Returning to Seoul: A walk along the Cheongyecheon


The weekend of the 24th August I headed for a reunion with Seoul; still after my travels one of my favourite cities. Despite being in SK for 18 months and stopping to tread water in the stream on numerous occasions I’d never walked its length and visited the museum. Frank knows it as ChunkyChung because that is how I normally say it when I spew forth utterances.

I had 22 bridges, one museum and 11km to cover that Saturday AM, plus one visit to Dondaemun for a couple of T’s. I shan’t bore with the streams history as its well documented elsewhere in the blog , I’d simply recommend a spring, summer, autumn and winter stroll along its length. Here’s a link to the mainstream site.

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My walk began at Seoul Forest Park where most walkers finish. I’d visited the park itself before (link) so I didn’t dwell but made haste to the stream itself. This area including Seoul Forest is classed as Zone 5.  Seoul Forest was a 235 billion won development project that created five separate parks on a single site. The parks focus on several different themes and make up over 17 million square feet of landscaped eye candy.

The stream widens and the walking path morphs into bike trails when the stream reaches Zone Four. This is known as the Harmony Zone and was set out to attract migratory birds. After 2km walk from the Han River I came across the stone Salgoji Bridge constructed during Joseon period, it sits a the junction where the Jungnangcheon and Cheonggyecheon meet. Built in 1483 it signals Zone 3, the Nature Zone, the museum also sits in Zone 3. Some visitors may prefer accessing the walk here by taking the metro at Hanyang University Station, exit 2 (Line 2).

I sat on the bridge for a little generating a number of stares from locals, I suppose it is a footbridge! I continued my walk after Gosanja Bridge through Beodeul Swamp. It’s also known as the Willow Wetland – A wetland reclamation area featuring pussy willows, river bulrushes and iris was planted to secure habitats for fish, birds and amphibians. (#22 bridge). Here, Cheonggyecheon visitors can experience unaffected nature by observing wild ducks, white herons and spot-billed ducks, as well as mudfish, carp, dace, catfish and minnows. As I approached the end of this area nature temporarily surrendered to concrete overpasses. It is here I left to visit the museum.

Ah the museum a large modern building and a series of interesting videos (some not working), photographs and models charting the streams history.  The museum had a single member of staff who manned the front desk and acted as guide; it’s as well it was early and I was the only visitor! The museum at present also houses an exhibition of photographs by local residents which mirror the seasons. Opposite the museum some faux  houses have been constructed to show the architecture of the stream in past times.

Returning to Zone 3, just before Muhak bridge (#20) the removal of the old Cheonggye Expressway in Seoul was completed in August 2003. However, three of its support pillars (Jonchigyogak) were left in place between Biudanggyo (Bridge) and Muhakgyo (Bridge) as a symbol of the nation’s industrialisation. This area has many wide decked areas for picnicking and play. I saw numerous varieties of birds and wildfowl but not being a knowledge leper with regards to this fauna I cannot enlighten you as to the species. An old man sat motionless among the greenery, only flinching when groups of hagwon kids noisily scurried past with their teachers. I saw an old man crossing the stone steps wobbling dangerously as he planted his cane. 

Alongside Dumuldari bridge was a monumental heart-shaped tribute to lovers around the world, apparently this a favoured proposal spot, knowing SK probably suicide as well! Now read this! “At 7pm on November 6, 2012, the ‘Marriage Proposal Wall’ at Dumuldari(Bridge), Cheonggyecheon, saw the 1,000th couple declare their undying love for each other.”

“The Marriage Proposal Wall was launched on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), 2007. In the five years since then, in 2012, 999 marriage proposals had been accepted, representing an incredible 100% success rate.” The official tourist jargon continues “In fact, only 18 couples have broken up since, while 981 couples, or 98.2%, are still married to each other or enjoy good relations as lovers or friends.  At the time of the proposals, 921 of the couples were singles and 376 of them have since got married, indicating a 40.8% success rate. Thus, people believe that proposals at the wall guarantee acceptance, marriage, and a happy family.” Bullshit!!!!!

I arrived at the Wall of Hopes between Hwanghak (#18) and Biudang (#19) bridges. Here 20,000 of Seoul’s finest citizens emblazoned 10 x 10 cm ceramic tiles with written wishes and drawings these decorate both sides of the stream.  Under Biudang Bridge a traditionally dressed gentleman with a straw boater sat watching the ducks frolicking in the water, another old guy contemplated a long hard life coming to its conclusion.

Before reaching Ogansugyo Bridge (Dongdaemun fashion town) I stopped at the Laundry Site between Dasan (#16) and Yeongdo (#17) bridges. This area was significant in that after the Korean war, military garments were re-dyed blue/grey.  The garments were washed in the already polluted stream to remove excess dye.  I presume that this meant no wildlife! If you have time its worth exiting the stream to pay a visit to Seoul Flea Market which is best on a Sunday around lunchtime. This Zone was scattered with people playing flutes, a multitude of sleeperz, the staple ninja hikers alongside sophisticated old ladies taking a stroll under their parasols.

Zone Two runs through the heart of Dondaemun, one of the première budget shopping districts of Seoul. While the shops lining the Cheonggyecheon aren’t as fancy as some of the most modern boutiques, it doesn’t take away from the shopping experience to be had. Furthermore, dotted among the greenery, the planners have installed several contemporary art pieces for visitors to enjoy. Sometimes fashion houses hold their shows on a catwalk over the stream. Another good  detour here is to the Dondaemun History and Culture Park; after 4 controversial years its nearing completion, a major sculptural Zaha Hadid landmark piece of Seoul architecture. I stopped off for a couple of “designer” T’s from Doota and re-entered the stream after walking through the dated shopping centres to its southern boundary.

Th next segment of the stream is Zone One, or the History Zone. It runs for over a kilometre and has a few special features, two of the most notable are the Water Screen (scene of countless selfies) and between Gwanggyo (#3) and Samilgyo (#5) bridges, a 192 metre tiled wall. This depicts Banchado, King Jeongjo’s royal procession to Suwon to pay respect to his father. Gwangtonggyo (#2) was built during the early Joseon Dynasty and was the ancient city’s largest stone bridge. It’s current placement is approx. 150m from its original location. Finally after my lengthy 4 hour morning walk I reached Cheonggye Plaza, Mojeongyo (#1) which marks the Cheonggyecheon’s starting point. a colourful (and much derided) spiral sculpture (Madonna’s Titty), a miniature etching of the stream, and a grand waterfall and fountain meet stones from eight provinces to symbolise harmony and the eventual Korean reunification.

I met Frank later in the evening as he travelled in from Cheonan, on Sunday we strolled through Itaewon and had brunch at the Wolfhound before stopping for herbal tea in the algaed Jangchung Park before heading home mid-afternoon.

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5 thoughts on “Returning to Seoul: A walk along the Cheongyecheon

  1. I love the photo with the man sitting alone. How did he notice you taking photos of him? 😀

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