Thursday, March 1, 2007

Korea - Seoul

Insadong Streets
Seoul has so many treasures to offer.
You'll find beautiful palaces of Yi dynasty, busy market places, and serene temples.

Temples in the city are only a brief walk away and the serenity surrounds you there even within the city.
Insadong is simple a little section of town where you can get all sorts of goodies. Many shops sell anything from souvenirs to real antiques. You can also get traditional meals and find traditional tea houses here.         
More Information on Insadong:
Official Korean tourism on Insadong
Wiki about Insadong

Insadong street is very popular among tourists for its quaint little coffee and tea houses, weekly performances and re-inactments and the funky stores and the street vendors.
Insadong street
If you have in mind to experienced the modernized and easy to reach old charm, this street is worth is even though it is somewhat over rated.
Insadong Street Vendor
Changdeokgung in Seoul has the secret garden of the royal family of Yi Dynasty.
This garden contains a large man-made made gardens and ponds. Only Royal family members were allowed in here.
Changdeokgung & the secret garden of the king
These rooms are where King's Concubines lived. There were many hundreds of women in the palace serving him in various ways...anything from laundry, mending to just every day palace rituals. The ones who caught King's eye would be house here. Most of the King's women were from the noble families.
More information about Changdeokgung (UNESCO world heritage site):

Wiki entry on Changdeokgung
Official tour site on Changdeokgung
Concubines' quarters
This is Where much of administrations happened. It is very relaxing to simply walk the grounds of this palace. In the middle of bustling city of Seoul, these lone sanctuary of old stands...somehow you hear none of the noises and see only the trees and surreal background of the tall modern buildings...
Overlooking the entire palace grounds. One could walk hours here. I could very well imagine all the concubines, the queen, the noblemen, even the king who might have walked these paths. 
Other features of different palaces
Every year there a re-inactment of what might have happened here. There's the place where king ruled and the noble fighters and literary men stood outside in their post. Ones closest to the king's ruling seat were the higher rank members. 
Re-inactment of palace celebration
Where the king ruled and the noblemen served him. This is inside the structure where king rules. You can see the intricate designs on the ceilings.
Palaces of Yi Dynasty in Seoul:
- Gyeongbokgung Palace
    Info from official Korean tourism site
    Info from wiki
- Deoksugung Palace
    Info from official Korean tourism site
    Info from wiki
- Changgyeonggung palace
    Info from wiki
King's throne
It is impossible not to end up in Namdaemun in Seoul.
It is a flea market full of vendors of all kinds.
I would definitely suggest going with someone who knows the place or take a map. It was little difficult for tourists to penetrate only several years ago, but now things are changing. There are tour info offices everywhere to help guide you.
Just be sure to Haggle!
More on Namdaemun 
Namdaemun Flea market flower vendors
Korea has many treasures of different Dynasties.
Most of these are displayed at the National Museum of Korea near Seoul
More info on National Museum of Korea
The intricacy and the beautiful shades of Celadon pottery of Goryo Dynasty...
The pottery was baked in extreme temperature over and over to give off such color and intricacy.
Goryo Celadon Pottery
Alas the technique of such colors and design were lost to the modern pottery makers.
There can never be more of such beautiful artifacts...
Goryo Celadon Pottery
Gold and Jade crown found at the mound tomb of Shilla Dynasty rulers  
Shilla King's Crown
This is temple somewhat close to our house...literally on the very top of a very tall mountain. I think it takes at least 40 min to walk down from this place, so I can't imagine walking up this incline. Nowadays, one can ride a car up, but I can't even imagine how people would have managed to go up during the time of unpaved roads and no cars.
This is apparently a very special Buddha, the importance of which escapes me at the moment.
Jewang Buddha at Do Ryun sa
This temple is another very rich one. There is a very special Buddha made by cutting rock embedded on the mountain itself. You will find many people kneeling in prayer in front of this structure.
Do Ryun sa
The temples, like the catherals are a very peaceful place. Perhaps this is the reason why people go to cathedrals and temples. They find people here where they would normally not find anywhere else.  
Do Ryun sa
Every day around 6 or 7 depending on the time of the sunset, the famous and wealthy temples play the drum (But Go) and rings the Bell. We sat to listen to one such ceremony. It is strangely affecting sound...something about it seeps into your soul.
Do Ryun sa, Bell and Drum
I am exceptionally fortunate that my home in Korea is so close to the mountain and because of it, so close to so many Buddhist temples. This one in particular is small, and situated on one of the hiking paths, but due to its size, it is possibly more sublime of the several that I have seen. 
Baek Un Sa (temple)
This temple might only have few structures, but the nature that is seamlessly integrated into its grounds make it seem far grander. It is always surrounded by vibrant mountain flowers year around then there's the snow in the winter. 
Baek Un Sa (temple)
Buk Han San is the mountain range that surrounds northern part of Korea. It is quite possibly one of the most beautiful mountain I have seen during all my travels. The bad thing is that I had never appreciated as much as the credit was due. I did live in front of it half of my life and one tends to take these things for granted.
Buk Han San (the mountain)
The mountain range continues from I don't know which little town, but some people are known to hike from one end to the other spanning few days.
One sad thing of note is that this mountain is constantly subjected to more and more development. One of the presidents had decreed that this should be a region no one should develop, but over the years the bribery, change in power structure has loosened the protection against the mountain.
More on Bukhansan National Park
Buk Han San
Buk Han San
Korean National Flower (Moo Gung Hwa)
Hwagyesa temple became famous because of an American scholar who decided to become a monk there. I would not say it is one of the most peaceful temples, but rich and well known.
If you ever need to find a way to my house in a taxi, all you need to do is go to Hwagyesa and walk a bit from there.
More on Hwagyesa Temple on KBS site
Hwagyesa  temple
Hwagyesa  temple
Hwagyesa  temple
Hwagyesa  temple
Hwagyesa  temple
Namsan is a mountain in the middle of Seoul.
Although it is often a tourist site, I am not really sure why it is so interesting. On top, there are really over-priced restaurants and few shops.
I guess one plus side is that you get an areal view of Seoul city.
More information about Namsan
View from Nam San (mountain in the middle of Korea)
Food in Korea is so incredible that I don't think it is possible to really "recommend" any one place or even dozen places. Depending on what you like to eat, there is a place for everything.
Equipment to make rice cakes (Duk) of different shapes
Food prepared for the holiday occasions
made out of real flowers
There are also museums devoted to some of these food items.
One is rice cake museums I went to which also has Gimchee history and display as part of its collection