Luscious Fall Colors at Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-13

Last fall I took my mom to visit Changdeokgung Palace when she came to visit Korea. I had visited the palace on a previous tour, but not during fall. At the time, the fall leaves were just a bit past peak color, but they were still vibrant enough to make you stop and stare.

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-14


Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-9

We got to the palace relatively early, because we had a full day planned of palace visiting and walking around Seoul. We first did the Secret Garden tour, which is to the rear of Changdeokgung Palace, and actually makes up the bulk of the complex.

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-8

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-3

You can only access the garden via a guided tour, of which there are multiple ones throughout the day, in both Korean and English. However there are only two tours in English, at 1130 and 1430.

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-2

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-7

The garden was designed for the private pleasure of the king and his family. It has a wide variety of buildings, gardens, ponds, flowers, and trees, some of which are hundreds of years old.

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-15

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-16

The highlight of the Secret Garden tour is the Buyongjeong Pavilion on the Buyongjeong Pond, which was restored a couple of years ago.

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-6

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-5

The tour of the Secret Garden lasts about two hours, and it moves at a leisurely pace. You definitely have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, listen to the tour guide and take pictures.

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-11

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-12

This was definitely one of the most beautiful places to see in Seoul in the fall. There are many places that have colorful leaves, but the Secret Garden has some of the greatest concentration of fall beauty.

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-10

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-4

Changdeokgung Palace is easy to get to, since it is centrally located in Seoul. You can reach it via metro line 3 (Anguk stop, exit 3), and it is a few hundred meters up the road, or you can walk to the palace from metro stop Jongno-3(sam)-ga (Lines 1,3,5, exit 7). There are separate English language tours for the palace (though you can walk through most of the palace grounds on your own) and the garden (guided tour required). It is open from 0900-1700 (winter) or 1830 (summer).

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-1

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-17

If you like palaces, and especially if you love beautiful gardens, this is definitely a palace to visit. And if you have the opportunity to visit it in the fall, that is even better.

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-18

Changdeokgung Palace by day and night-19

Spectacular Autumn Colors in Takao, Kyoto

Kyoto Takao Temple title pictureTakao was my final stop on my autumn color extravaganza in Kyoto. I originally intended to visit the Jingoji Temple in the Takao area the night prior since it was open for night illuminations. However, I wussed out and decided to go shopping instead. It turns out it was a really good decision to go during the day, because Takao had the best autumn colors on this trip to Kyoto.

Kyoto Takao Temple red trees

Kyoto Takao Temple entranceTakao is sparsely populated in a mountainous area about an hour’s bus ride from Kyoto. The Takao area houses three temples: Kozanji, Jingoji and Saimyoji. Jingoji Temple is the most popular temple in the area, and was the only one I visited.

Kyoto Takao secondary temple

Kyoto Takao out temple and colorful treesTakao is pretty easy to reach from Kyoto. You can take one of two buses from Kyoto to Takao. The JR bus leaves from Kyoto Station (JR#3 stop). It costs roughly 500 yen one way. The other bus is Kyoto City Bus 8 that leaves from Shijo Karasuma.

Kyoto Takao sunlight treesIt’s a roughly 20-30 minute walk from the Takao bus stop to Jingoji Temple. The trail goes sharply downhill and crosses a river. Follow the stairs up the hill and to the temple.

Kyoto Takao valley river

Kyoto Takao colorful roof

Kyoto Takao colorful pathThe temple grounds are very wide open, and when I was there on a Monday morning, sparsely populated (I imagine it’s much more crowded on a weekend day).

Kyoto Takao Temple entrance interior

Kyoto Takao colorful temple groundsThe centerpiece of Jingoji Temple complex is a large Buddhist Temple. From the top of the stairs, the view down is quite colorful and spectacular (the title picture of this blog).

Kyoto Takao temple stairs

Kyoto Takao colorful tree roofTakao is known for its blazing autumn colors, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The area hits peak foliage a bit earlier than Kyoto proper, so I got a much bigger hint of what Kyoto looks like when its autumn is at its peak.

Kyoto Takao colorful trees

Kyoto Takao colorful trees on groundTakao was probably my favorite stop on this trip to Kyoto. This provided everything I was looking for and more when it came to autumn foliage. Jingoji Temple is very peaceful and isolated, and that is by design. I thought it was very quiet, peaceful and well built to inspire contemplation, both inward and of the beautiful world around you.

Kyoto Takao colorful building

Kyoto Takao Temple red treesThere are two things that make me really feel like there is a creative force in this world (like a God or Goddess): beautiful art and beautiful  nature. Both of them make me contemplate in awe at how something so beautiful could be created, like the wonderment of the most elaborate Catholic cathedrals in the world, art museums, and nature. The Buddhist temple hall on the grounds was a beautiful combination of the two, with the artwork within the temple and the colorful nature spread outside before you.

