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The Secret Garden of Chang Deok Gung Palace

Who doesn’t like a secret garden? How about a secret garden in a palace? Imagine how thrilled I was to learn there is actually a secret garden at Chang Deok Gung Palace! It was my first trip to Seoul, South Korea and I felt like I had discovered a hidden treasure only because I didn’t know it was there from the beginning (wink)

I only had a few hours left before our flight leaves Seoul in the evening so I thought of visiting Chang Deok Gung Palace. It’s just a walking distance from the Noble hotel where we stayed so I didn’t have to worry about the traffic.

Admission to Chang Deok Gung Palace including the Secret Garden is 10, 000 won, approximately 10 US dollars. The tour inside the Secret Garden is guided so you have to follow the schedule. Since the guided tour started a bit later after I arrived, I did not get to finish the whole tour as I have to be back in the hotel at 3PM and rush to the airport.

Secret Garden Seoil Korea

The Secret Garden is a forbidden place, only intended for recreational area and retreat of the royal family of the Joseon Dynasty. In the garden, you can see beautiful ponds like Buyongji, Aeryeonji and Gwallamji. A small but beautiful Ongnyucheon Stream runs through in the Northern part of the garden. The New Seonwonjeon, found in the deep woods in the western part of the garden, is a sacred place with facilities for ancestral rites. It’s not like our typical picture of a garden filled with flowers and ornamental plants but rather a place full of historical structures and stories.


Buyongji and Jumhamnu

This area is in the heart of the Secret Garden. It was a relatively open place used for retreats and study. The royal libraries of Gyujanggak and Seohyanggak are also in this area. State exams were conducted in front of Yeonghwadang Pavilion on special occasions, in the presence of the king. Buyongjeong Pavilion which seems to be a lotus flower bloom on the pond is designated as a Treasure.

Buyongji Seoul

Juhamnu Seoul

Aeryoenji and Uiduhap

King Sukjong, the 19th king of Joseon Dynasty, was said to have created an islet topped by a pavilion in the middle of the pond in 1962. The island disappeared, but the pavilion remains on the northern end of the pond. King Sukjong named the pond ‘Aeryeon’, meaning ‘Loving the lotus flowers’. The king once said “I love the lotus because it blooms with such clean and beautiful flowers, however dirty the water may be, symbolizing the virtue of a true gentleman”. Uiduhap, which bears the sign ‘Gioheon’ at present, is a modest study. Unlike most traditional Korean structures, it was not adorned with various colors named “Dancheong”. Next to it is Ungyeonggeo. It is the smallest building in the palace.

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Yeongyeongdang

Crown Prince Hyomyeong constructed Yeongyeongdang in about 1828 to hold the Jinjakrye ceremony to celebrate the 40th birthday of his mother, and to present a title for his father, King Sunjo, the 23rd king of Joseon. The men’s and women’s quarters are separated, but inside they are connected, just like in a typical Joseon nobleman house. Nongsujeong, situated on a high spot in the garden, bears a roof that resembles a hawk spreading its wings. Behind the women’s quarters is a kitchen; since the reign of Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon Dynasty, Yeongyeongdang served as a venue to receive foreign envoys and throw parties with political overtones.

Yeongyeongdang

Nongsujeong

Jondeokjeong Area

This area is believed to have been the last to be added on the Secret Garden. Originally, there were five small round and rectangular ponds. During the Japanese occupation, three of them were transformed into one curved pond, which is called Gwallamji. The other two ponds were also put together then one pond, called Jondeokji, was made. Pavilions of various shapes were built here. Jondeokjong, a hexagonal pavilion with a double layered roof, and Gwallamjeong with a fan shaped roof were built on the brim of the pond. On the hill to the west stands Pyeomusa. Pyeomusa was originally built in a ‘ㄱ’ layout and an auxiliary house, but nowadays it is a plain-looking building with no auxiliary structure. Deep in the woods is Seungjaejeong, a smart-looking pavilion with a square roof. Of all these, Jondeokjeong, built in 1644, is the oldest.

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Jondeokjong


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Source: Chang Deok Gung Palace brochure

Australia’s Got Talent 2012 Winner Andrew de Silva in Negombo

It’s not every day that you get a chance to see a winner of Australia’s Got Talent perform and sing right before your eyes. My friend Neil influenced me into watching different reality shows on Youtube. I always end up in awe of the performances, sometimes even teary-eyed. But it never crossed my mind to be able to see a winner perform live.

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We were staying at Jetwing Negombo hotel where Andrew de Silva had a concert on 4 October. The hotel left a concert leaflet in my room but I was too occupied to even notice. It was only at dinner time that I learned about the concert when my colleagues talked about watching. Our group, being gatecrashers, just stayed at the corner but apparently the music was just too nice we can’t help but dance. Andrew then called on us to dance with him down the stage and some of the guests joined in. The gatecrashers ended up starting a party like it’s nobody’s business! Andrew posted the video of us on his Facebook.

