Last Wednesday, Hanyang University took us on a one-day tour of Seoul. It wasn’t very in depth, and in my opinion you’d be better off with a bit of free travel, but it did get the last few things I hadn’t done out of the way.
The itinerary for the day was to meet at the school for 9:40 a.m., and take a tour bus around the northern part of downtown Seoul. We’d stop at the Gyeongbokgung first, have lunch, visit Gwanghwamun Square, travel to the Namsamgol Traditional Folk Village, and then had to the Seoul N-Tower before heading back to the university. It was a very tiring tour, lasting about 10 hours. Thank goodness lunch was included!
We started off with about 200 people massively confused as to which tour bus we each belonged on, resulting in the tour starting later than it should have. When we finally organized ourselves, we drove off to Gyeongbokgung, on the northeastern side of downtown Seoul. It’s not far from Deoksugung, which I had previously visited. Unfortunately, due to our late start and a massive amount of slow walkers, we were only able to spend about 40 minutes on the palace grounds. At least we made it in time for the “Changing of the Royal Guards” ceremony. The guards wear traditional uniforms from the Joseon era, as well as carrying historic weapons. A steady rhythm is kept through the beat of elaborately painted drums.
The palace grounds are vast, and were far too much to cover in such a short time span. We did manage to take photos in giant wooden cut-outs to see how we’d all look in traditional dress, as well as take a peek into a few of the buildings and pavilions.
Gyeongbokgung also includes the National Folk Museum, where we were allotted another half hour to explore. The museum is small but high-tech, with interactive displays where you can press different blocks onto a pad and a projector will display correlating images and videos onto the table. Bad description, I know, but it was cool. The museum wasn’t particularly English friendly, but most of the displays and English titles made everything pretty obvious. The traditional furniture was absolutely gorgeous! Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside the museum at all.
Our next stop was lunch. I don’t know what restaurant we went to, but lunch was “sangyetang,” or chicken and ginseng soup. Supposedly, it’s a summer favourite, as it’s fairly light and the ginseng provides energy. Personally, I think Seoul is usually too hot to be eating soup.
The soup was relatively bland actually, and tasted mostly like chicken broth. The chicken was stuffed with sticky rice, a dried date, and the ginseng. Every bowl comes with a whole chicken (I think technically, it was a Cornish hen), along with multiple side dishes. Although it was bland, I wouldn’t mind having it if I were sick or in the middle of winter.
From the restaurant, we hopped back on our buses to Gwanghwamun Square to take a look at a small museum about King Sejong, who created the hangul alphabet, and Admiral Yi Sun Si, who never lost a battle. Both were English friendly and had some interesting displays. There was even a 4D movie about one of Yi Sun Si’s battles against the Japanese. The graphics and effects were pretty humorous.
The traditional village was next, located at the base of Namsam Mountain (on the other side of the hostel I was staying at, closer to Myeongdong and Changmuro). Again, due to being behind schedule, I felt like we weren’t given enough time to properly explore everything. There were multiple performances to watch, as well as the traditional housing, known as hanok. I may need to go back on one of our free weekends, as I barely got to look at the hanok. The performances were very interesting though, with multiple traditional dances and taekwondo performances. The taekwondo practitioners sure can jump high…
Our last stop was the Seoul N-Tower. I think we had nearly an hour-and-a-half to spend here, and I don’t know why. It definitely didn’t need more than an hour to explore the tower, gift store, and surrounding area. I would have preferred more time at the palace. Ah well.
By the time we got back to Hanyang, it was about 7:30 p.m., about an hour later than expected. At least lunch was so big I didn’t need to worry about dinner and I was just able to collapse and sleep.