The Saviour of Suncheon Bay

Located in the southern province of Jeollanam-do, Suncheon is a natural jewel. Great mountain trails, calm beaches, and sprawling parks entice visitors to a city that possess all the wholesome beauties that nature can provide and people can facilitate. It is in this marriage of nature and society that Suncheon Bay National Garden emerged. Prior to the garden’s conception, the city was facing an ecological crisis. Suncheon Bay, a marvellous coastal wetlands site, was taking in more visitors than the area could sustain. And so the National Garden came into being. Unveiled in Expo 2012 in Yeosu, the international exposition’s theme of “The Living Ocean and Coast” focused on environmental sustainability and protection of sensitive lands and species. It is here that the Suncheon Bay National Garden was opened to the public.

Covering a little under 1.12km2 of land, the SBNG is recognised as South Korea’s top national garden. Intended to help absorb the sheer numbers visiting Suncheon’s wetlands, the expansive park was designed in cooperation with the surrounding natural landscape. Artists, landscape designers, and many other creative individuals were locally and internationally sourced, all coming together in Suncheon to design a garden that welcomes ten of thousands of visitors every year. Over 860,000 trees (covering more than 505 different species) call the garden home, as do 113 species of flowers that change in accordance to the seasons. After visiting the Suncheon Filming Location, we headed towards the Dongcheon River to see SNBG in the afternoon light.

With only enough time to focus on one side of the garden, we decided to spend the rest of our day on the east side of SBNG. Here we found flora both indigenous and foreign to Korean soil, miniature gardens inspired by the architecture of outside countries and cultures, and a colourful design spirit that made every part we explored a unique and memorable experience.

In the six hours that we spent in SBNG the time flew so quickly, I couldn’t believe it when the sun started to set! Listed below are our Five Reasons to Visit Suncheon Bay National Garden.

The World Around Us and The World That Once Was

Entering the east gate, the Indoor Garden is one of the first exhibits that SBNG offers its guests. Once indoors, the sunlight is muted, radiating the warm glow that lights the building’s interior. Bougainvillea, first discovered by a French explorer of the same name, is the first flora to greet you. The path through the Indoor Garden bends this way and that, slowly leading you forward. Air purification plants, their vines spindly white like unwound cotton, hang neatly overhead and give the air inside a refreshing presence. Floss silk trees are tall and stately, their thorny trunks heavy with water in preparation for the dry season. The Wollemi Pine Tree sits nearby. A tree that dates back to the Jurassic period (201 – 145 million years ago), the Wollemi Pine was thought to be extinct. Miraculously, in 1994 it was discovered in the Blue Mountains of Australia. One of the rarest trees in the world, a few call the Indoor Garden home.

Near the back of the building, an area called Uami Garden is sectioned off. Here all the crucial elements of a traditional garden have been recreated, taking on the look of Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897) gardens in aesthetic details and the traditional organisation of such spaces. Entering Uami Garden, a Korean traditional totem pole welcomes you. A fake river is constructed to show visitors how pavilions would be constructed to exist harmoniously with their natural surroundings. The Bullo Gate (“Gate of Eternal Youth”) sits across from the pavilion, its sleek and simple design free of all signs of age, promising the visitor everlasting vitality.

The World Garden Zone

You don’t have to leave South Korea to see the world. Within SBNG lies a space where the cultural values and aesthetic tastes of eleven different countries are brought to life. Thailand, America, Germany, and many other exciting destinations are condensed into charming gardens that capture the design elements integral to each country’s global image, as well as the essence that makes each one distinctive.

Of the eleven countries, five hold a special place in my memory. While they are all stunning in their own right, my own tastes made me partial to the Mediterranean opulence of the Italian Garden, the Austen-esque romance of the British Garden, the colourful flowers that surrounded the Dutch Garden’s giant windmill, the Mexican Garden with its colour contrasts that brought Picasso to mind, and the heartbreaking tale of The Butterfly Lovers whose sentimental spirits shone through the style of the Chinese Garden.

Fun for the Little Ones

While I don’t have any of my own, it warms my heart to see children having fun. Summer days can be a logistical nightmare for families. Wanting to enjoy the sun without suffering in the heat, SBNG gives parents reprieve and their kids a way to enjoy their holiday without developing heatstroke. The adorably named Wriggling Garden has both covered play areas for the children and an outdoor water-play station with tall structures that spout water. Its cute name is derived from a long wooden tunnel. Donning every colour of the rainbow, the tunnel turns about like a snake finding its way in the grass. Each colour is a different section with its own means of entertaining the kids (from mirrors, to a ship’s steering wheel, to climbing ropes).

The City Reimagined

When your eyes set on Suncheon Lake Garden, it is difficult to think beyond its beauty. The elegant slopes of its five hills and the seemingly impossible wisp of a bridge that winds through them make for a breathtaking vision. What is truly amazing is that the lake garden, fitting so perfectly with its surroundings, was not always there. The artificial lake is the centerpiece of SBNG designed by American landscape designer, Charles Jencks. A person whose vision combined nature with science, Jencks designed the lake to illustrate the city of Suncheon in miniature. The hills are the city’s mountains, the wooden deck is Dongcheon Stream slicing through the landscape, and Suncheon itself is symbolised by the lake.

A Bridge Made of Dreams

SBNG was made with a vision of protecting and maintaining the wildlife surrounding it for future generations. The Dream Bridge perfectly encapsulates this goal. Designed by installation artist Kang Ik-joong, the bridge connects the east and west sides of Dongcheon River, giving visitors the opportunity to explore Suncheon Bay. Built for Expo 2012, The Dream Bridge was made in the spirit of the expo. Constructed with thirty abandoned and recycled cargo containers, it is charmingly decorated with 140,000 tiles made by as many different children from sixteen countries, reminding visitors that the environment is a global treasure, and that it is the children of today who will have the world of tomorrow.