Kyoto Takao colorful out building

Kyoto Takao red and orange treesIf you visit Kyoto, particularly in the autumn season, I highly recommend a visit to the Takao region to see the temples. At a minimum, visit Jingoji Temple. You won’t regret it.

Kyoto Takao colorful picnic site

Seoraksan National Park Day 2- A Hike in the Cheonbuldong Valley

Seoraksan day 2 title picture

My second day at the Seoraksan Nation Park dawned early, sunny and cold. Walking into the park, I admired the sun rising over the mountains. The rising sun painted the the rocks in a reddish-gold light and it reminded me a bit of Zion National Park.

This particular morning, I woke up a bit tired and sore, but pressed on nonetheless with my planned hiking itinerary. I was determined to see as much autumn foliage as possible, and everything I read about hiking in the Cheongbuldong Valley promised a steady stream of autumn colors.

Seoraksan day 2 yellow leaves on trail

Seoraksan day 2 valley with prominent leaves

The first part of the hiking trail was fairly easy. After the extremely steep hike of Ulsan Bawi, a trail with an initial 6% gradient felt like a piece of cake and a stroll in the park. The path was relatively even, and it was just enjoyable to walk along the trail and enjoy the view of the woods around me and not have to stare at the ground so I didn’t trip and fall.

The first major viewpoint on the trail, and a popular turnaround point, was the Bisondae Cliffs (Fairy Rock).  The bridge traversed this very beautiful valley and natural pools of water formed in the rocks via erosion.  I just had to stop, stare and take in the beauty around me.

Seoraksan day 2 Bisondae sunny valley

Seoraksan day 2 Bisondae pools

The trail continued for another few more kilometers up to the Yangpok Shelter. Truthfully, the trail continued much farther and deeper into Seoraksan National Park, with the next major viewpoint Daecheong Peak, several kilometers away. However, I made the decision to turn back at the shelter after a nice break. The gradient more than doubled to around 14%, but the spectacular natural view more than made up for any muscle soreness in my legs.  When I hike in Korea, I have to balance maintaining my footing on the trail, and maximizing the reason I go hiking- enjoying the colorful wonder of beautiful nature of me. Thankfully, there were plenty of man made stairs and boardwalks, so it wasn’t all just me stumbling over large, uneven rocks.

Seoraksan day 2 canyon river

Seoraksan day 2 rocky shale river

Seoraksan day 2 soaring colorful valley

Sometimes the view was so soaring, that I kept having to remind myself that this was all real. This wasn’t some movie. This wasn’t some memory, but real life, happening all around me.

Seoraksan day 2 valley river

Seoraksan day 2 running river

This particular hike is one of the most popular hikes in Seoraksan National Park, and it is easy to see why. The trail isn’t THAT difficult (by Korean hiking standards that is). You can hike as far out as you want and turn around when you want.

Seoraksan day 2 overhead river pools

Seoraksan day 2 river with red and green leaves

Because the elevation seemed to be greater, and the weather a bit cooler in this part of the park, I found plenty of autumn colors on today’s search.

Seoraksan day 2 colorful overhead shot

Seoraksan day 2 red and yellow leaves valley

Seoraksan day 2 red leaves valley

Even though this trail was much easier than the Ulsan Bawi trail, I definitely felt it, particularly on the hike back. That was probably because I was still feeling it from the day prior. There were scores of people on this trail, because it was a Saturday and the busloads of Korean hikers descended on the park. Even though I’m reasonably fit, I was passed by nearly every one in sight, particularly while trying to negotiate the rocky descents. So many Korean hikers were light of foot and they walked confidently, hopped, or even a few cases, ran down the uneven rocky hills, while I gingerly picked my way down, afraid if I didn’t, my spindly ankles would give out and I’d fall down, down, down the rocks. I am absolutely not as sure-footed as most of the other hikers. And thanks to my sore muscles, I was passed by nearly every one on the trail, with the exception of the elderly and infirm. And when I say elderly and infirm, I mean so old and sick, they probably shouldn’t have been on the trail to begin with.

Seoraksan day 2 rocky valley with trees

Seoraksan day 2 steep valley

I did enjoy the hike, and it felt so sweet when I finished and I could just relax, eat lunch and then go back to my hotel for a nice, warm nap. In those two days, I saw all the main sights in Outer Seorak. That is the eastern part of the park, the one closest to the town of Sokcho. It is the most popular with the craggiest hills. A person can easily do this part of the park on the normal, two day weekend. Of course I highly recommend taking a bus out to the park on a Friday night to start hiking early Saturday morning. Even with my relatively slow hiking pace, I was still done by early afternoon. I could have been on a bus back to Seoul that early evening if I so desired.

Seoraksan day 2 rocky valley

Seoraksan day 2 pool with red leaves

Again, if you like beautiful nature, particularly in the fall, and you like hiking, I HIGHLY recommend Seoraksan National Park. Just don’t mind the crowds. And it’s probably best to bring some walking sticks to maintain your balance while hiking on the uneven pathways.