Over China’s Tomb Sweeping holiday, time set aside for one to pay respect to his ancestors by sweeping off their graves, I took advantage of the long weekend and headed to the Hermit Kingdom’s capital.
Established as Korea’s capital in the 14th century, Seoul has persevered many an attack over the city’s long history and was nearly leveled in the country’s civil war in the 1950s. It is a mix of ancient and modern: high rises and apartment complexes pepper the many hillsides and amongst them are palaces and temples far older than the city itself. The Han River flows through the city. The people are elegant, welcoming, and quick to smile.
Gyeonbokgung Palace, with a phoenix like history of repeated destruction and rebirth, is being restored to the original glory it was when first completed in 1395. With large manicured grounds within the fortress walls, many locals don hanbok (traditional dress) and pose for photos in its many scenic and picture worthy spots.
The food was delicious. The highlight of which was at Gwangjang Market, a night market packed with locals selling all sorts of weird/delicious looking/smelling things. I was quick to try everything I could. Stopping at stall after stall getting a sample of their offerings.
Well, almost everything.
Changdeokgong Palace was built in 1405 as a secondary palace, however, with the destruction of the primary palace at Gyeongbokgung, it was moved to front billing for nearly 300 years while the other was being rebuilt. An UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, this palace’s Secret Garden was serene and grounding. Only accessible by a popular guided tour, I opted for the only one with open space – the Japanese language tour – over missing out.