Bringing the world to this city in southern Korea, Suncheon Bay National Garden is a place where you can spend the day, becoming lost in beauty created by both Mother Nature and the world’s artistic minds. 

A Boat Trip to Bluff Island

As a port city that has drawn much of its cultural identity through the sea, Hong Kong’s history of junk boats goes back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Originally referring to Chinese wooden sailboats, which are still in use, nowadays “junk boat” is a blanket term for any charter boat in the Harbour City. Private companies and individuals alike hire them to host parties, touring the secluded beaches that make up Hong Kong’s outlying island. With winters here only reaching 15 degrees Celsius at its worst, junk boats can be enjoyed year round.

Growing up in Hong Kong, I slowly began to see summers as being incomplete without a “junk trip”. Comprising of a day out on a rented boat, junk trips usually comprise ten or more people spending the day bathing in the sun, swimming in the cerulean blue waters, or enjoying various water sports. And of course, a day out in the summertime would be incomplete without a veritable feast and ice-cold alcoholic drinks to keep the spirits as bright as the sun shining above.

Our trip took sixteen of us to Bluff Island (Chinese: Sha Tong Hau San沙塘口山, also known as Ung Kong甕缸). More than a perfect title for a spy novel, Bluff Island is located in Port Shelter, a habour south of the Sai Kung Peninsula. It is the key fragment of eight separate areas that form the Hong Kong Global Geopark, a UNESCO natural site. On a perfect day, there is much to enjoy and admire about the secluded island. Its southern side holds Sha Tong Hau Cave, which is one of the four biggest sea caves found on Hong Kong’s eastern waters. Rolling mountains stand sentry behind the narrow beach strip. The rocky coastlines zigzag in height, with the tallest at approximately 140 metres. These columns take on the form of hexagons, staggering to create the remarkable impression of multiple entryways into the island’s lush hills. As Hong Kong’s highest sea cliffs, more and more divers flock to the island to enjoy the high elevations and explore the marine life that thrives here. From above, this natural wonder bears striking resemblance to a swimming turtle.

Most of Bluff Island came into being roughly 146 – 145 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic Period. Waves of magma activity occurred in the area, breaking through stacking fault and pressure points underwater until it came to surface. Huge volcanic eruptions occurred, and the amazing explosions oozed lava onto ancient rock. Ash and fume danced in the air as fires burned below. As the lava cooled, rocks as wide as 400 metres were formed. They connected in a honeycomb pattern, leading to the multi-level hexagonal rock columns that dot the island’s perimeter. Hong Kong faced four stages of volcanic activity, which is sorted into four groups: the Tseun Wan Group, the Lantau Group, the Repulse Bay Group, and the Kai Sai Chu Group, the last of which formed Bluff Island.

I started the day bright and early. Though we weren’t meeting until 9 – 9:30 in the morning, I woke up at 6am. Living on the opposite side of Hong Kong, it took around two and a half hours for my sister, her husband and I to arrive at the meeting point in Sai Kung. After caffeinating at both Pret a Manger and Starbucks, we joined the others at the main pier. After boarding, the boat sped off into the horizon. Quickly, Sai Kung’s low-level buildings became the size of pinpricks.

Two other junk boats left the pier as we did. Cutting through the waters, the heavy storm clouds bothered none of us on our day off. The sun peeked out every now and then, promising occasional reprieves. This was more than enough for us. We anchored a ways from the shores of Bluff Island, joining two junk boats that were already settled there. After inflating the paddleboard, rafting tube, and inflatable mattress, a number of us headed off to enjoy the ocean. I used this time to take photos of the merry makers and sneak in a few crisps between shots. When the sky burst open and the rain beat a steady tattoo on the water’s surface, everyone laughed and screamed out in surprise. Surprisingly, everyone stayed as they were – enjoying themselves on either the dry boat or the rolling waves.

Thankfully, the sun decided to have mercy on us. Winds pushed the heavy clouds away, and warm rays of light reflected on the water. It was then that I joined those in the ocean. First joining the sun-soakers on the rafting tube, I switched to swimming with a colorful noodle before finally asking for a turn on the paddleboard. One impressive athlete had spent a significant portion of the afternoon encouraging others to try the sport, teaching them techniques and offering supportive words. Following the advice I had heard her dole out to others, I utilised my core and kept my knees slightly bent. For my first time on the paddleboard, things weren’t too bad. I fell all of twice and got back on by myself, even accomplishing two circuits around the junk boat. Without the aid of my glasses, on the second circuit I overestimated the boat’s distance and accidentally paddled to a different boat! The partygoers on the stranger ship were very understanding, encouraging me on as I slowly and steadily course-corrected back to my group.

We spent the rest of the day in typical junk trip fashion, eating foods we had all brought and drinking what had been prepared and purchased. Homemade tortilla wraps, chocolate and vanilla cake, sushi rolls, copious bags of crisps, cold beers, champagne, prosecco, and sangria all came together to form the most perfect food babies in our stomachs. Exhausted from the sun, the sport, and the food, the boat headed back to shore at around six in the afternoon.

Spending over six hours together, the time flew by in easy conversation, good food and great weather. At only 6,500 HKD (around 830 USD) for all sixteen of us, the day’s value was far more than the money we all put into making it possible.

The Seaside Wonder of Haedong Yonggung Temple

A visual masterpiece overlooking the East Sea, Haedong Yonggung Temple is a unique complex that stands in contrast to the typical temple located among mountain ranges. From the fresh sea-salt air, to the exquisite statues and structures that can be found within the complex, here are Five Reasons to Visit Haedong Yonggung Temple.

Location, Location, Location

Many Hindu and Buddhist complexes factor in the number 108, and visitors – knowingly or unknowingly – experience this. Haedong Yonggung is no exception. In Buddhism, the number 108 has several meanings. It is the number of earthly desires mortals have, the lies they tell, and the delusions they harbour. In the seaside temple, there are 108 steps leading to the centre at Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary.

