Thursday, October 1, 2009

Korea (I). Historical Seoul

I am back from Korea and Japan. As always I come back from Japan, I was shocked for the complete lack of organization in the USA and how underdeveloped it is compared to such a great country as Japan. But that would be a topic for a whole new post.

Today, I will start talking about my trip in Korea. I was in Korea roughly 8 days and visited many places in there. I started my trip in Seoul, in the North and flew out from Busan, in the South. South Korea is a nice country. It is pretty developed and you are do not have to suffer constant hassle from street vendors or touts. The country and its people do not need it, they are well off. That makes a visit to Korea quite relaxed and enjoyable. When I arrived, everything seemed to me really similar to Japan: no hassle, clean, technology everywhere, streets lit by thousands of neon lights... but after some days in the country and leaving Seoul, I slowly started finding the differences. Korea is really developed and nice, but not as developed as its neighbor to the East. People are usually nice, but you find the rude type more often than in Japan. People live more in the streets: street vendors, street restaurants... The train system is very good but not as much as the Japanese system, which is probably the best in the world.

Well, that was the introduction and overview to Korea. Now, let's start with the fact, the photos...

Seoul is a very historical city which has been severely hurt by wars with Japan in which almost always Korea lost. Many royal palaces have just been reconstructed and one of the coolest, for example, was finished last year! Japanese defeated Koreans and as usual, the winner did not care about loved historical items. They just dismantled palaces and used the wood to build new buildings. There are 5 royal palaces in Seoul, quite a lot! But I started my visit at Inwangsan (인왕산), a nice mountain with temples where shamanist priests are very active. Shamanism is a traditional religion of Korea.

The visit was nice and the tracks were not very clear, so I went out of the track several times and maybe even entered forbidden areas... according to some signs written only in Korean...

The temples were nice and cozy and I could see some rites.

The view from the top of the mountain was cool: the wall around the temples could easily be seen and the city in the background in the mist looked nice.

There were some strange rocks which locals think divine:

And a Buddha, carved in the mountain rocks:

After that very early morning walk, time for royal temples. I did not have a defined plan but wanted to see as many temples as possible. In the end, walking quite a lot and with no little effort, I made it. If you go to Seoul, please do not do it... try to allocate 2 or even 3 days if you want to visit all the temples!

Changdeok-gung(창덕궁,昌德宮) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an impressive start for any visit to the Korean capital city. It is really impressive and if you want to visit, you can only visit with a tour guide, so you are explained everything in detail, which is just perfect. It looks like a Forbidden City Korean-style, but soon you start noticing the differences. Korean style is quite unique and different from Chinese and Japanese, although you can sometimes appreciate the influence of those two styles.

The highlight of this palace is the Hidden Garden, a really photogenic garden with a beautiful pond and a couple of very Korean constructions.

Another palace which is also UNESCO World Heritage is Jongmyo Shrine. The royal family used to use this shrine.

The third palaced visited was Changgyeong-gung(창경궁,昌慶宮). This palace was nice, but after visiting Changdeok-gung, it did not look so impressive. I would visit it on a different day in a future trip...

The fourth palace, and the most important for the Joseon Dinasty, was Gyeongbok-gung(경복궁,景福宮). This palace is still under reconstruction and some parts were very recently open for visitors. Anyway, it is quite impressive and highly recommended!

Finally, the last palace, while I was walking downtown, was Deoksu-gung(덕수궁,德壽宮). It is really downtown, next to the city hall and in an area full of lights at night. Quite a contrast! you can visit at night if you want, so it is perfect to wrap up some hardcore visiting day! This is the main gate and what you can see without paying. The interior is cool, with a couple of traditional Korean buildings and a Western Style palace built at the beginning of the 20th century! The last palace of Korean kings...

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