Seoul, South Korea: The 3 Places to See a Traditional Side of Seoul

September 17, 2018
South Korea: The 3 Places to See a Traditional Side of Seoul by Posh, Broke, & Bored



THE 3 PLACES IN SEOUL TO SEE THE 
TRADITIONAL SIDE OF SOUTH KOREA


A field of LED roses beside the Zaha Hadid-designed plaza in Dongdaemun. Shopping for skincare infused with snail secretion, starfish, seahorse (or whatever animal ingredient is in vogue) in Myeongdong. That earworm that both satirised and introduced to the wider world the flashy, luxury district of Gangnam. Whatever you know about Seoul, the capital of South Korea; it’s likely to be trend-led, modern, and futuristic. In fact, the highlight of my visit to Seoul in 2014 was the Dior Cafe, housed in a building that resembled an oversized tooth. But there are parts of the city that still clings on to the classics, where you can get a feel for the old soul of Seoul. I visited three such places in my previous visit, last winter. Here are my 3 Places in Seoul to See the Traditional Side of South Korea.






South Korea: The 3 Places to See a Traditional Side of Seoul by Posh, Broke, & Bored




South Korea: The 3 Places to See a Traditional Side of Seoul by Posh, Broke, & Bored



GYEONGBOKGUNG 
PALACE


You just can’t keep Gyeongbokgung Palace down. The principal palace of the Joseon Empire (the complex houses 330 buildings and in its heyday commanded 3,000 staff) has been torched by invaders more than once, but like a phoenix; Gyeongbokgung Palace rose from the ashes. King Taejo - the founder of the Joseon dynasty - might have been bemused by the many visitors (some of which come clad in traditional dress) but I daresay His Majesty would be impressed by the reconstruction. 

From the ornate two-storey Geunjeongjeon (the main palace building) to Gyeonghoeru (a large raised pavilion resting on 48 stone pillars and overlooking an artificial lake with two small islands, where state banquets were held and kings went boating on the pond) and everything in between; the faithful restoration of Gyeongbokgung Palace has elevated the royal complex to its rightful position as the crowning jewel of the Joseon Empire. There are no eunuchs and concubines here, but there are changing of the guard ceremonies at the main entrance. Arrive early for the 10:00am changing of the guard (the second ceremony is at 2:00pm) and dedicate the better part of the day to best enjoy the grandest of Seoul’s traditional architecture.



South Korea: The 3 Places to See a Traditional Side of Seoul by Posh, Broke, & Bored



DEOKSUGUNG PALACE


For a royal experience that’s central, look no further than Deoksugung Palace. Situated directly across City Hall MRT station, this 16th century palace is the very definition of a juxtaposition, surrounded as it is by the skyscrapers of Seoul. The contrasts continue past the gates - Deoksugung Palace is a fascinating mix of traditional Korean and western-style neoclassical structures such as Seokjojeon, which houses the Daehan Empire History Museum. There’s another museum in the grand western wing - the MMCA Deoksugung which boasts a collection of contemporary art.

Deoksugung Palace is one of Seoul's five grand palaces built during the Joseon dynasty, and the only one that can be visited in the evening when the building is illuminated. While Deoksugung Palace used to be three times as large as it is now, the complex is still worth a visit for the curious smogasbord of contrasting architectural styles.

There are three changing of the guard ceremonies by the main gates; at 11:00am, 2:00pm, and 3:30pm. Being so centrally located, Deoksugung Palace is rather more catered to foreigners;  with foreign language explanations during guard changing ceremonies; as well as free guided tours in English.



South Korea: The 3 Places to See a Traditional Side of Seoul by Posh, Broke, & Bored



South Korea: The 3 Places to See a Traditional Side of Seoul by Posh, Broke, & Bored



BUKCHON HANOK VILLAGE

For a more down-to-earth experience and to see how the other half lived back in the day, make the journey to Bukchon Hanok Village. Surrounded by Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Royal ShrineBukchon Hanok Village dates back to the Joseon Dynasty. This is where nobles who served in the palace would live with their families. Aside from the inhabitants, little much has changed. The 900 or so hanok (traditional houses) remain, preserved, like a time capsule. It’s quite surreal to meander past these 600 year-old houses and see the modern skyline of Seoul, just yonder.

The neighbourhood begs to be explored: hundreds of alleys twisting this way and that, with graceful wooden houses built on slopes. The entire village is a living breathing museum. Guesthouses, restaurants, and tea houses provide visitors the opportunities to experience the atmosphere of the Joseon Dynasty. It’s all very immersive, even if you choose to simply stroll through the streets without popping into the cultural centres. Bukchon Hanok Village does get busy, but there are enough winding streets to get lost in to escape the crowd, as well as unexpected look out points to admire the tiled roofs contrasting with the concrete city on the horizon. For those looking to learn, there’s a Bukchon Traditional Culture Centre as well as English-speaking guides with maps, dressed in all red.





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