One of a few seaside temples in all of South Korea, Haedong Yonggung occupies part of the rocky cliffs that make up Busan’s northeastern peninsula. Its unique location provides stunning views of the sunrise and sunset, which is one reason that attracts scores of visitors to the distant temple.

Two Divine Visions

Like countless places of worships, the temple was built as an answer to social struggle and human suffering. A drought plagued the entire country, leading to failed crops and a terrible famine. Feeling betrayed by the gods for not providing rain, the people started to turn away from Buddhism, which was already struggling under rampant corruption within the religious community.

According to legend, the idea came to Meditation Master Naong Hyegan in a dream. Visited by a sea god, Naong was told that if he built a temple on the edge between a specific mountain and the sea and prayed there, the people’s sufferings would be lifted. And so the now former royal consultant set off on his task. When he reached the site, Naong felt the auspicious energy of the environment. In accordance to the principles of pungsu-jiri-soel, the Korean principle of harmonising all aspects of nature, in 1376 he began work in earnest. The mountain that the sea god specifically noted was dubbed Dongrae, a reference to the pure state of mind that is gained through total isolation. The temple was called Bomun, in honour of the Gwanseum-bosal, the Goddess of Mercy.

Hundreds of years later, in 1974, a deity appeared once more. Jeong-am, newly appointed as the temple’s head monk, was dedicated to his practices of jeong-geon kido (“100 Days of Intensive Prayers”). In his devout worship, a vision of the Goddess of Mercy came to him. Dressed in a white gown, the goddess appeared on the back of a dragon. Behind them, a colourful stream of light shone brilliantly. When his intensive prayers were complete, the complex was given its current name, which means Dragon Palace Temple.

The Twelve Zodiac Statues

Before entering the temple complex, visitors are met by a neat row of statues. These are the Twelve Deities of the Oriental Zodiac. Representing the ultimate truth of the universe, the physical stone statues originated from China. Guardian deities who protect mortals, the anthropomorphic statues have human bodies and are differentiated by their animal heads.

In Buddhist legend, Gautama Buddha, the Founder off Buddhism, requesting an audience with all the animals of the world before he left this earth. All of twelve came to see Gautama. As a reward for their devotion, he named a year after each of the animals, resulting in the ever-revolving zodiac years. The years were given in the order of their arrival, with the rat arriving first and the pig last to give Gautama his well wishes.

An Abundance of Wishing Opportunities

Speaking of wishes, Haedong Yonggung has many opportunities for visitors to toss a coin and shut their eyes tight.

Walking the 108 steps that lead into the temple, visitors are greeted by the sight of miniature Buddhas. Just past the grand entrance gate sits a squat Buddha statue. Bald and beaming, the statue’s tummy is darkened from years of hopeful patting. He is the “Buddha of Granting a Son”. Further along, a series of Buddhas are comfortably protected underneath a makeshift tin roof. At their feet are rosaries, coins, and small gatherings of wildflowers. They are the “Buddhas of Academic Achievement”.

A staggering three-section wishing pond holds three shallow wells and two smaller basins. Visitors aim for the smaller basins, each held by a statue of a monk, equating the challenge with greater chances of their wishes coming true. Throwing your offering over an ornately carved stone bridge, another popular choice for aiming your coin is the farthest well. In the middle of it stands a statue of Buddha, glowing in its gold painted exterior. A towering stone wall surrounds the right side of the pond. Situated on top of the wall, twelve monks and a rabbit observe the scene below, watching as hopes and dreams fall into the small space.

Past the bridge are three notable golden figures. A larger-than-life statue of Maitreya Buddha, a figure that will appear in the future to succeed Gautama, sits comfortably with a cheery smile on his plump cheeks beside Daeungjeon Main Sanctuary. Close to Maitreya are two golden pigs. Comparably rotund and content, the happy pair are said to bring good fortune to those that pet them.

All around the complex, miniature monks sit on rocks and tree branches, similarly decorated with offerings of money and religious relics. A great portion of these monks can be found behind the statue of the Goddess of Mercy.

The Goddess of Mercy and the Beautiful View

A steep incline of stone steps guide you up to the grand sight of Gwanseum-bosal. Intrigue surrounds this monument. Very little snow has settled among the goddess in the temple’s long history, and arrowroot flowers still grow here in the cold winter months. Three days after it was settled, it is said that stunning lights, similar to those from Jeong-am’s vision, appeared out of nowhere and bathed the goddess in their brilliance.

From the Goddess of Mercy’s platform, visitors can also experience a full view of Haedong Yonggung and the surrounding East Sea. For lovers of panoramic views, the Goddess of Mercy statue, and the sunrise viewing platform, are top of the Busan to-do list.

Things to Know Before You Go

The Long Journey Ahead

Approximately an hour away from the city centre, Haedong Yonggung Temple is a popular site that can be reached by public transportation or taxi. If you show metro workers, bus drivers, or taxi drivers a map or the Korean for the temple name, they will happily point you in the right direction.

Feed Your Snacky Mood

Visited by Koreans and foreigners alike, local businesses thrive in the immediate vicinity. You can purchase fresh smoothies, grilled and skewered meat, sweet fruit, and much more to keep that hangry mood at bay.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

For the sake of your safety, leave fashion for the day, at least where your feet are concerned. The steps are steep at parts, the trail diverges onto winding dirt paths, and the bridge connecting the steps to the temple complex is a perfect circular curve. While great for photos, it can be a bit of a challenge for the feet.

A site that offers visual marvels both manmade and natural, Haedong Yonggung Temple is a great place to visit for all that appreciate art, architecture, cultural history, and sheer grit and determination of our ancestors!

