Besides palaces, the best way to capture a slice of South Korea’s past is by paying a visit to their local museums. That’s not difficult at all when you’re in Seoul. What’s difficult is deciding which museum to choose that will somehow fit with your itinerary and schedule. In my sojourn to this part of Asia together with the practical fashionista, I had a chance to enter at least four prominent centers that exhibited the country’s colorful history and contemporary arts and culture.
I developed a penchant for Korean history when I started watching their dramas and movies. I guess it’s easy to embrace because of the proximity of the role of the Philippines into South-East Asian memoirs. As a history buff, I like to explore their history further which just started emerging lately. Honestly, before South Korea was not even in my radar. But now, as its government makes painstaking efforts to revive their national pride, Asian and some Western countries catches on the “Hallyu wave.” I don’t know if that’s a positive or a negative sign, but definitely, the Korean wave has opened up doors for this nation once branded a “hermit kingdom.”
A visit to the Seoul Museum of History will help you understand how Koreans lived in the past.
Entrance to the building and exhibits are free and its just about a 25-minute walk from King Sejong’s monument. Here you can find vestiges of Seoul’s past on display. Annexed to the museum’s grounds are the Gyeonghuigung Palace and the Seoul Museum of Art which, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore.
Inside this center are precious cultural artifacts that predates back during the Joseon period, most of which are said to be donated generously by Seoulites as part of their efforts for a cultural revival program.
Besides its vast collection of relics, you shouldn’t miss checking out the Seoul City model room, one of the main exhibition in this museum, the souvenir shop and the backyard garden.
We were also impressed by another edifice that stood out opposite the statue of King Sejong in Seoul. After taking a stroll at the Gwanghwamun square where King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s monuments stand, we accidentally found a shortcut going to Sejong Center. My friend, Jen was looking for a restroom when we suddenly caught sight of a glass door at the base of King Sejong’s statue. I called her thinking this could lead us to a restroom. We took the stairs and was suddenly overwhelmed by what we saw inside. We momentarily forgot looking for a toilet…
As far as I know, Koreans look up to King Sejong for institutionalizing the use of Hangul, the Korean’s unique form writing. He was also instrumental in advancing technology in the country during the Joseon era. This King had also reinforced educating the poor believing that even those in the lowest class of society should have the opportunity and access to education, a move which was unpopular back then with those in the ruling high class in Joseon society.
Aside from technology, Sejong supported arts and literature. Visitors who enter this enclave are treated to an interactive display of accomplishments in science accomplishments, musical arts and literature, military that flourished during his reign. As such, the center serves also as a center for performing arts. It is the largest arts and cultural complex in Seoul. This building is also referred to as Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.
Admiral Yi Sun-sin also warrants a place of honor at this center for his valiant military expeditions at the time the Japanese were bent on invading Korea. He was famous for winning battles during the Imjin war of the Joseon dynasty. Korea’s military historians consider him a naval genius comparable to Admiral Horatio Nelson.
I’ve wondered how typical Korean residences, like the ones I see in popular K-dramas, look like. So we went to the nearest place where hanok houses can be found. Good thing we passed by the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center when we walked along the Insadong neighborhood.
Once here, you can explore the Bukchon hanok village that is sandwiched between Changdeok and Gyeongbuk palace. During historical times, this area was the residential quarters of high-ranking government officials and their families.
The SK government made efforts to slowly and surely restore the former glory of this village back. Now it’s part of every travelers’ itinerary who gets to visit Seoul. Don’t forget to visit the Insadong area where you can have fun shopping for souvenirs.
Seoul really has some of the most coolest museums. One museum where we had a fun time was at the Teddy Bear Museum found in N-Seoul Tower (also known as Namsan Tower because it sits in Mt. Namsan).
It’s just amazing how they portray and tell their history and culture using cute teddy bears.
To cap off our discovery, we proceeded to the Tower’s observatory deck where one can see a 360 degree view of Seoul. We didn’t mind the long queue as long as we can ride the “shocking elevator” that’s not so shocking at all. Hehehe!
I remember complaining how arduous it was to climb up the hill going to N Seoul Tower that I suggested to Jen to call it quits. But as the saying goes, “no pain, no gain.” So I endured. Had I listened to myself, I wouldn’t have seen and enjoyed this magnificent place. Even though it was a short visit, it was still all worth it. Thank God, I pressed on and the result was a satisfying travel experience! 🙂