Tuesday, May 5, 2015

5 May 15 – Day 5 (Namdaemun Market, Changdeokgung, Huwon, Bukchon Hanok Village, Dongdaemun Market)

After the stretching last night, I was able to sleep better and my lower back felt better. Left K-pop II close to 9am to travel to the Namdaemun Market. Walked around randomly and passed by Kalguksu Alley which I had initially planned to eat breakfast there. Saw some nice mother-of-pearl lacquer boxes so asked for the price which sounded reasonable, especially since they were labelled as “Made in Korea”.  Bought one and carried it around in my backpack since SWT’s backpack was full from all her own belongings. Continued to walk around and SWT saw some nice cardholders that came with a coin compartment. SWT needed nine pieces so I added one more to make it ten. Chose the colors and then stood in the shop to remove the boxes and check them by testing the zippers. After we were happy with all the cardholders, SWT chucked them into my backpack before continuing the walk.

I recalled reading an article about a flower market in a Building E inside Namdaemun Market. We saw a tourist information booth and popped in to get a map. Searched for Building E, which was just a short distance away, and went up to the level that sells flowers. We could smell the fresh flowers even before we reached the floor. There were so many different types of fresh flowers and of so many colors. We were attracted to the various interesting looking succulents and stopped to take photos of them. Was so tempted to get but I knew I would not be able to bring them back. Took our time to walk around the whole floor and admired the florists’ flower-arrangement skills. As the coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, a lot of stalls were selling small table pieces that feature carnations. Besides fresh and artificial flowers, there were also stalls selling gardening accessories such as unglazed terracotta pots of various sizes. Then we came across another stall selling celadon ware and pottery stuff, and I saw a pair of mini celadon wedding ducks.

SWT mentioned that a male colleague is getting married sometime in September and suggested that perhaps we could get the ducks for him. Paid for the ducks, put them inside the mother-of-pearl lacquer box and then back into my backpack. Browsed the stall a bit and saw some miniature kimchi pots as well as candle holders. Got out of the building and then tried to search for the stationary street. I was kind of disappointed when we found it because most of the stalls were just selling paper dollies and gift bags, unless I was looking at the wrong street. Left Namdaemun Market close to 11am to get to the subway station and along the way bought a ribbon doughnut to eat as lunch later at the Changdeokgung Palace. While on the subway, we saw two ladies dressed in hanbok and they looked so pretty.

Reached Changdeokgung Palace and quickly went to get our reserved tickets for the Palace and the Secret Garden. In front of the entrance, we saw some people dressed in olden royal clothing carrying prop rifles. We asked the booth that had the banner stating Korean Royal Palace Culture Festival and realized that this inaugural festival is happening this week starting 1 May and ending on 10 May. Those people with props in front were preparing for a performance that would take place at 2pm which unfortunately clashed with our Secret Garden English guided tour at 1:30pm. Since it was still early so we walked around the nearby areas in the Palace and we saw more women in hanbok. I recalled reading somewhere that people who wear hanbok to visit palaces get discount on their tickets. Sat down near the Secret Garden entrance to wait and I noticed that the entrance to Changgyeonggung Palace was just beside it. Ate the ribbon doughnut while waiting and it tasted great! I should have bought one more.

Soon it was approaching 1:30pm and people who were waiting for the guided tour were told to gather around for admission. We were admitted pretty quickly and I saw some of the people going off on their own. Hrm… I thought tour around the Secret Garden has to be guided; perhaps exceptions were given this week due to the festival. Anyway, our guide came and started the tour which lasted for about 90 minutes. We were first shown a nice pond and the guide explained about the how the pond is shaped in a square shape with a round island in the center with pine tree growing on it. The meaning of this is to signify heaven, man and earth (or something like that). We were given some time to take photos before going to the next sight. 

We were then shown a stone gate which signifies longevity. It was said that whoever goes through the gate will have long life. Participants of the guided tour went through the gate to get to the next location which has a small stream and a few pavilions nearby. There were some stone steps in front of one particular pavilion and the guide asked a male volunteer to demonstrate the use of those steps. Apparently the steps were used by the prince to learn how to walk like one, with hands at the back and head held high. We were again given some time to take photos before heading to the next sight and the guide cautioned us that we would need to go up and down some pretty steep slopes. Ok, that freaked me out a little because I have phobia of going down slopes due to a very bad fall back few years back.

The next location is supposedly to have a small waterfall feature but water source from the higher ground seemed to have thinned out over the years and hence water only trickles through the structure. Nearby was a pavilion surrounded by muddy ground and with roof top covered with hay. According to the guide, the king was big on farming and so had this pavilion built this way to honor farmers as well as to experience farming himself (if I remembered correctly). The journey to the final sight was again up and down slopes hence you can imagine my stress level while walking. Ended the tour around 2:45pm and were told that we could roam around the garden on our own so we traced back the steps to admire the sights again at our own pace. Saw a tree with withered cherry blossom-like flowers and took a photo. Walked around the garden for a while more before exiting back to the palace and walked around the other parts of the palace such as revisiting the only building in the palace with blue-tiled roof. It brought back memories of my first DIY trip to Seoul back in 2012, my first visit to the palace and what I had learnt during the guided tour of the palace back then.

