Changdeokgung Palace and the not-so-Secret Garden

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This won’t surprise anyone who saw our itinerary, but my girlfriend and I are both interested in nerdy things; in this instance, seeing UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For our second day, we saw more old buildings (I promise not all of these posts are about this) and the first stop was what might be the quintessential Korean historical attraction, Changdeokgung Palace.

Changdeokgung Palace

UNESCO Designator at Changdeokgung Palace

 Changdeokgung Palace was built in 1405 (after Gyeongbukgung Palace), and was first home to the 9th Joseon king in the time of Seongjong. It burned down in 1592 by angry citizens after royalty fled to avoid Japanese invasion. Fun times in the 16th century.

It was rebuilt, and as it stands today is one of the better preserved royal residences in Korea. The large gate is the most iconic bit of it.

The Main Gate at Changdeokgung Palace

As is evident in some of these photos, I overexposed them again. Because Korea is due east from China, smog is an issue in Seoul, but it’s not their own smog. It’s like when someone farts on an airplane, but on a geopolitical scale. The smog in the sky makes it really easy to overexpose photos (like I did in Shanghai), though it’s more apparent in some pictures than others.

The complex was huge, even by today’s standards, and full of beautiful architecture.

The interior of Changdeokgung Palace

The plant-life was on-point, too.

The interior of Changdeokgung Palace

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden is one of the main things that both Sarah and I wanted to see. I gotta be honest, though; if it’s a secret, they do a terrible job of hiding it.

The Secret Garden - Changdeokgung Palace

Joking aside, we had another problem. You can only go through The Secret Garden as part of a tour. And understandably so. This pristine slice of beautiful Korean nature gets thousands of tourists a day. We looked at the schedule, and found that the next English speaking tour was in the afternoon. This is where our tight scheduling hurt us. Because we’d packed our days so tight, we wouldn’t be able to make the afternoon tour.

So we hopped on with a Korean speaking tour. We had read up on the history of the garden before we arrived, and frankly just wanted to see it. It raised some eyebrows at the ticket booth, but they laughed when we replied that we knew.

And I don’t think we were the only ones that had the same thought process as we were not the only out-of-towners on the tour:

Tour Guide at The Secret Gardens - Seoul

Every now and again when the tour guide had finished her speech (in Korean), she would come over to my girlfriend and I and give a quick run-down of what she said in English. Her English might have been better than mine.

Inside the Secret Garden - Changdeokgung Palace

The Secret Garden was exclusively used for royals, and left as untouched as possible aside from the structures that were built over the course of centuries.

Inside the Secret Garden - Changdeokgung Palace

Everywhere were wonderful structures and statues that were older than the United States. But as I mentioned before, people were significantly shorter back then. I was aware that if I hit my head too hard on some of these things, I could become part of the exhibit, as in “There was an arch here, but some klutzy American knocked it down with his head”. Despite that, I still knocked my head into this arch pretty good.

Tour Guide at The Secret Garden - Changdeokgung Palace

The tranquility and beauty of The Secret Garden, this time without low-hanging obstacles.

The Secret Garden - Changdeokgung Palace

But not all of the buildings we came across had the beautiful decorative painting on them. Only holy buildings and those used by royalty had the designs on them. Otherwise, they were plain.

Inside the Secret Garden - Changdeokgung Palace

Inside the Secret Garden - Changdeokgung Palace

Inside the Secret Garden - Changdeokgung Palace

With that, we finished our tour of the Secret Garden. Later, after getting dinner, we were on the train, and Sarah got a perfect photo that summarized how well I fit in in Seoul. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how many times I hit my head. 

The next day, we went to Seonjeongneung.

If you want to read more…

This is just one of a series from my trip to South Korea, so use the buttons below to read more.

Also, this blog has been shared as part of The Weekly Postcard (#theweeklypostcard on twitter). If you want to read more blogs and see where other people are going or have been in the world, click the badge below and read away. 

Two Traveling Texans



  1. I visited Seoul in December so no blooms like you saw. Your story reminds me of the time I decided to do the Thai speaking tour of the night safari in Chiang Mai. The lady next to me was so nice and translated most of the commentary. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  2. I plan to visit Seoul soon and will surely read your posts as part of my research. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. What an incredible garden! Smart thinking taking the Korean tour- it was really nice of the guide to try and keep you in the loop! Very funny analogy about smog, btw. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

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