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The LKL Korea Trip 2009 pt 2: Suwon and Prince Sado’s tomb

The Jewel in the Hwaseong Palace
The Jewel in the Hwaseong Palace
Thursday 16 July

Today the plan is to get a few UNESCO world heritage points: the Hwaseong Fortress at Suwon, followed maybe by the nearby folk village. From my base in Insadong, a one-hour tube journey direct from Jonggak station on Line 1 takes me to Suwon, armed with my guide books. A moment of mild consternation at Jonggak station when the ticket office was closed, but the new self-service vending machines which distribute single-use oyster cards are bilingual and easy to navigate.

Lady Hyegyong's 60th birthday
Lady Hyegyong’s 60th birthday

In Suwon, I take the advice of the Lonely Planet and decide to visit a palace before tackling the fortress walls. I’m glad I did. A quick (3,000 Won) taxi ride takes me to the Hwaseong Haenggung where everyone’s favourite soap Jewel in the Palace was filmed. Into the bargain, this really is a genuine – if reconstructed – palace, not a film set. It’s the palace that was built as a staging post in Suwon for the court when they were visiting the tomb of Prince Sado just south of the city; it’s the palace where Prince Sado’s widow, the Lady Hyegyong, celebrated her 60th birthday; and just outside is a shrine containing a memorial portrait of his son King Jeongjo.

In one courtyard, tourists are invited to enjoy the Dae Jang Geum Royal Costume Experience (which doesn’t need explanation) and also the Wooden Rice Chest Experience. Prince Sado was put to death by being shut in a rice chest (read the full story in Lady Hyegyong’s memoirs, also retold in Margaret Drabble’s The Red Queen). Visitors to the Hwaseong Haenggung are provided with a stepping stone so that they can climb in to their own rice chest. The historical (and fatal) rice chest experience was back in the royal palace in Seoul.

Rice Chest
Enjoy the Rice Chest experience – a replica at the Hwaseong Haenggung of the sort of rice chest in which Prince Sado was put to death

It’s hot and sunny. I’m glad I elected to wear tourist garb – shorts and a sun hat. The Chinese tourists visiting the holy-of-holy Dae Jang Geum TV set use their pastel-coloured umbrellas as parasols. We enjoy the martial arts demonstration which is held outside the palace at 11 am every day.

The shrine to King Jeongjo in the Hwaseong Haenggung
The shrine to King Jeongjo in the Hwaseong Haenggung

Climbing the Hwaseong fortress ramparts in the heat of the mid-day sun loses its appeal. And, with Prince Sado in mind, another plan begins to form. Just south of Suwon, the Insight Guide tells me, is the tomb of Prince Sado and a temple dedicated to him by his son King Jeongjo. But first, a quick look at the walls.

Yongdodongchi - the Turret east of Yongdo - in the Hwaseong fortress
Yongdodongchi – the Turret east of Yongdo – in the Hwaseong fortress

The ajumma in the tourist information kiosk says it will take me three hours to do the full circuit of the walls. To walk just five and a half km? It can’t be that hard. It’s not. But it’s hot. I climb to the first abutment, and unexpectedly come across a monument to the Japanese atrocity in the 1919 March 1st “rebellion” – where they torched a group of Koreans taking refuge in a Suwon church. I have a quick chat with a good English-speaking information officer at a tourist information booth at the top of the first hill, and decide to head off to the cool shade of the Yongjusa temple (용주사) in the hills south of Suwon. [Google Map]

The Yongjusa temple bell

A cheap taxi ride later (only 12,000 Won for about 20 minutes) I was in the peaceful temple, built by King Jeongjo in memory of his father Prince Sado. It’s in the Temple Stay programme and I can’t imagine a better place to say for a meditative break. A 20 minute stroll along the road is the hard-to-transliterate Yunggolleung (융건릉), the park which contains the Yungneung (융릉 – the tomb of Prince Sado and Lady Hyegyong) and the Golleung (건릉 – the tomb of King Jeongo and his wife Queen Hyoui). The geomancy of the location was carefully selected: hill behind, stream in front, and the surrounding parkland too is rather special, and seems to be a favourite picnic spot with a few who are in the know.

The Yungneung – the tomb of Prince Sado and Lady Hyegyong

On leaving the burial spot, I have a blind faith that a bus will somehow take me somewhere useful that I can get the tube back to Seoul, and that someone will tell me where to get it. Faith is rewarded on both counts, and after a while bus 46 (though I could equally have taken bus 24) took me back to Suwon Station (though, as I later discovered, the rather more frequent bus 34 would have taken me to Byeongjeom station, also on line 1.) I was back in Insadong by 6 pm and soon heading out for a kimchi jjigae with all the trimmings in another of those narrow alleys. I’ll do the fortress wall circuit and the folk village another day.

The Yunggolleung is Historic Site #206. Hwaseong Fortress is Historic Site #3, and Hwaseong Haenggung is Historic Site #478. Two of the fortress’s gates and one of its watchtowers are designated as Treasures. Yonguja’s bronze temple bell is National Treasure #120


Index of the 2009 Travel Diary:

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