Changdeokgung & Secret Garden: Korean Music in Ancient Palace

Changdeokgung is one of 5 grand palaces in Seoul. It’s the only palace that listed as UNESCO World Heritage. And it’s also my favorite palace. I’ve been to this palace three times, but I just realized I haven’t posted anything about it here. ><

I went to this palace for the first time when KTO had an event called “Korean Music in Ancient Palace” last year. Through this event, I can learn more about Korean traditional music and saw the performance directly in the ancient palace. It was very amazing experience, I felt like a royal family member. Haha.

Changdeokgung was constructed in 1405 as secondary palace of Joseon Dinasty. Different from Gyeongbokgung where its building was arranged more symmetrically on single axis, Changdeokgung was built following the original topography. It placed the buildings in the bosom of the valleys along the foot of the mountain to represent the atypical architectural beauty of Korean palaces. Such nature-friendly construction is quite rare among the palaces in Northeast Asia. Hence, it’s considered as Korean style. Changdeokgung maintains its original form better than any other remaining palaces of the Joseon Dynasty and it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage in 1997 for its excellent arrangement with nature.

Entrance of Secret Garden, Changdeokgung

Entrance of Secret Garden, Changdeokgung

Changdeokgung served as main palace for about 270 years, the longest time among other palaces of Joseon. It has a beautiful back garden, which is better known as the Secret Garden. It has beautiful pavilions, ponds, trees, and shaped stones inside. Why is it called as “Secret Garden”? Everytime I come here, I always hear someone ask this question. LOL. It was called Secret Garden because only King or higher royal officials are permitted to enter the garden. But heyy, now everyone can enter it! On Korean Music in Ancient Palace event, the main performance area is the Secret Garden. Professor Kim Heesun from Kookmin University acted as commentator and giving an explanation before each of performances.

The first performance was Pansori. It is a Korean genre of musical storytelling performed by a vocalist (소리꾼) and a gosu – a drummer playing a barrel drum called buk (북). That time, a passage from Chunhyangga was presented. It depicts the scene where Mongryong who left Chunhyang in his hometown and studied hard in Seoul writes the state examination held in Chundangdae inside Changdeokgung and wins the first place. The pansori was performed in Yeonghwadang Pavilion where Chundangdae located in front of it! There’s also a square lotus pond called Buyongji next to the pavilion. Here’s a short clip of the Pansori performance:

The second performance was Daegeum, a large bamboo flute with wide sound ranges.

This was performed in Seungjaejeong pavillion, which is located near Jeondokjong Pavilion. On the north site of Jeondokjong pavilion hangs a tablet with writings of King Jeongjo dating to 1798, late in his reign. It reads. “All streams of the world have moons reflected on them, but there is only one moon in the sky. The moon in the sky is me, the king, and the streams are you, my subjects. It is the principle of the universe that the streams follow the moon.” There’s also pond in these pavilion vicinity which is shaped in unusual gourd-shaped curvedness. This pond is called Bandoji Pond (Peninsula Pond) because at first glance it looks like Korean Peninsula turned upside down. By Korean Peninsula, it means the north is included.

The last performance was a dance performance called Jeongjae “Chunaengjeon”. It is known to have been created by Crown Prince Hyomyeong of the Joseon Dynasty, the son of King Sunjo, to congratulate the 40th birthday of his mother. It depicts a beautiful figure of a nightingtale singing on a branch of a tree on an early spring day. The performer was a middle-aged woman, but her elegant beauty fascinated me.

It is performed in Euiduhap area. And to reach this place, I need to pass a gate called Bullomun which literally means “never getting old gate”. It’s made from one big stone that carved into a gate. It’s believed to give blessing of eternal youth to anybody who passes through the gate. Interesting. Kkkk.

If you’re into history and architecture, you might find this book about Changdeokgung interesting. Try give it a read!

