Sunday, October 28, 2012

28 Oct 12 - Day 4 (Changdeokgung Palace, Insadong, Cheonggyecheon Stream)

Thank god today is a clear and sunny day. The stretching helped with my lower back and legs. I only got up about 8.30am since I was going to the Changdeokgung Palace. After three days in Seoul, I am used to the subway system. In fact, during the last three days, I was walking without maps most of the time, only except when I was in the Namsangol Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Samcheongdong and Bukchon Hanok Village. Either I blend in very well so much so that twice I had locals talking to me / asking me questions in Korean or they just grabbed anyone and asked questions.
Got to the palace slightly after 9am, bought the ticket and snapped a few photos of the surroundings before entering the palace. Walked around the area after Donhwamun and took more photos. The trees in the area are turning into pretty shades of yellow and red. Asked a lady to help me take a photo of me standing under a big, yellow tree. Well… Her photo taking skill was not great, instead of taking the photo landscape wise to incorporate the whole tree; she took it portrait wise and got the both sides of the crown chopped off. Oh well… At least I got my photo taken.
Initially I planned to join the English guided tour at 10:30am but I had half an hour to kill so decided to just tour the palace on my own using the guide book provided. Half way through the walk, the English guided tour group caught up and I joined the group on and off. One of the things I learnt during the guided tour was that Seonjeongjeon is the only building in Changdeokgung with a blue-tiled roof and back then, blue tiles were very expensive. There were some iron doors in some of the buildings and the tour guide explained that they were actually heating system in the olden days. Charcoals were burnt behind those iron doors to heat the floor during cold days and charcoals were used instead of wood because they produced less soot. The smoke from the burning of the charcoals was then released from a chimney behind the building. Some of the buildings were connected by corridors so the people in the old days did not need to wear thick clothing just to get to the next building.
The guided tour ended at 11:30am and I stayed for a little while more before moving off to Insadong. Had a bit of a problem finding my way there so popped into Anguk station to look at the neighborhood map. While crossing a road to get to Insadong, I saw a couple of rice cake shops selling very nice rice cakes. Again I was very tempted to buy but didn’t. Got to Insadong and I was in the middle of the main street so walked half of it and took a side road thinking that I would be able to make a turn to get back to the main road. However, it was not the case and I wandered off a little too much. Followed a group of foreigners and was back to Insadong again and I covered the other half of the main road before looking for a place to eat lunch.
Most of the eating places are found in the alleys and side roads while the shops along the main street are those selling souvenirs, pottery and knick knacks. Popped into one of the many alleys and checked out the restaurants there. The first one was quite crowded and had an open area concept while the one next door was a close concept that I couldn’t see the interior of it. From the menu, the first one had bibimbap with octopus and a few others while the second one offered medicinal chicken soup and some other food. In the end, I decided to go to the first one since there were many people in there. I assumed the many people means the food should be good.
Sat down and the staff who handed me the menu told me that the first four items are for single person so I ordered the bibimbap with small octopus. The portion was very big with lots of ingredients and the food came with a few small side dishes. Took some photos of my lunch and started eating. I couldn’t finish the rice because there was too much hot sauce. After eating, continued walking along the main street of Insadong, checking out the shops to see what souvenirs I could get. Saw an information counter and went to get a map. Passed by a shoe shop which was having promotion and went in to try on a pair of boots that cost W55,000 from the usual W69,000. Was tempted to get but didn’t and just then, there were some commotions outside the shop. Went out to see and there was a traditional drum parade going on and I quickly took a short video clip of it.
Saw Ssamziegil and went in to check it out. There were many people inside and the shops were selling crafts, accessories and so on, things that can be found back home. Went to the rooftop and saw a small section that was like the love locks section at the N Seoul Tower but instead of locks, they were rubber tags. Walked down by the staircase to B1 where I read in TripAdvisor that people can dabble in craftworks. Saw four to five small sections where people can pay to make things such as silver accessories or colored glass crafts. Went back up and then found the tourist guides in red to ask for direction to the National Souvenir Centre. I thought I should be able to settle all the souvenir stuff in that one place but I was wrong. The things in there were too touristy and impractical and I had to go back out to hunt again. Stopped by a small souvenir shop and bought 10 coasters and two card holders for W23,000. Asked the aunty if I can have discount and instead of giving me discount, she gave me a pencil case worth W2,000.