Stepping into Van Gogh’s France

You don’t need to leave Asia to immerse yourself in Parisian charm. In the heart of Seoul’s shopping district, Dongdaemon, L’Atelier occupies the eleventh floor of the Hyundai City Outlet. Outside the miniature Paris, a young woman wearing a nineteenth-century inspired dress directed us to a curtained wall. In seconds, the grand curtains were drawn, revealing a grand door. A regal voice blares above visitors, going over the finer points of the visit and reminding you to enjoy the experience. Then the double doors swept open. A visual masterpiece that shows its audience Paris as famous painters saw the city, the site is divided into five unmissable sections named after real locations in the City of Love.

Five sections of l’atelier

Moving Pictures and Charming Streets

Stepping inside, we left the modern world behind and entered an idealized nineteenth-century Parisian square called the Place de Tetre. The flooring is decorated to give the appearance of cobblestone. To our left is “Patisserie Gloppe”, a quintessentially French bakery café displaying fresh bread on the left and allowing a peak into the café on the right. Like much of the immersive installation, animated videos of people in nineteeth-century attire and settings add authenticity and a sense of life beyond a visitor’s personal experience. Across from it sits “Boutique Paquin”. Looking through the window, you can see middle-class women preparing for a hat-making course. These two store facades immediately set visitors into an understanding of what the L’Atelier experience will be like.

Past the Place de Tetre sits a room of static and moving portraits. L’Atelier Gallery showcases artistic heavyweights. Largely featuring accurate remakes of Paul Gauguin’s portraits, the gallery adds a sense of magic with animation bringing the works of Van Gogh and Degas to life; the postman shuffling as he watches the audience and the ballerinas stretching and twirling on stage.

The Artists’ District

Taking a glimpse into an artist’s creative space, visitors weave single-file through the art studio of Maurice Utrillo. Paint tubes, finished canvases, and empty bottles lie throughout the studio in their own specific spaces, an organized chaos that many see as synonymous with an imaginative mind. Bridging the space between L’Atelier Gallery and Montmartre, the decision to stage Utrillo’s workspace specifically is an ode to the French district that lies ahead. Born in Montmartre, much of his work comprised of cityscapes of the Paris he loved.

Flowers at La Madeleine

With a sunset comprised of bold shades of purples, pinks, and oranges, the sky blends together in an artist’s passionate strokes. Flower stalls stand to either side, their bright colours tinted an orange-red from the setting sun. Tables stand in the middle of the space, visitors either reading the free French gazette or colouring in the masterful scenes created by their favourite artists. A neat row of vibrantly painted shelving units hold dainty pots of flowers and plants, curating the natural beauty and giving it new context.

In the Musée de I’Orangerie, Monet’s garden landscapes come to life. Starting in a blank white hexagonal room, the sounds of chirping birds and trickling rivers fill the air as the walls and floor become flooded with the moving images of Monet’s work. Butterflies scuttle here and there, lily pads shift their course, and fish deftly avoid the moving feet of awestruck visitors. Led through some of his most renowned works on springtime France,  the interactive experience provides audience members with new appreciation for the country-loving painter.

Uncovering the Man Behind the Masterpieces

In the Place Lamartine, a veil is lifted from the mysteries surrounding Van Gogh’s character. In “The Study of Emile Zola”, a time-travelling historian discusses some of the Dutch painter’s most famous works, such as “Sunflowers” and “Starry Night”. He interviews miniaturized versions of people who were at the periphery of Van Gogh’s life, such as his stern but fair landlady and the postman who regularly delivered correspondence between the brothers. Giving no sign that his discussions with these Lilliputian characters – impressive CGI that interact with the spaces and objects around them – are peculiar, the audience is drawn into the strangeness of the setup. As such, the subject matter discussed, Van Gogh’s perceived peculiarity to his contemporaries, is normal by comparison.

Further along, visitors can head into an impressively large square. Here sits The Yellow House, a lodging in Place Lamartine. Briefly, Van Gogh had rented four rooms in the house, capturing it in a series of paintings. One of these showcases his bedroom, which has been lovingly recreated for the curious to explore. The bedroom is sparsely decorated. Laregly engulfed in shadows, its main features are a single bed, a worn jacket that hangs on the wall, a rickety chair, and a blank easel.

The easel is brought to audience’s attention in “Van Gogh’s Dream”. A charming musical of Van Gogh’s journey through France and his wondrous vision of the world, the thirty-minute musical paints the cityscape in his overlapping brushstrokes, giving character to even something as inconsequential as the floor below our feet. Using a mixture of live action and CGI, the transitions are easy to follow as the character of Van Gogh sticks to a uniform of brown slacks, a blue sweater, and straw hat throughout. Never forgetting the love of his work, the actor is earnest and tender in his portrayal of a troubled artist loved after his time.

A Starry Ending

The twilight of L’Atelier, the lights are dimmed low in the Place du Forum, stars shining on CGI streets and street lamps glowing in warm tones. Here lies the Café Terrace at Night, a renowned Van Gogh portrait. Tables and chairs lie on the cobbled streets and the café’s wooden porch. In the distance, a CGI figure that bears a striking resemblance to the misunderstood artist is busy at work capturing the scene.

Across from the outdoor setting is the Night Café, its interior a burgundy red room crowded with more tables and chairs. It is reminiscent of the bar Van Gogh would visit. Here, much as it would have been in his time, “absinthe” is on offer – its true nature a sugary cocktail drink. “Van Gogh’s coffee”, black caffeine local to the region, would have been all the poor painter could have afforded when he wasn’t inclined to imbibe in heavier substances.

Beyond the café’s lies the post office, a common sight for Van Gogh, who wrote to his brother often. Covering Vincent’s basic living costs, Theo Van Gogh believed in his brother’s work and was one of the few to advocate for it. While their connection was tense, their love for each other was unconditional. A few months after Vincent’s death, Theo himself passed away.

Things to Know Before You Go

Shows Run All Day

Three minutes prior to each show – “Van Gogh’s Dream”, “The Study of Emile Zola”, and “Monet’s Garden” -, exhibit workers in Period-inspired clothing will walk around the area and announce the show’s beginning soon. Shows run from ten in the morning to six at night, so if you miss one, take the chance to wander around the area until the next show is ready!

