't permitted to wander the grounds at your leisure.  I showed up an hour or so early for the tour, because I wanted to be sure to snag a ticket.  (Little did I know, there's no group cap, so our tour was easily between five and six hundred people.  Easily.  And I thought that was a pretty sizable number until I was leaving and saw the Japanese group embarking.  They outnumbered us two to one.)  So with an hour to kill, I walked to nearby Jogyesa Temple.  Jogyesa was pretty neat in itself, and I was glad to have visited it.
Jogyesa
  If it hadn't been in the neighborhood, I wouldn't have gone out of my way to see it.  It's not really a tourist attraction, and as such there are no crowds, only a few dozen locals who are there to pray and give dirty looks to the sacrilegious tourist taking photos.

Between Changdeok-gung and Jogyesa is Insa-dong, and it was hard to tear myself away from the happy crowds and performances (there was a stage set up and a concert going on) and shops to make it back to Changdeok in time for the tour.  But I did, and Changdeok-gung is definitely a must-see for any visitors to Seoul.  It’s the only one of the five palaces to have World Heritage acclaim, and while it isn’t as large as Gyeongbok-gung, which is considered the powerhouse, it is the most beautiful, and proclaims itself to be “in harmony with nature.
Jogyesa
”  The palace grounds include the Secret Garden, which is a nice sprawl of trees and ponds and winding paths that crest over hilltops.  I imagine it was infinitely more beautiful and untouched and serene in the days of the monarchy, long before they invented Nikons and airbuses.  The tour was pleasant enough, and I certainly learned more than I do when I plow through these things on my own.  But five to six hundred people is a TON of people, and it can be frustrating when trying to take pictures and everyone else is “SAY CHEESE!” right smack in your frame.  That, and they stack the tours every fifteen minutes (although the English tours are few and far between, only three daily), so there is invariably a large group on either end of yours as you walk through the palace grounds.
Jogyesa
  But all that aside, Changdeok-gung is lovely, and is my favorite sight in Seoul.  Certainly a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

From Changdeok palace I high-tailed it back to Insa-dong, which I liked so much more than I thought I would.  It's dubbed the "tourist area," so I'd deliberately avoided it thus far, and might have skipped it altogether if it hadn't been for the praise from several other travelers and the fact that it's walking distance from the palace.  It's basically a long street that stretches for many blocks and is lined with shops and cafes and then market vendor stalls on top of those.  There is a spiderweb network of little alleys running off the main artery every few steps, and so it's a big area with lots to see and do and buy and eat (and bump into) and makes for a great way to spend an hour or two.
Jogyesa
  I loved it.

I made the executive decision to eat in Insa-dong (as opposed to coming back to Bab, the first restaurant I ate at that I loved so much and promised I'd return) because I figured I'd have an equally satisfying meal and I'd be trying something new.  I found a restaurant at the end of one of these alleys along Insa-dong that looked rustic and inviting and who's menu sported affordable prices.  Of course, the menu I was handed as soon as I sat down had double and triple (and higher) the prices as were out front, and I should have just said no thank you and left.  But there were a few locals eating there and I figured well the place must really be good if they're charging that, and it's my last meal in Korea, so what's the harm?  Yeah right.
Jogyesa
  My guess is the prices were higher for ignorant tourists like me who wander in off the street and have "EASY TARGET" written across their foreheads.  Oh well.  I had spicy soft tofu soup, which was good (but not great), and for the first time was disappointed by ALL the accompanying side dishes.  Every single one of them.  Even the kimchi was off.  So the meal was an expensive disappointment, and I've been kicking myself for not coming back to that favorite place like I meant to.

Bummer food aside, the day was a good one.  And I'm THRILLED that things finally turned around for me in Seoul.  Hopefully next time I'll be a little savvier, and will have an easier and more enjoyable time across the board.
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Sun dial at Changdeok-gung
Sun dial at Changdeok-gung
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Some sort of gambling game in Insa…
Some sort of gambling game in Ins…
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Making traditional Korean sweets
Making traditional Korean sweets
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Artist in Insa-dong
Artist in Insa-dong
Spicy soft tofu soup
Spicy soft tofu soup
Han River
Han River
Korean money -- so I dont forget …
Korean money -- so I don't forget…
Seoul
photo by: chiyeh