A glimpse of South Korea’s past and present – Seoul, South Korea
Before coming back to the reality of our life and adventures with friends here in the good ‘ol USA, I just had to sneak in one more quick post related to my trip to the Philippines that I thought was interesting.
My recent return flight to the states included an 11+ hour layover in Seoul, South Korea, and I feared I would be bored out of my mind sitting in the airport all that time. Luckily I overheard other passengers talking about a free tour of the area outside the airport, and that really piqued my interest.
I learned that Incheon International Airport provides a special service for transit passengers with layovers in excess of 3 hours. There were six tours to choose from, and with plenty of time to kill, I selected the 5-hour Seoul Culture Tour.
Being in a foreign country, of course, I had to deal with immigration in and out of the airport. What’s amazing is that even though this airport is one of the largest and busiest in the world, navigating the massive complex is easy and all of the workers speak English.
Our tour took us first to Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), the newest and most iconic landmark of the South Korean design industry. DDP is the world’s largest atypical architecture project, so large that I couldn’t capture it in a single frame. We walked under it and across its roof as we traversed to the restaurant for our lunch. See the red “Migliore” sign in the picture below? That was our first destination.
This building is a fashion hub and a popular tourist destination. It features a walkable park on its roof, large global exhibition spaces, futuristic retail stores and restored parts of the Seoul fortress. Koreans come here to bargain and shop till they drop.
After savoring an authentic Korean buffet, our next stop took us back to a time of kings and dynasties. We headed out to Changdeokgung Palace – the second grand palace of the Joseon Dynasty – built in 1405 by King Taejong (the 3rd king of the Joseon Dynasty). For 270 years, the palace was home to the Joseon government and was also the favored residence of many Joseon Dynasty kings. Unlike other palaces, Changdeokgung Palace is well-preserved and still has many of its original features. Between 1405 and its renovation in 1991, it had been destroyed by fire and painstakingly rebuilt several times.
South Korean palaces cover a large surface area and are made up of many buildings. These buildings are arranged with great sensitivity to the geographical features of the land.
A particular feature of Changdeokgung Palace is the way its buildings blend into the surrounding landscape. It is considered the best-preserved of the Joseon Dynasty’s five palaces, and as such was designated a UNESCO world cultural heritage location in 1996.
Our tour guide mentioned that colors and designs in the buildings are full of meaning and purpose. The main buildings of South Korean palaces feature “japsang”, which are small figurines of humans or animals displayed on the roof. These figurines serve as both ornaments and guardians of the building.
Roof tiles are decorated with the dragon and the phoenix, symbols of the king.
Dancheong, which literally means “red and green”, refers to traditional five-element designs found on the walls, pillars and eaves of South Korean wooden buildings.
All structures within the palace are painted with those colorful and vibrant combinations also believed to protect a building from evil spirits and emphasize the authority of its resident.
Given the limited time available, we did not see all of the buildings. The tour guide was sensitive to our various departure times and only briefly described the historical facts and significance of the buildings within the palace complex.
Although the tour was short, it gave me a glimpse of the traditional homes and political seat of South Korea’s royalty. It was also a good way to get a feel for the country’s culture.
It was about an hour from the airport to where we toured, so two hours were spent sitting on the bus, plus another hour for lunch. That left me plenty of time back at the airport to avail myself of another service available to transit passengers, a nice shower at one of the lounges. After that, I enjoyed a much-needed power nap before boarding the flight for my long flight back to the states.