Everything is in Korean

If Korean is not your mother tongue, fear not! Prior to entering L’Atelier, visitors can download the app on their mobile devices. Here, free English audio guides are available so that guests may enjoy and understand the France that their favourite artists loved.

Bring a Sweater

At the risk of sounding like a Mother Hen, it is better to bring one than wish you did! Set completely indoors, L’Atelier is not afraid of using air conditioning. At times mimicking the autumn and winter months, it is best to bring something to keep yourself bundled up.

If the swirling patterns and lively colour palettes of Vincent Van Gogh speak to you, a visit to Seoul would be incomplete without a day spent in L’Atelier!

Ancient Beauty in Modern Seoul

The second of five palaces built in the Joseon Dynasty, Changdeokgung Palace’s architecture is unique in its intentional harmony with the surrounding environment. Its name directly translates to “Prospering Virtue Palace”. The approximately 58-hectare complex has weathered political revolts and wars. Though architects could have modernised its design during various stages of reconstruction, the palace grounds were always rebuilt in accordance to their original design. Thanks to this appreciation for Joseon-era architecture, Changdeokgung Palace is an oft referred to example of traditional Korea’s beauty.

Building It Up

In 1405 Emperor Taejong (third emperor of the Joseon Dynasty) built the new palace Changdeokgung, a physical symbol of his decision to change the country’s capital from Gaegyeong (modern Kaesong) to Hanseong (now known as Seoul). Construction of the palace complex was finished in seven years. Over a century later, the fourteenth emperor of the Joseon Dynasty, Seonjo, expanded the palace. His additions to the complex included Huwon. Nicknamed the “Secret Garden”, it is nestled at the rear of the complex and houses more than 56,000 different specimens of trees and plants.

The front view of Donhwamun, the main gate

Fights and Fires

In 1592, Japan invaded Korea in aggressive moves that sparked the Imjin War (1592 – 1598). Imperial Regent Toyotomi Hieyoshi met initial success, conquering significant portions of the Korean Peninsula. Shook by the increasing presence of the Japanese army, the royal family fled from Changdeokgung. The citizens of Hanseong were livid. Feeling abandoned by their monarchy, they marched to the complex and burnt the palace down. The damage was repaired in 1611, its reconstruction ordered by Emperor Gwanghaegun two years prior.

This hard work was soon ruined. In 1623 the palace was set aflame. Despite being a skilled administrator and diplomat, Gwanghaegun was widely unpopular. Neither the first-born nor legitimate son of Emperor Seonjo, Gwanghaegun was Seonjo’s second son, born to his father’s concubine, Kim Gyeongbin. The Greater Northern faction suppressed views against their monarch. To silence those disputing Gwanghaegun’s rule, Prince Imhae, Seojo’s oldest son, and Grand Prince Yeongchang, the Queen’s son, were killed. Infuriated by their illegitimate monarch and his supporters, the Western faction staged a coup. The palace was destroyed, Gwanghaegun was exiled to Jeju Island, and two leaders of the Greater Northern faction were murdered. Injo, Seojo’s grandson, was crowned and became the Western faction’s puppet.

Injeongjeon, the Throne Hall

Pungsu-jiri-seol, Korea’s answer to Chinese Feng Shui

Translating to “wind-water-earth-principles theory”, Pungsu principles are a study in geomancy – the art of arranging sites to draw from the auspicious aspects of the natural environment. Changdeokgung palace was built in accordance to these beliefs. Behind the complex lies the peak of Mt. Bugaksan, the main guardian mountain for the area. In front of the palace, river Geumcheon steadily runs along. Also in agreement with Confucian ideology, the overall style and layout of the palace grounds are relatively simplistic. This compatibility with the environment makes Changdeokgung unique among Seoul’s palaces.

While the location harmonises with nature, the buildings align with traditional palace composition. They are wooden constructions atop stone foundations, largely consisting of tiled roofs and aesthetic additions such as corbels and carvings. Utilising the principles of “sammun samjo”, there are three main gates:

Donhwamun, the main gate, is a two-storey wooden pavilion. Built in 1412, it was set on fire during the Imjin War and restored in 1608.

Jinseonmun, the middle gate. Before it lies Geumcheongyo Bridge, built in 1411 and the oldest bridge in Seoul.

Injeongmun was built in 1405 during Emperor Taejo’s reign. It precedes the throne hall, for which it shares a name.

Two modern princesses posing inside Nakseonjae Complex

and three main courts:

Huijeongdang, the administrative court. Originally the emperor’s private chambers, daily meetings were shifted here from Seongjeongjeon when more space was needed to discuss matters of state.

Nakseonjae, the royal residential court. In 1847, Emperor Heonjong built the residential compound. It was separated from the rest of the complex, having been built for his concubine, Kim Gyeongbin.

Injeongjeon, the official audience court. It is a two-storey building where the emperor conducted official business and received foreign visitors. Its construction was part of the original development in 1405.

Must-See Sights

If time is of the essence, here are structures of Changdeokgung that capture the spirit, style, and history of the awe-inspiring compound.

Among the Palace Buildings

Injeongjeon, the throne hall, was built in the fifth year of Emperor Taejong’s reign. It was among those destroyed by fire in the Imjin War. Approximately two centuries later, Injeongjeon was ruined by fire once again. In 1804, Emperor Sunjo ordered the hall’s repair. Aside from being used for official duties and meetings with visiting dignitaries, the grand hall was also a site of commemoration. Many coronation ceremonies were held within it, and when the royal family found cause for celebration, their festivities would take place in Injeongjeon.

Seonjeongjeon began as the meeting point for the emperor and government representatives to talk about state affairs. A narrow corridor connects Seonjeongjeon to Seonjeongmun gate. This corridor was used in the funeral procession when the building was reestablished as a royal shrine.

