Sometimes I wonder how a nation has managed to capture the overzealous attention of young fans throughout Asia, be situated just 38 miles away from the DMZ line and survive, have a long list of delicious street food and traditional delicacies and still have such beautifully maintained palaces in the city centre. This efficacy to, what I see as, perfection is something that is impossible in most South East Asian countries.
So in one early winter morning, we headed over to Changdeokgung Palace for a grand tour of the past and its notoriously difficult to book Secret Garden tour (also known as Huwon). The tour is limited to 50 pax per session with English sessions at 10.30am, 11.30am, 2.30pm and 3.30pm. They also have tours in Korean, Chinese and Japanese. You can reserve a ticket 6 days in advance and I suggest doing it as early as possible – right when the reservation session opens up. If you are having difficulties finding the link to book the tour, click here.
This Secret Garden has had many names. In the past, it was called Geumwon (Forbidden Garden) as even high ranking officials could not enter this private garden without the permission of the king. It was also known as Naewon (Inner Garden), Bukwon, Biwon or rear garden due to the position of the garden at the back of the palace. At 3.3 million square feet, the garden takes up about 60% of the palace grounds.
During the tour, you will be introduced to numerous pavilions which were built by different kings in different periods of time. It seems like one of the king’s goals, apart from managing a nation and keeping her people happy, is to build new pavilions and expand the magic of the secret garden. The tour guide fervently introduced each pavilion to us and with each introduction comes a backstory of this king, that king and the next king to come. It is interesting to see how much time a king spent in the garden – meditating and experiencing serenity. Perhaps this very Confucian influence has much to do with the success of the Joseon dynasty.
We quite enjoy the tour as it offered us a glimpse of how a king lived his life. Apart from that, the beautifully maintained architecture is a site to behold as well.