Australia's Got Talent 2012 Winner

After I’m back in my room, I immediately Googled Andrew and watched his performances in Australia’s Got Talent. His song during the semi-final round was so sentimental and meaningful, I can’t help but cry. And he composed it himself! His story is also one that inspires people to appreciate life and to keep going no matter what the challenges are.

At a young age, he was already living his dream as a member of the popular Aussie music group, CDB. He was then diagnosed with cancer which forced him to leave the group. He also suffers from stuttering. But despite these odds, he never gave up on life. His family is his inspiration and driving force. Andrew is Australian but his roots are Sri Lankan. Andrew and his family stayed at the hotel as well so we got to bump into them a lot the next day. His daughters are so amiable!

Meeting Ketut Liyer of Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, LoveOne of my favorite books is Eat, Pray, Love written by Elizabeth Gilbert. Although I’m usually disappointed with movie renditions of books, the movie Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts was quite good, I even watched it twice. I didn’t know much about Bali aside from its beautiful beaches which did not entice me so much because we have beautiful beaches in the Philippines too, add Phuket and Krabi in Thailand where I’m currently based. But the glimpse of Bali I saw from the movie and the fact that Ketut Liyer is for real made me dream of stepping into that majestic island.

In March, my dream came true. I went to Bali for an official trip and extended my stay for 3 more days to visit Ubud. My Indonesian friend helped me find a car to rent. I was very lucky that the driver Danny speaks good English. He was kind enough to drop me to several tourist spots on the way to Ubud which I will write about in my next posts. I only paid about USD20 for the one way trip and a funny driver/tourist guide. I told Danny I want to see Ketut Liyer so he has to help me find his house. It was easy though because everyone in Ubud seems to know Ketut.

When we reached Ketut’s place, I was overwhelmed with thrill. I love books and seeing a character of one of my favorite books is like seeing a fairy from those childhood storybooks. I recognized the gate of his house right away and I was like oh my God this is it, the place where they shoot the movie!

Ketut Liyer house Bali

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Finally he was in front of me. I couldn’t contain the excitement. When it was my turn, I sat across him. He held my hand and read my palm. I did not come there for the palm reading, I was not interested in any way. I just want see him but well the experience would not be enough without the palm reading ‘ritual’ so there I was smiling while he read my palm.

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As I waited for Danny to get the car outside Ketut’s house, I saw two cute twins playing with their mom. I asked if I could take a photo of the kids and that was the start of my conversation with Pushpita, Ketut’s granddaughter. Pushpita was so warm and friendly my heart could just melt with her tenderness. She told me interesting stories when they shoot the movie at their house and seeing Julia Roberts in person. Then I remembered I don’t have a place to stay yet so I asked her to recommend me a hotel. Fortunately, they have a room available at their new bed and breakfast for USD20 per night so I stayed. Oh the thrill of staying at Ketut Liyer’s place! And my room was very pretty. I also liked the Balinese massage Pushpita had arranged in my room, how soothing made me sleep like a baby after.

where to stay in Ubud Bali

Ketut Liyer house Ubud

The compound of Ketut’s place has Pushpita’s house, Ketut’s house, a house which displays his paintings, a temple and near the temple is a gate leading to the B&B, out of sight from the area flocked by tourists. It was such a peaceful place with plants, birds, and a massage area where I used to hang out in the evening for stargazing.

Beautiful evening in Ubud Bali

In the evening, Pushpita invited me for dinner. She was so accommodating that even if I’m just a guest at their B&B, she asked me to have dinner with her like a friend. While eating, Pushpita had to rush inside the house to check on the twins so I was left by myself. Suddenly Ketut came and seemed like he was looking for something. He could not tell me in English and I could not make what his gestures were saying until I saw that he was wearing only one slippers. I helped him look for it and we found it below the dining table. The thought of looking for a slipper with Ketut kinda amuses me.


In the evening, the family gathered near the temple to just talk and savor the calmness of the evening so I joined them. Then Ketut led me to his house and showed me his treasured possessions from his old wooden box. Some were Elizabeth Gilbert’s letters and a copy of Eat, Pray, Love with her message. I’m not sure if Ketut can still properly see at the age of almost a hundred years old. He pointed to me where his name appeared in several pages in the book like a child, it really made me smile.

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Staying at the garden in his house while listening to the chirping birds and flowing water from the small grotto as the wind kissed my cheeks was very comforting. I had been very busy that a break like that reinvigorated my soul. My visit to Ubud was one of my most memorable experiences not only because I met Ketut Liyer but because Ubud is one of the most magnificent places on earth!

P.S. Anyone interested in going to Ubud, drop me a word and I can connect you to Danny and Pushpita 🙂