While Huijeongdang, the administrative court, retains its traditional Korean exterior, its interior is a reflection of Western tastes from the early twentieth century. A fire ruined most of its interior in 1917. Occurring in the early years of Japanese occupation of Korea (which lasted from 1910 – 1945), the Japanese government reconstructed Huijeongdang’s inner workings with modern amenities such as wooden floors, electricity, glass windows, and curtains. In this way, Huijeongdang is unique to all other buildings within Changdeokgung.

A true labour of love, Nakseonjae Complex was intended as a place that Kim could call her own, free from the prying eyes of the court. After Emperor Heonjong’s first wife died, his mother Queen Sunwon arranged the selection of brides for her son to choose from. Among these accomplished and beautiful women, Heonjong was most interested in Kim Gyeongbin. But his mother preferred another, Hyojeong. And so his mother’s choice became the emperor’s second wife. When it she could not conceive, a concubine was needed to produce an heir. Gyeongbin was brought in, and Nakseonjae was built. Overlooking the lower palace grounds, the simple and elegant complex was opened to the public in 2006.

Within Huwon

Previously known as Geumwon (“Forbidden Garden”) and Naewon (“Inner Garden”), the large garden holds pavilions, ponds, and carefully maintained trees, flowers, and lawns. 32 hectares in size, the garden was accessible only to the royal family. Excepting the military, which performed inspections and parades at the emperor’s behest, few were allowed to wander its magnificent grounds.

The first stop in the Secret Garden Tour, Buyongji Pond and Juhamnu Pavilion are remarkable in style. The pond sits before Juhanmnu Pavilion, a two-floor structure. Its construction coincided with emperor Jeongjo’s ascension in 1776. The first floor comprises of Gyujanggak, the Royal library. Heading up to the second floor, the reading room overlooks the tranquil pond. A gate named Eosumun sits before the pavilion. Its name is derived from the Korean adage, “su eo ji gyo” (水鱼之交), meaning that like fish and water, the emperor is inseparable from his people.

Due to the heat and humidity, our tour of Huwon was abridged from an hour to forty minutes. Jondeokjeong Pavilion was our last sight, and one that ended the tour on a high note. Built in 1644, Jondeokjeong is the oldest of the palace pavilions. A solid wooden structure with a tiled roof and pillars painted red, the inner ceiling is decorated with twin dragons bearing cintamani, a wish-fulfilling jewel found in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. A powerful symbol of compassion and knowledge, it is suggested that this design reflects Jeongjo’s desire for a return to emperor’s holding full royal authority.

Things to Know Before you go

Remember to Buy a Ticket for the Palace and the Garden

Simply purchasing a ticket to the palace grounds limits you to seeing only the first third of the entire Changdeokgung. To see Huwon as well, you have to pay extra. Definitely worth the price of admission, in cooler temperatures the tour covers the entire garden, with the guide spending between an hour to an hour and a half discussing its history and giving people plenty of time to get that perfect picture.

Wear Comfy Shoes

We spent an entire day exploring the palace grounds, and our feet certainly let us feel it the next day! Most of the path is a mixture of concrete and dry, compressed dirt, both of which put a strain on your feet after some time. If you start to feel aches and pains, give yourself a moment to stretch your hamstrings before continuing on.

Changdeokgung reflected inside Hongsigung café

Eat Out

There is all of one café located inside Changdeokgung (a small establishment that shares a space with the gift shop), but fear not. Once you’ve purchased a ticket, visitors are allowed to leave and re-enter. To break up the palace grounds into manageable portions, I recommend wandering the surrounding area for a bite to eat. We took a break from the Korean sun in Hongsigung. Situated on the second floor, the café offers a clear view of the palace’s outer walls and a sneak peak of its tiled roofs. Its interior, a powerful contrast of concrete, wood, grey tiles, and marble tabletops, tall plants scattered around the area add to its intriguing atmosphere.

Bring Water

The large palace complex provides water in all of two areas – the gift shop and a water fountain located at the foot of the entrance to the Secret Garden. Water bottles are allowed inside, so bring as much as needed for a day out.

I hope you’ve found this information fun and informative, and wish you luck on your travels – feel free to share your experiences, a traveler’s world never has too many stories!

The Fairytale that is the Lynn Glen Trail

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Sometimes what the soul needs is a daydream escape. Finally able to breathe after an onslaught of deadlines, we took to the road and made our way towards the coast. The roar of city life stripped away with every mile that we placed between us and Glasgow. Pop throwbacks from the 2000s and early 2010s blared in the car as I picked each song, connecting them to the car’s speakers through the magic that is Bluetooth. Singing along to the likes of Selena Gomez and Avicii, we ran through all the songs that had caught our generation by storm all those years ago

As we drove into Dalry, rolling mountains and staggering fields were sprawled as far as the eye could see. Even with three years of living in the UK, the beauty of pastoral life still brought a smile to my face. My friend chuckled as a I cheerily yelled out “Sheep!” or “Horse!” every time I caught sight of the farm animals. Reaching our destination, we parked the car near Lynn Bridge, a quaint stone construction, and headed towards the river.

Having parked at the end of the trail, we decided to start there, too. Spending the afternoon on the Lynn Glen Trail, five stunning sights make the charming walk a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Faerie Doors

Existing in the histories of many cultures worldwide, the physical forms and purposes of faeries differ between countries. To understand how long these magical beings have been part of humanity’s story of the universe, it is important to note that the term is derived from the Latin word “fata”. This refers to “The Fates”, three goddesses of Greek mythology that spun the string of individual destinies, determining the length of people’s lives before they are born. In this context, we can understand that faeries are mystical beings that can comprehend our world in ways we can’t even fathom. One of those ways is their ability to travel between realms.

Through our walk, we were greeted by the sight of faerie doors. No taller than the length of our hands, each door was carefully hand-painted with the whimsical charm of childhood. According to myth, faerie doors are used as a means for humans to communicate with the spirited creatures. While we didn’t have any faerie sightings, we admired the tiny offerings of coins and sparkly knick-knacks that rested beside the homemade doors.

