I left Seoul at 7:30am for the Line 1 journey from Jongno 3 station to Suwon. It’s important to get on the right train because at Guro the line splits with some trains heading to Incheon and others to Seodongtan or Sinchang (these trains pass through Suwon). The 25 station journey takes 1 hour and 10 minutes costing just 1750 won (£1) with a T Money Card. I had two main expectations from my visit to Suwon, to circumnavigate the old city fortress on day 1 and investigate the street art on day 2.
Suwon has a large (population 1.1 million), and is a prosperous city that’s known as a centre of the electronics industry.
I had booked into the Hwaseong Guesthouse which conveniently sits in the shadow of the Hwaseong Fortress Wall. I checked in, had a coffee in the excellent bakery Com Pad’or. From here I accessed the Fortress pathway to the right of Paldalmun Gate. Paldalmun gate is the southern gate of the fortress. The climb is pretty steep but the pathway well made.
The Fortress was constructed 1794-1796 by King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty, who wanted to found a new city to accommodate the tomb of his father. He also wanted to cement and brace his own political situation. All-embracing restoration work began in the 1970s, it’s vestiges continue to be an imposing sight, consisting of almost six kilometers of walls, gates, towers, and abutments that persistently snake through the city in an irregular loop.
It was designated a national monument in the 1960s and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The entire structure is open to the public, and it’s possible to circumnavigate the fortress in its entirety in about 2/3 hours via this path that kisses (and in places takes you on top of) its walls. My intention was not to march ahead but to take a casual stroll stopping for coffee shops and photos along the way. Ambling along the deserted high point of the fortress I first came to Seonamgangnu, a pavilion for monitoring the surrounding countryside. Further along I came to SeoNodae, a crossbow platform. From here I descended coming across some fellow trekkers heaving for breath as they climbed the steep snow-clad stairway. The next western main gateway was Hwaseomun which seemed to be a meeting place for doggie walkers.
One of the fortress’s more noteworthy buildings is Janganmun, the next stop. It’s the immense northern gate, which is the principal such structure in Korea; here the path leveled out until just before the next gate, through which water flowed. I stopped for coffee in a recently opened café sadly painted in red and white!
Hwahongmun, is an elegant pavilion mounted on seven arches, the floodgate was designed to let water flow in and out of the complex; and the Hwaseong Haenggung, a temporary palace that provided refuge to the monarch in times of war. From here the walls gently undulate and its easy walking.
I was then accosted by a volunteer who proudly explained he was 78 but looked 60; he was looking for a new wife; on the walls of Hwaseong Fortress no less! Why me? Did I carry the aura of someone who ran a geriatric match-making service? In all seriousness he was a nice man with seriously black dyed hair (at 78). He actually looked 78 and his obsession with Christianity did him no favours in my credibility stakes.
Strolling among Hwaseong’s walls and well-designed defensive towers and abutments, all riddled with holes from which soldiers could fire projectiles or sentries could rake for intruders, it’s easy to direct your mind back to those Joseon times. I carried on walking passing croquet players and school kids racing up and down the earthen abutments behind the wall.
I finished the walk at the south floodgate, Namsumun, which was the next to last piece of the jigsaw to be renovated back in June 2012. This brings you back to the Pandalmun gate which is still under wraps being restored to it’s former glory.
A glorious afternoon walk in cold but sunny weather, well recommended!
I strolled back north, off but parallel to the main road, I passed many restaurants and reached a street called Haenggung-dong or “Studio-street”. It was full of shops selling traditional crafts and very small 4 seater cafes, many of the ends of terraces had murals painted on them. Murals and street art would be the focus of day 2.
At the end of the street I came to the temporary palace Hwaseong-Haenggung, where a martial arts performance was due to take place. “Haeng-gung” means a temporary shelter where a king rests or retires from a war, and the Hwaseong Haeng-gung is the largest of such temporary palaces in South Korea.
The performance was brilliant, all-action and a great photo-opportunity though I could have done with a faster lens to freeze the action. A pretty full first day was over, the ubiquitous nap ensued followed by an evening visit to “Chicken Alley”; the home of the Korean fried chicken industry!
This day in Suwon was again high up there in the “best days in Korea” list!