Well these areas mentioned here are only small part of the Secret Garden. I had a chance to visit more area, like Yeongyeongdang and Ongnyucheon, when I went to Changdeokgung through my university field trip. And I really like it. If you’re coming to Korea, I highly recommend you to visit Changdeokgung and its Secret Garden.

Here are more photos from the palace & secret garden.

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Changdeokgung Palace
99 Yulgok-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Phone +82 2-762-8261/9513

– Opening Hours
Feb – May, Sep – Oct 09:00-18:00
Jun – Aug 09:00-18:30
Nov – Jan 09:00-17:30
* Closed on Mondays
* Tickets can be purchased prior to one hour before the palace closes

– Admission
– The Palace
Adults 3000 KRW / Group (10 persons or more) 2400 KRW
– The Secret Garden (Required to purchase a palace ticket)
Adults 5000 KRW / Children KRW 2500
* No group discounts available
* Only guided tours are available in the secret garden, so check the guided tours schedule
* There are only 100 tickets available per tour. 50 booked in advance by internet and the rest are sold on site the day of tour.
* Link to booking:

It’s better if you join free guided tours to get more information about the palace. There are Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese guide available. I joined the English guided tour, and the guide is very helpful. She is willing to answer any question and has a good sense of humor, too.

– Guided Tours
– The Palace tours
Korean 09:30, 11:30, 13:30, 15:30, 17:30
English 10:30, 14:30
Japanese 12:30
Chinese 10:00
– The Secret Garden Tours (~90 mins)
Korean 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 16:30
English 11:30, 13:30, 15:30 (Feb – Oct)
Japanese 10:30, 14:30
Chinese 12:30

– Transportation
– Subway
Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 1, 3, or 5, Exit 6)
Anguk Station (Line 3 Exit 3)
– Bus
Blue Bus: 109, 151, 162, 171, 172, 272
Green Bus: 7025


After filling up my stomach in Tongin Market, I went to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Last time I was there, I didn’t go inside. This time, I kinda hesitant whether I should go inside or not. Then, I saw a big banner informing that there was no admission fee for that day. So, of course, I went inside. Haha. Normal admission fee is 3000 KRW for adults.

it's free!

it’s free!

Later, I found out that it was because that day was the last Wednesday of the month. The last Wednesday of each month in 2014 is designated as Culture Day in Korea. In that day, participating museums, palaces, galleries and other cultural facilities will offer free or discounted admission. You can check more about it here. It’s a really nice offer, especially for me. I’m just a poor student here. #mahasiswakere xD

Gyeongbokgung means Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven. It is first constructed in 1395, ater burned and abandoned for almost three centuries, and then reconstructed in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. In the early 20th century, much of the palace was destroyed by Imperial Japan. Since then, the walled palace complex has been gradually restored back to its original form. As of 2009, roughly 40% of the original number of palace buildings still stand or have been restored.



After entering Gwanghwamun gate, you’ll see another gate inside. This gate is called Heungnyemun, the entrance to the main throne hall called Geunjeongjeon. You’ll see a bridge when you enter this gate. I’ve mentioned about it before, all palaces have this small bridge near the entrance. Crossing the bridge means purify yourself. Between Heungnyemun and Geunjeongjeon, there’s another gate called Geunjeongmun. Geunjeongjeon has 2-layer roof that makes the hall appears to have two floors. Just like typical main throne hall, there’s throne and sun, moon, and 5 mountain background here.

Gyeongbokgung has so many buildings, but I’ll just mention several buildings that you shouldn’t miss if you come here. One of the most popular building is Gyeonghoeru. It is a hall used to hold important and special state banquets during the Joseon Dynasty. The first Gyeonghoeru was constructed in 1412, the 12th year of the reign of King Taejong, but was burned down during the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592. The present building was constructed in 1867 (the 4th year of the reign of King Gojong) on an island of an artificial, rectangular lake that is 128 m wide and 113 m across. I saw so many people taking photo with the hall and the lake as the background. You should do that too. 😉



Next, Gangnyeongjeon and Gyeotaejeon. This area is widely referred as king’s living area. Gangnyeongjeon was used for a number of purposes, including daily activities and office duties. At the rear is a beautiful terraced mound named Amisan, made up of a long rectangular stones with four flower terraces on which stand decorated stonework and chimneys.