A Picturesque Cascade

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The largest tributary of nearby River Garnock, the side stream rushed on our left side as path twisted and turned with the steep cliff faces. On the right, statuesque trees stood tall and proud. Gnarled roots gave the impression of bowing, and sturdy branches jutted out over the path, their foliage providing a lovely shade. Our pace slowed to a snail’s pace as we admired each new perspective of Garnock’s feeder.

A Well-Ribboned Tree

Further along, we passed a moss-covered tree dressed in colourful ribbons. A handmade sign sat on one of the branches, declaring it to be the “Wishing Tree”. Ribbons are a common item for humans to gift faeries. Their heavy presence in on the trail suggested a long history of odd phenomena in the area explained away with the winged firms. Without ribbons of our own, we passed the tree hoping that the dreams attached to it would come true.

Lynn Falls

As we drew closer to the waterfall, the river began to stagger, preparing itself for the inevitable drop. Glances through tangled tree branches amazed us. What was revealed near the end of the path was more than we had hoped for. As if set into a small staircase, the river poured over levels of stone, past a toppled tree coated green. The water by the edge of the fall was surprisingly calm. Wanting to enjoy the full view, we waded through the water. The sight was worth the caution. Looking back at the river, skinny trees framed either side. Rushing water made for a stunning contrast in tones. The fallen tree called out to me, and I answered. Walking its length with careful steps and airplane arms, my mind was brought back to younger, carefree years.

A Charming Waterfall

Past Lynn Falls, a subsection of the river flows into what is adorably known as Lynn Spout, which ends in an impressively sharp 90-degree drop. Looking back, water falls off of staggered rock formations. The precision of their design gives the distinct impression that they were crafted and not naturally formed. We wandered around the area, climbing along the bridge-like form of a fallen tree. Walking through the rushing water, visitors would be wise to either tread carefully on bare feet or wear water shoes with reliable grips.

Things to Know Before You Go

Wear Form-Fitting Clothes

While much can be seen on the main path, we found that most of the stunning views could only be captured by climbing over rocks, carefully treading on fallen leaves, and weaving through numerous branches. That day, I was wearing a long coat that snagged on everything. Physical mementos of the excursion stayed with me in the form of leaves, spiderwebs, and bits of twig. To avoid turning your clothes into makeshift birds nests, wear form-fitting attire.

Make Sure You’ve Got Grippy Shoes

Underestimating the depth of a pool of water, my friend almost sprained his ankle, if not for the incredible luck of course-correcting and stumbling himself upright when he realised his mistake. Granted, he was wearing slip-on boots with smooth soles. It wasn’t the best choice for a day out, and he’s since stuck to trainers whenever we meet up.

When nighttime drew, we reluctantly left the trail behind. Singing along to old Selena Gomez songs, our expressions were bright with the fun we had on the faerie’s trail.

Going Around the Getty: A Beautiful Day Seeing Art in LA

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With the sky a perfect shade of blue and the occasional breeze complimenting the warm rays of the sun, my Saturday in LA was too lovely to stay indoors. Easily making my way to the hillside site of the Getty Centre, a free tram system led visitors from the foot of the hill to the museum entrance. Even though I arrived half an hour prior to opening time, the line was considerably long. People mostly came in groups, and all wielded a camera to capture their favourite pieces for posterity.

What I enjoyed most about the museum was how it shifted between eras and genres of art; from Renaissance theistic art to Roman-Greek statues, furniture from Versailles, a modern installation on the changing nature of the written word, and even a cactus garden. There was something for everyone, and not a soul I passed was without a smile.

There is always something to be gained from exposing yourself to the past. In art, something fantastic and awe-inspiring can be discovered in any and all forms. There is always wonderful to be discovered within weird. Through enjoying varieties of art, maybe you’ll find a way to enjoy parts of yourself you’re less certain of.

Wandering Around Oxford: The City’s Best Walking Route

During my fleeting four-day stay at Oxford, every single adventure began and ended with walking. Though I was staying at a friend’s house that was almost an hour from the city centre on foot, I didn’t tire from all the traipsing around. There was too much to see, from the classic architecture to the variety of life being lived in this fine university city. Students rushing from class to class, tourists armed with expensive cameras and comically large guide maps, stall keepers selling jewellery and collectibles designed to catch the eye, and crooning buskers who gave a smile to anyone who stopped and took the time to listen to the music.

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With all this walking, naturally my mind decided upon its favourite routes taken. Funnily enough, these three routes were all taken on the same day, one leading directly into the other.

The Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum, charging a small fee to visitors and students alike, is well worth the price of admission. Glasshouses hosted flora originating from tropical climes. The gardens were coloured with a myriad of flowers and herbs. Sturdy trees, their leaves expressed in the form of either a wide umbrella or arms lazily swaying in the air, provided plenty of shade and comfort. Everyone I passed by was in good spirits, enjoying this little piece of heaven tucked away in the city corner.

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Leaving the gardens, I headed along Dead Man’s Walk. So named for its medieval history as a processional path for Jewish funerals, its sombre past did nothing to diminish the peace and tranquility of the walk. Trees lining either side of the wide path kept the afternoon glare of the sun away. What light managed to filter through the leaves created wonderful shifting patterns on the dusty path.

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Christ Church College greeted me at the end of the short walk. Perfect for lovers of history, fantasy, and beauty, Christ Church was one of the filming sites for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, its grand staircase utilised in the scene where harry met Draco Malfoy for the first time. In the College’s Great Hall, another fantasy world is brought to life. Housing the infamous Alice Window, all of Lewis Carroll’s most popular characters are immortalised in stained glass, from Alice’s signature sky-blue dress to the Dodo Bird’s brilliant plumage.

To all who have little time to enjoy the fascinating city of Oxford, I highly recommended walking along this path.