Left the palace close to 4:30pm and asked the information booth what other attractions that we could visit nearby. The lady told us that we could visit the Bukchon Hanok Village and so we took her advice and went in search for it. Found another tourist information booth where we popped in to get a map of the Bukchon Hanok Village and tried to follow it to find the listed viewpoints. Guessed our map reading skills were pretty bad as we ended up walking wherever we felt like it. SWT saw a banner stating a place to try hanbok and suggested looking for it. We found the place and it stated that a fee is required. Later on, there was a sign that points to the direction to find the Observatory of the village and again she suggested that we look for it. I told her that that definitely requires a fee because I was tricked into looking for it back in 2012.

Followed a pathway downslope and took some photos along the way. Chanced upon this site of the Bokjeong Well, which was said due to its freshness and purity, water from this well was supplied only to the royal palaces during the Joseon Dynasty, and took photos of it. Came out of the village and tried to find our way back to the station. Walked along a street called the “Green Food Street” where there were some stalls selling food and knick-knacks. Passed this particular stall that sells miniature succulents and cactus and stopped to check it out. It was similar concept to those stalls that I saw back in Melbourne last year. Found the subway station and took the subway to Dongdaemun Market. Saw the usual big malls such as Good Morning City, Hello APM, Migliore and Doota. Walked towards Doota and saw a gate further up. SWT wanted to take photo of it so we walked towards the gate and along the way passed by part of the Cheonggyecheon Stream so took photos of it as well before crossing the road. The gate was Heunginjimun, the east gate of Seoul, originally built in 1398 but the current one was rebuilt in 1869.

Happy with the photos, we crossed back towards Doota and just popped in to the first floor for a look around because that building was supposedly to be selling branded / designer stuff. Noticed that there were signs introducing the designers for the respective brands outside the different sections assigned for different brands. Done with Doota, we walked over to Migliore and headed to the topmost floor which happened to be the foodcourt. Looked out of one of the windows and saw the Dongdaemun Design Plaza as well as the area where all the LED flowers were per an article I read before the trip. Unfortunately, the window was rather dirty and hence not good for taking a photo of the plaza. Walked around the foodcourt and settled on a stall that had more customers. SWT checked with the aunty on one of the dishes before finally ordering a bowl of hot noodle soup while I had the tteokbokki with ramyeon. The portions were huge and we had problem finishing. I managed to finish all of the ramyeon, fishcakes, cabbage and the egg but and only managed a few pieces of the rice cakes. SWT only managed to finish all of the clams, vegetables and a little bit of the noodle.

After we were done, we strolled down the levels to look at the clothing and stuff. Checked out the price of the mobile phone covers and turned out to be even more expensive than the ones I saw in Hongdae which were already more expensive than those in Myeongdong. How strange. I was having the impression that prices would be cheaper in Dongdaemun Market. Most of the stalls sell similar types of clothing which did not suit our style so we were just walking around for the sake of walking around. Then I recalled that SWT ran out of Pocari drink and told her we better hurry back to Lotte supermarket to get her drink since she still was not able to drink plain water. We rushed back to Myeongdong area and towards Lotte supermarket. Along the way keeping track of the shops such as Missha and the mobile phone cover shop that I passed by, with the intention of going back later to get the things that I want. By the time we reached Lotte Departmental Store, it was already closed and it was not even 9:30pm yet. So I told SWT to take note of any minimart along the way back so that she could at least get a small bottle of the Pocari.

Crossed back over to Myeongdong area via the underpass and I stopped by a street vendor to get a box of nice, big strawberries. Then round the corner was a minimart where SWT bought a small bottle of isotonic drink because small bottle of Pocari cost more than those in Lotte supermarket. Traced back the steps and found the mobile phone cover shop where I finally bought the Iphone 6+ cover that I was eyeing on. Wanted to get a similar one for my Samsung Galaxy S5 but only the plain ones were left so in the end, I didn’t get for myself. Happy with my purchase, we moved off from the shop and went to the Tous les Jours bakery shop near Myeongdong station exit 8 so that I could get a bun for next day’s breakfast. Bought mocha raisin bread for W2,600 instead of the stated W2,800, guessed it was due to the end-of-day discount. Headed back to K-pop II to rest for the day and realized that I had dropped the T-money. Fortunately, there was only a balance of W300 left in the card. Proceeded to firm up next day’s programs with SWT before hitting the bed.

Thoughts: Had a chance to finally walk the Namdaemun Market properly but think we did not really cover the entire area thoroughly because there were so many small alleys and sections. Got to tour the Secret Garden this time and it was worth it even though most of the spring flowers have withered. The lush green trees that lined the walkway provided ample shade making the walk through the garden comfortable even though it was a pretty hot day. Revisited the Bukchon Hanok Village and still there were so many tourists hence taking photos without people in them was a big challenge. One good thing that came out of it was that we chanced upon the Bokjeong Well, a small historic site. Sad to say, Dongdaemun Market has lost its appeal to me because the clothes and stuff available were just not my style. Most likely will not go back there again.

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