Happened to see the sign pointing to the direction to Beautiful Tea Museum and recalled that it was one of the food shops on my list. Hence, followed the direction and went in for tea break. Checked out the prices for the tea leaves and gosh… they were expensive. So in the end, I just sat down to have some Korean Hwang Cha and a piece of pumpkin rice cake. The staff prepared the tea right in front of me and I sipped my tea and ate the rice cake slowly, enjoying every moment of it. After I was done eating and resting, paid up and continued shopping.
Saw a stall selling hand-made wooden massage spike balls and bought a pair because they looked interesting enough. Wanted to get some small celadon pottery items as gifts but couldn’t find nice ones and wanted to get some decent celadon pottery for myself but the rational side of me took over saying that I already have two celadon pottery cups at home from BIL. Passed by a stall selling freshly made honey snacks but didn’t get because they were in big packets so ended up buying some small ones from another shop.
I walked up and down the main street for many times, trying to decide if I should buy the pair of boots I saw earlier or I should head down to Dongdaemun market to check out the shoes and clothing again. While walking up and down, I saw TKD concert on one end of the street and at the other end, I saw some teenagers dancing to a Korean song and subsequently dancing to Gangnam Style. After that, I finally made up my mind to just get the boots since I think that I probably wouldn’t be able to get anything from Dongdaemun market. Happy with my purchase, I thought I will just call it a day and forget about going to Cheonggyecheon Stream because I didn’t see the stream on my map. But then I thought since I was already in Seoul, in the area, it was my last day and I don’t know when I will be back again, hence I pressed on and went to the information counter to ask for directions.
Fortunately the stream wasn’t too difficult to find and it was behind a temple and I was in the middle section of the stream. Walked on one side of the stream in the opposite direction of Cheonggye Plaza and took some photos. It was getting dark and my camera night shots are not good so most of the photos appeared blurred. Got to the end of the stream, crossed the stream via the stones and walked towards Cheonggye Plaza. There were many couples sitting along the stream. Got to the plaza, saw the grand fountain and there was a concert with some food tents at the side. Bought a stick of grilled chicken for W2,000 and sat down near the fountain to eat. A man beside me spoke to me in Korean and I didn’t understand him.
Finished up the food, took some photos of the concert and thought I will walk to Dongdaemun market since it should be fairly near. Saw a sign pointing to Gwanghwa gate and remembered that Dongdaemun should be in the opposite direction. Passed by a pushcart selling BBQ squid and bought a pack to eat on the way. The uncle told me one for W5,000 so I gave him W10,000 expecting a change but he gave me the food and stopped. I was confused that stood there and the other uncle said something like two and I answered “Two?” The other uncle who prepared the food then gave me the W5,000 change. In the end, I still didn’t know whether he gave me two squid or one. Walked pass some office buildings and the street was quite deserted given that it was a Sunday night so decided to pop into the nearest subway station and took a train back to Myeongdong instead. I thought I will have to top up the T-money since it was a couple of stops more than the usual but fortunately, the fare was still W1,050 and I still have W600 left in the card.
Walked the last round in Myeongdong, bought more seaweed before heading back. Along the way, I bought my usual banana milk and apple juice and thought I can have one last round of tteokbokki but the shop was closed. So headed over to Tous Les Jours to get bread, and since I was along that stretch of road, I walked further up to Sejong Hotel to check the timing of the airport bus. Got back to the hostel and before I headed up to my room, I called the reception to ask about the check-out time which turned out to be 11am. Glad I checked.
Back to the room, washed up, ate dinner, messaged sis and did mission impossible (packing) while watching Mission Impossible 3 on TV. Managed to stuff most of the things into the luggage case but my boots cannot go in so have to put it in my backpack instead. Finally finished packing by 12 midnight and went to sleep.
Thoughts: Changdeokgung Palace is very nice; personally I find it nicer than Gyeongbokgung Palace. A pity I didn’t do the Secret Garden tour, perhaps next time. Insadong is interesting to walk but didn’t need to cater so much time there since most of the shops are repeated. Ssamziegil is very popular with youngsters apparently and if one has time to spare can go to the basement to try the craftworks. I saw Cheonggyecheon Stream by night and it was pretty sight but unfortunately the light installations were not lighted up. I suppose Cheonggyecheon Stream by day will look very different.

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