Hardwick Hall: More Glass than Wall

Even now, the flamboyant and spirited nature of Bess Hardwick is one to be admired. Born into a minor gentry family in 1527, Bess’ life unfolded into a series of personal tragedies that she never allowed herself to succumb to. Instead she persevered with grace and dignity, her situation and station improving each time. Over the course of sixty-six years and four marriages, Bess elevated herself from the daughter of a ‘gentleman-yeoman’ house to an exorbitantly wealthy businesswoman and close friend of Queen Elizabeth.

Located in the Derbyshire countryside, Hardwick Hall stands as a glorious symbol to Bess’ lifelong ambitions and achievements. “Hardwick Hall – More Glass than Wall” is a popular saying associated with the spectacular estate. It is more than a cute rhyme. All four sides of the three-storey building are neatly lined with grid windows. Back in the Elizabethan age, windows leaked out indoor heating like no man’s business, making the act of heating an entire home even more costly.

Following the disastrous end of her fourth marriage to George Talbot – the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury – the now Countess Elizabeth Shrewsbury moved back to her family estate of Hardwick. From 1587 to 1597, she supervised the construction of the two Hardwick Halls. Money was no object, and both buildings stand as lavish displays of this great woman’s wealth.

Hardwick Hall, a seven year endeavour, spreads over three floors. A pioneering structure, the estate was one of the first in the country to be designed by an architect – in this case, Robert Smythson. Diamond pane windows range in size between floors to delineate the purpose of each room. The interior provides no less of an affluent air. Set in the second floor, the Long Galley runs through the entire east side. Displaying tapestries and portraits with immaculate detail and a plethora of colours, these intricate pieces would have signified the depth of Bess’ wealth to all her guests.

The windows, both grilled and diamond paned, pour sunlight over the ornate decorations. And it is not only the wall art and windows that help Hardwick Hall maintain its classic style. The floor of the Long Galley is fully carpeted with rush matting. Handwoven and sturdy, plaited rush matting was a staple of Tudor households. Made of bulrushes harvested from reed beds, the dried material is interwoven with camomile, lavender, herbs, and wormwood to subtly perfume the space. When fraying, the matting in Hardwick is either patched together and reused or given new life as mulch for the garden or bird nesting support.

Standing at the foot of Hardwick Hall’s grand façade sits its gardens. A mosaic of rectangular courts, the gardens grow both culinary and medicinal herbs. More than being aesthetically pleasing, the vegetables and herbs grown in the gardens are used in the Great Barn Restaurant. During the months of July and August, visitors are able to sample all the flavours the garden has to offer with Taster Days. Great lawns dotted with crab apple trees have comfortable lawn chairs provided by National Trust. With a cool breeze running through the trees and plenty of shade provided by trees and archways, it is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll.

Continuing the stroll through the estate, Hardwick Old Hall hangs at the periphery. Only five years younger than Hardwick Hall, the old hall drew on contemporary innovations in Italian design. When Bess died in 1608, her son William Cavendish was left in charge of the estate. William re-situated the family in Chatsworth, which became the family’s preferred seat over time. By the 1750s, the family commissioned for the partial dismantling of the old hall. Vulnerable to the elements, many of the original overmantels still stand to the this day. The ruins overlook an endless horizon of countryside on all sides. When construction for the new hall began, the old hall was still incomplete. This is not to say the first hall was abandoned. The two were intended to complement each other. And though it stands a shadow of its former glory, the remains of the Old Hall are still a sight to see.

Leaving with a neck sore from marveling at tapestries and architecture, I left feeling inspired by the sheer grit of Bess Hardwick, a remarkable woman who faced the odds and came out victorious.

Baguio: A Cloud and a Cafe

True to its name, Mt. Cloud Bookshop is a bit of a trek. Made up of rolling hills and winding streets, the walk to Mt. Cloud is a brisk one requiring equal parts energy and enthusiasm. Fortunately we had a hearty breakfast that morning, and are all bibliophiles obsessed with expanding our collections. The sun poked in and out of clouds all day. This, however, did nothing to disguise its presence from us. A steady heat radiated through the city, pressing onto us as we made our pilgrimage to Mt. Cloud. When we reached our destination, it was well worth the effort. The entrance was located past a staircase heading underground. Lush flora grew tall and proud across from the open door.

And inside it was beautiful. Books lined the walls in neat shelves, a flurry of colours ranging in size and length. At the end of bookshop, the entire wall was dedicated to children’s books. Gorgeous stationary stood to the side of the front door. Art books and zines rested at the foot of the stairs. Up the staircase, Filipino graphic novels and poetry was set across the banister. Biographies, anthologies, and international literature are neatly arranged on the second floor. Mt. Cloud graphic tees hang on the balcony, proud flags to this indie store. Pouring over the many choices, I was drawn to the anthology collections and poetry. Tackling universal issues of love, pain, and a sense of belonging, I eventually chose not one, but five books. My wallet cried but my soul sung.

Leaving Mt. Cloud before I succumbed to the siren calls of even more novels, we headed off in search of a light lunch. Little Leigh Cafe was perfect. Located at the entrance to Honeymoon, Little Leigh is a doll’s dream. The dining area, on the top floor, is set in soothing pastel tones. The tables dominating the main area are low to the ground in perfect imitation of a dollhouse. Immediately, I thought this would be the perfect place for a children’s tea party.

The fun doesn’t end there. More than a pop of colour, a canary yellow ladder leads up to an attic space. Carpeted flooring feels like clouds. The low, slanted ceiling is answered with a low table and cozy dark brown cushions, giving the space a casual feel. A small window floods natural light into the space. During the evenings, two lamps are set here to create ambiance.

Ordering an ube milkshake and a chosilog (Chorizo and tapsilog, a meal incorporating garlic fried rice and a fried egg with various meat), the savoury tones of the chosilog balanced well with the light and sweet milkshake.

Leaving the cafe in happy spirits, we walked through the rain and onto our friend’s house. Our food babies were properly formed by this point, and we all dreamed of a lazy siesta.