Hyangweonjeong is a small, two-story hexagonal pavilion built around 1873 by the order of King Gojong when Geoncheonggung residence was built to the north within Gyeongbokgung. The pavilion was constructed on an artificial island of a lake named Hyangwonji and a bridge named Chwihyanggyo connects it to the palace grounds. The name Hyangwonjeong loosely translates as “Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance,” while Chwihyanggyo translates as “Bridge Intoxicated with Fragrance.” It’s really pretty.

Too bad, I didn’t have enough time to take a picture there. It was almost 6 PM, the closing time of Gyeongbokgung. I was wandering around the northwest side of the palace, where Taewonjeon located. Taewonjeon was built as the Royal Coffin Hall of Gyeongbokgung. Nearby were buildings for funeral ceremonies, which were removed during the Japanese occupation. Reading the desription gave me a goosebump, so I didn’t enter the area and went back to the northeast side where Hyangweonjeong is located.

I didn’t realize that it was almost 6 PM. It was very quiet, i didn’t see anyone when I walked. Then somebody called me. “Hey, where are you going?” he asked in korean. I just pointed my finger to a building but he forbade me. I was confused but then I realized something. “Is it already closed?” I asked. And he answered “Yes”. OMG. Hahaha, I almost trapped in Gyeongbokgung. It was cold. I didn’t want to sleep there. He then guided me to the exit gate. While walking he asked me “Honja? Alone?”. And I just nodded and answered “Yes”. He was kind of surprised. LOL. “All guides just quickly went outside when they saw me” he said. Sooo, if you want to come here make sure you’ll have enough time to explore this big palace and leave at least around 20 minutes before closing time. There’s no announcement when it’s closing, or maybe I just didn’t hear it because Taewonjeon is kinda far from other areas. xD

But my journey in Gyeongbokgung didn’t end there. There was traditional performance in front of Heungnyemun Gate at 7 PM. And yes, it’s free. It was veryyy interesting. There were dance with traditional drum, jultagi (tightrope-walking), pungmul, and short musical drama. That was a really great experience.

The performance ended on 8 PM. And I quickly walked outside to the Gwanghwamun Square. There would be Media Facade performance in Gwanghwamun gate. And that’s why I actually came to Gyeongbokgung. It was part of Royal Palace Festival. There were 3 media facade performances at night during the festival (Sept 20-28), at 8 PM, 8.30 PM, and 9 PM. It’s so pretty, and the music matched the performance. It was also my first time watching media facade/video mapping.

BTW, you can have a virtual tour of Gyeongbokgung here. And if you have time, don’t forget to visit The National Palace Museum of Korea in the south of Heungnyemun Gate and the National Folk Museum in east within Hyangwonjeong.

Changgyeonggung At Night

After visiting Yoseob’s Parents’ Restaurant, Kak Anda and I went to Changgyeonggung Palace which currently open at night until September 28th. We tried to buy the ticket online because we heard that ticket for foreigner is very limited. But we couldn’t buy it because the website only allows reservation for minimum D-3. So we just went there and tried our luck. And fortunately, we could buy the ticket on site. It costs only 1000 KRW. Here are some photos I took there.

Just like the other palaces, there is small bridge in front of the gate.



And this is Chundangji Pond with LED lights. I wish I have better camera. It’s so pretty but my camera is not good enough to capture it. Visitors can hear calming sounds of wind chimes around here. The volume and frequency will be constantly changing to match the brightness and colors of the LED lights installed at the pond. It’s part of Royal Culture Festival (Sept 20-28).

This is a green house. I like the architecture, it has western feel.

The night event will end tomorrow, so better hurry up and come there. If you want to buy the ticket on site, come earlier. Because when we left this place, the ticket for foreigner was sold out.