Unforgettable Seoul '10 Day 9 Part 1 - Deoksugung Palace, Doldam-Gil, Tteokbokki Street in Seoul

October 30, 2009 (Friday) Part I

I didn't want to leave Seoul without exploring one of the palaces in the middle of Seoul (good thing Deoksugung Palace was near Cheonggyecheon, read about Cheonggyecheon in Part II). It's not hard to imagine that these old emblems were the first structures that were built in Korea and everything else around it, the buildings and the department stores, were built after. For Koreans, palaces will always be proud reminders of their heritage. For curious travelers, it will always be a memorable cultural experience, which can go deeper if you hear what I found out on this day. 


We got off at the City Hall Station to get to the Deoksugung Palace (I was a little jealous because my friends went to a palace before their flight and I had other plans on Day 6).


Emily usually knew the shortest subway route thanks to her mobile phone. It had an offline application that told her the shortest route and when a train was going to arrive. The information was always accurate. Can you imagine having the same technology in the Philippines?  But then, I believe we don't have such a complicated subway system as Seoul.

Deoksugung Palace is famous for its stonewall enclosure. Inside the walled compound was a mixture of traditional and modern structures. On the one hand, you’ll see picturesque spaces and old buildings. 

where traditional & modern meet

The markings on the floor are based on official rankings. 
The higher the rank, the closer you are physically to the king.



On the other, you’ll witness a weird contrast that almost looks like a landscaped White House. 


It was an interesting and unique combination to see. Imagine taking a picture of yourself with an old Korean hall in the background then turn around to use a modern building as another backdrop. You can be at two completely different places in Deoksugung Palace without moving that much.


An old man from a distance was watching the two of us taking pictures intensely. He seemed approachable and very Korean. Somehow, he was near enough to volunteer to take a picture of both Emily and I instead of us taking solo turns while one shoots the other. 

Practice Shot!


He used hand signals and was teaching us how to shoot a picture. We walked over to another view and he took our pictures again, this time pointing and pushing us, telling us where to pose and smile. 


We were both confused at the suddenness of his excitement with us. We guessed he was not an ordinary old man and he might actually be a very educated man because he knew how to work a camera. 


At our first encounter, I had hoped that he was just a nice and bored old man (he was happily using our cameras after all). I relaxed around him after a while and felt my smiles becoming more and more genuine. 


Emily said that a lot of old Korean people (even artists and writers) just hang out in the Deoksugung Palace to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. There were plenty of open spaces and benches and not a lot of tourists on this day (as it is every day). 


This old man sat down on a bench to rest and he showed me his beautiful collection of pictures of all sizes, mostly macro shots of different flowers. I originally thought he was selling them to me. He continuously pointed, asking me to tell him to pick one, to choose the one I liked the most. 

kind old man

To my surprise, he asked me to keep it as a memento of my visit instead of taking a picture with me. This was the first time that a stranger gave me a gift from the heart so unexpectedly and I was almost in tears. I chose the picture of lilies that drew my attention and he signaled that it was time for Emily and I to go leave him alone.


I heard about the Deoksugung Doldam-gil (Deoksugung Stone-Wall Road) and I wanted to see it. It reminded me of a Korean series where the sad ending was symbolized as lovers on the opposite sides of a wall (it’s blurry, maybe I just made it up). Legend has it that lovers who walk this beautiful and romantic path together will eventually break up. Some are up to the challenge but others avoid it if they can. Maybe if both girls walk this path together like Emily and I, they will remain friends forever.


I couldn’t resist but sit on one of the odd-shaped benches and take a picture with the mini Christmas-like trees.


Too bad we didn’t go all the way to the gingko trees (lovers might just find themselves more in love). I couldn’t help but be captivated by the allure of the beautiful stoned walls near the main gate of the Deoksugung Palace.


Outside the main gate of the Deoksugung Palace was a free hanbok-wearing opportunity. 


The entrance to the Deoksugung Palace was only 1000 Won (my first entrance expense so far). There was also a free changing-of-the-guards performance in the main gate. I could literally feel that good luck was at my side on this day. I did not enjoy that first hanbok wearing activity in the tour (Day 4). Again, on one side I took a picture with the old Deoksugung Palace and on the other backdrop was Seoul Plaza, the location where Koreans watched the FIFA World Cup 2002 championships together. 


Emily said that Koreans were all rooting for their team in the square during that moment and there was a Reds Fever. Learn more about the Reds Fever here.

I specifically arranged to go to Sindandong Street in Seoul. The Sindang Subway Station was on the same line as City Hall. Everything in our impromptu itinerary for this day actually revolved around this infamous street. I told myself that I would not leave Seoul without going there. Sindandong Street is a food street that specializes in tteokbokki or spicy rice cakes


I gladly associate that restaurant in Beijing where I first tasted tteokbokki for this incessant love affair with Korean rice cakes. I had an unforgettable experience involving tteokbokki completely covered with bubbling mozzarella and served on a sizzling Korean pan. Every bite was a stringy and chewy burst of flavor – spicy, sweet and salty in one go. That restaurant closed down but I will always have my Korean spicy rice cakes topped with mozzarella as my favorite Korean food!

They have tteokbokki in Korean series, too. It was there that I learned the hard truth. Tteokbokki is actually a popular street food in Korea and you won’t find any street vendor topping it with mozzarella in the streets! You will have a hard time finding tteokbokki in restaurant menus as well, whether you’re in Seoul or in Manila for that matter. 


Just imagine my glee when I found out about a whole street that sells tteokbokki in their restaurant menus and you can go there on a clear day instead of scouting for street vendors at night! Still no mozzarella though.

We had rapokki in Sindandong Street for lunch. 


That’s tteokbokki + ramen! The noodles will tame the spiciness of the dish. The fishcakes and vegetables are also in a standard tteokbokki mix. 


Our rapokki was paired with yummy Danmuji (Pickled Radish Slices, another favorite, normally eaten in kimbap or as a side dish - banchan) and a vegetable mix (sounds like Yaqemuqim in Korean). Although our order was big and had all the ingredients, Emily and I agreed that it didn’t taste as good and it was meant for foreigner consumption. 

We did finish the whole thing though.

She jokingly said she would take back the wheel when it comes to planning our meals because my mind was filled with bad tourist food. That was the first and last time I suggested a good-and-famous-according-to-reviews restaurant in the trip to Emily. Nothing beats having a local show you where to eat.


To be continued in Part II...

Read more about Seoul in Korea (you can find Busan in the labels):