Changdeokgung Palace is the most well-preserved of the five remaining royal Joseon palaces, a fact that led to it being recognsied as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997. The real charm of Changdeokgung lies in its secret garden, which is also known as Huwon. This was famous as the place of rest for the kings and royal families, and were not open to the public back in the day. Even today, visitors must follow a strict schedule to access Huwon by joining a guided tour that costs KRW5,000 per person, but it’s worth every won!
Visit in winter when there’s still snow on the ground and covering the buildings, and you will be greeted by surreal scenes such as these:
I woke up early due to the excitement of experiencing my many firsts: First snow in Seoul, first winter time at a palace, and my first time exploring Seoul on my own. I stayed at Bukchon Hanoke Village, a short walk from this palace. As I was approaching the palace complex, this sight made my heart sing with joy… to observe the elaborate features in traditional Korean architecture covered in snow was just so beautiful!
Cold as ice
The palace staff had cleared the walkways for visitors in this garden, but in some parts, the snow had transformed into slippery ice. I had to hold my step every time I wanted to take a shot, something I wasn’t used to as I usually like to snap away while walking. Tip: Make sure you have on a pair of comfortable shoes with good grip.
Buyongji Pond and Juhamnu Pavilion are the focal points of this whole garden, and used to be the study area. The royal libraries of Gyujanggak and Seohyanggak are also found here. Interestingly, this was the least snow-covered section of the garden.
Frozen in time
There are about five other spots worth stopping at, including the frozen stream, ponds and a natural monument (a juniper tree). I liked the snow-covered ponds the best and couldn’t help wondering if the royal family knew how to ice-skate. The pond was certainly ideal for it!
The snow season in Seoul is quite unpredictable, but end of January or anytime in February is a pretty safe bet if you wish to enjoy Huwon’s winterscape. It will be freezing so make sure to stock up on those handy heat packs.
Memories for life
The tour lasted all of 90 minutes, which is not a long time for a place with so many wonderful views but it was enough to give me a nice thrill that’s not necessarily from the cold. Sunny skies over snow-covered grounds, colourful pillars that support the pavilions, the amazing vantage points everywhere, the stories history that accompanies every facet and structure… all in all, the Huwon Tour was truly memorable.
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