Although having a tour guide to visit the garden is mandatory, I somehow got out of it. How you might ask? I joined a Japanese tour group of course.
Back in October, some friends and I tried to walk around the garden, but came too late to join a tour group. As joining a tour is required to enter, going solo is forbidden… or so I thought. A few months ago, my friend Jolan visited from Hungary. I discovered that you can join a tour group online, so we gave it a go. To our dismay, we discovered that the only two spots left were with a Japanese tour group. We both only know a handful of Japanese, mostly acquired from our love of anime.
Upon arrival, we were delighted to find that admission to the palace was free that day. The garden, however, was still ￦5,000 per person. Just as we were about to join the tour, a German family appeared out of the shadows. Since Jolan and I are both half-Asian, we did not stick out at all. The tour guide looked at them, took pity, and told them that they did not have walk with the group. I saw it as my chance to escape as well – I jumped towards them saying, “Really? Cool! Thank you!” and took off.
The Secret Garden of Changdeokgung was constructed during King Taejong’s reign in the early 15th century. According to the pamphlet I bought at the information desk, “[it] served as a place for composing poetry, a setting for contemplation, a venue for banquets, and as an archery range.” In addition, silkworms were also raised here by the king and queen. Although Seoul is a heavily populated, bustling city, I felt as if I was transported to a different place and time.
The first area we visited was the area around Buyongji pond, where people used to attend retreats and/or study. Juhamnu Pavilion and Buyongjeong Pavilion, Treasure No. 1769 and 1763, are found here.
Next we came across Aeryeonjeong, which is at the top of the Aeryeon pond. Built by King Sukjong in the 19th century, he named the pond “Aeryeon” due to his love of lotus flowers. He is quoted in saying, “I love the lotus because it blooms with such clean and beautiful flowers, however dirty the water may be, symbolizing the virtue of a true gentleman.” His beloved son, Crown Prince Hyomyeong, used Uiduhap as a study. Known for his intelligence and other fine qualities, he unfortunately only lived to the age of 22.
After being distracted by a stray cat, Jolan and I entered YeonGyeongDang. YeonGyeongDang was built by Crown Prince Hyomyeong as a place to celebrate his mother’s birthday. In addition, it served as a place to hold a ceremony for his father. Seonhyangjae, a study, was built with Western-style blinds and Chinese-style walls.
The last part of the garden that Jolan and I trekked through was the Jondeokjeong Area. Prior to Japanese invasion, there were five ponds. At present, however, there is only one – all were connected. You can find four pavilions here, but Jolan and I only hung around Seungjaejeong, built in the 19th century. One of the pavilions, Jondeokjeong, was built in 1644.
There are two more areas (Ongnyucheon and New Seonwonjeon) in the garden, but Jolan and I somehow bypassed them. Oops?
Overall, having free reign in the garden was pretty awesome. With that said, you will not necessarily have the same “luck” I had. I know other people who have had to just brave out the whole two or so hours. Whatever the case may be, visiting Changdeokgung’s Secret Garden is a must.