One of the first things I noticed about Hwaseong Haenggung was that it was quite small compared to other royal structures I have visited throughout Asia. I soon learned, however, that what the palace lacks in size, it makes up for in grandeur.
Unlike the palaces of Seoul, each room of the complex is decorated in the style of the period in which it was first constructed. Pots and pans hang on the walls of the kitchen and a desk topped with hanji, Korean paper, and writing supplies sit in the corner of a study.
There is even an appetizing spread of royal cuisine, commemorating the historical 60th birthday celebration King Jeongjo held for his mother. Had the food not been plastic, I may have been tempted to steal a few bites.
Hwaseong Haenggung was built by King Jeongjo to restore the honor of his father, Crown Prince Sado. The Crown Prince, who suffered from extreme mental illness, was killed by his father who declared him unfit to be king. Sado met an unfortunate fate of being sealed alive in a wooden rice box until he died of starvation. This tragic but enthralling story is memorialized at the palace today in the form of replica rice chests that can be crawled into by undaunted tourists.
Inspired by Jeongjo’s filial piety, I passed on the rice boxes and headed over to the palace’s wishing tree in hopes of securing my own parents’ happiness for the future. Legend has it that the 600-year-old tree has protected the city of Suwon even before its fortress gate was constructed. Nowadays, people tie their written wishes on the tree in hopes that its magical powers grant their desires.
After wandering the palace grounds, the midday heat became too much to handle. I found my way to the rear of the complex and walked uphill into a verdant wooded area. Seeking refuge from the sun, I continued on past lookout posts and through bushes of magenta azaleas in full bloom to a colorful gazebo that offered a striking view of Suwon.
Although the tiled roofs of Hwaseong Haenggung reflected the city’s royal history, the skyline of buildings and billboards brought me back to modern day. I left Hwaseong Haenggung believing that time travel is possible after all, if only for an afternoon.
Address: 825 Jeongjo-ro, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea 경기도 수원시 팔달구 정조로 825 (남창동)
Hours: 9:00am to 6:00pm from March to October and 9:00am to 5:00pm from November through February.
Admission: Adults 1,500 won / Youth 1,000 won / Children 700 won.
Website: Click Here
Get There: Take the Seoul subway to Suwon Station (Line 1, Exit 6). Cross the road, turn right, and walk 100 meters to the Yeokjeon Market bus stop. Take bus 7, 7-2, or 32-1 and get off at Hwaseong Haenggung. OR... From Gangnam Station (Seoul subway line 2), take bus number 3000 and get off at Buksu-dong Station. The first bus leaves at 6:00 am and runs every 20 minutes.
Words and Photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.