One Day is Not Enough to Visit Suwon…

While spending a long layover in Seoul back in March 2016 I was searching for a day trip from Seoul. Some place I’ve never heard before. Even though I’ve been to Seoul many times, I’ve never really had any other day trips except that one time at the DMZ.

My search came up on a small city with a population of one million called Suwon. It’s 20 miles (30 km.) away from Seoul. And I could get there in 36 minutes by taking the KORAIL train for 2700KRW ($2.30USD).

Suwon is a city full of history.

Suwon is a city full of history…

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress

My quick search also revealed that Suwon has a UNESCO heritage world site called Hwaseong Fortress where a temporary palace was erected by King Jeong-jo back in 1796. And for a while, during the Korean War, the North actually controlled Suwon until a fragile truce between the North and the South came into effect.

So Suwon is near Seoul. Has a medieval fortress with a wall surrounding a temporary palace for a King. I also discovered the city is famous for marinated Grilled Beef Ribs (Gal-Bi 갈비). I was sold. Suwon here I come. I could almost smell the Gal-Bi sizzling on a hot plate!

Getting to Suwon From Seoul

The best way to get to Suwon is by train. I don’t know if you can get there by bus. But it’s South Korea so I’m sure there is a reliable bus route to Suwon. For me, trains are my best option. And there are three types of trains that can take you there; slow, fast and fastest.

  • Subway Metro Line #1 is the cheapest option and of course the slowest. From Seoul Station a fare cost 1300KRW, $1.25USD and takes about an hour.
  • KORAIL train from Seoul Station to Suwon cost nearly double the price of Subway Line #1 but gets you to Suwon in half the time. Cost 2700KRW ($2.30) and you get a reserved seat.
  • KTX train is the fastest. It’ll get you from Seoul Station to Suwon Station in 25 minutes. But it costs 8400KRW ($7.15USD). You get a reserved seat too.
Hop on line at the KORAIL ticketing center. The staff are helpful with any questions you've got...

Queue up line at the KORAIL ticketing center. The staff are helpful with any questions you’ve got…

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KORAIL trains have reserved passenger seating…

Nice to see the the country by train...

Nice to see Seoul by train…

For me it was a no brainer that riding the KORAIL train is the best way to travel to Suwon. It only takes 36 minutes from Seoul Station to Suwon Station for a paltry $2.30USD (2700KRW). It’s a direct train with no stops. It gets me there quick, not that I was in a hurry. But the train fare was cheaper than a NYC subway ride and a I don’t have to fight for a seat.

And remember these trains arrive on schedule and they depart on time. So get to your train platform with plenty of time to spare.

Suwon, here I come. A Korail ticket to Suwon...

Suwon, here I come. A Korail ticket to Suwon…

The third train which is the most expensive but fastest is the KTX which will pop you over to Suwon non-stop from Seoul train station in 25 minutes and continues on to Busan. It cost 8400KRW and I took this train by mistake back to Seoul.

While I bought the ticket I knew something wasn’t right because I paid 2700KRW to get to Suwon. It was until I checked both my tickets then I realized I didn’t have a KORAIL ticket, but instead a KTX ticket. I know. I’m such an idiot. Either ways, I learned something new! And I’ll just get back to Seoul quicker!

First Impressions of Suwon

When I arrived in Suwon Station I was all excited to check out Hwaseong Fortress. But I had to make a quick stop at the nearby Suwon Tourist Information Center.

This is Suwon Station. Lots of people around either waiting for someone or waiting to get somewhere...

This is Suwon Station. Lots of people around either waiting for someone or waiting to get somewhere…

Follow the signs to Suwon Tourists Center...

Follow the signs to Suwon Tourists Center…

My first ever glimpse of Suwon...

Right outside of Suwon Station this is called Suwon Square…

Suwon Tourist Information Center looks very new and shiny...

Suwon Tourist Information Center looks very new and shiny…

First thing to do is head to the nearby Tourist Information Center and grab myself an updated map of Suwon and perhaps ask a couple of questions. I definitely wanted to find Suwon Hwaseong Fortress first. I found the visitor information center easily. It was less than a 3 minute walk from Suwon Station; just follow the sign markers.

Inside I found an English speaking staff member and was instructed to take a bus to Paldamun Gate bus stop, which is located on the south end of Suwan Hwaseong Fortress.

Bus to Paldamun Gate from Suwon Station

  • Get on intra-city bus numbers; 11, 13, 36 or 39

The bus stop is located literally outside of the tourist info center so you won’t miss it at all. The bus fare cost 1300KRW ($1.10USD) and takes about 10 to 15 minutes to reach Paldamun Gate. The bus numbers are clearly marked on the bus’s digital display at the head and side of the bus.

This where bus numbers 11, 13, 36 and 39 stop and will take you to Paldamun, the south side of Hwaseong Fortress...

This is where bus numbers 11, 13, 36 and 39 stop and will take you to Paldamun, the south side of Hwaseong Fortress…

I took bus #9 to Paldamun and the bus fare was 1300KRW. Be sure to have exact change or have a T-Money card...

I took bus #39 to Paldamun Gate and the bus fare was 1300KRW. Be sure to have exact change or have a T-Money card…

I sat on a seat on front of the bus and had a good view of the road and streets ahead. The ride from Suwon Station to Paldamun Gate was enjoyable. The city definitely had a different vibe compared to Seoul. There weren’t any tall buildings or skyscrapers in sight. Suwon turns out to be quite a nice charming city and much bigger than I initially thought.

Get off at Paldamun Gate bus stop where your journey to Hwaseong Fortress begins!...

Get off at Paldamun Gate bus stop where your journey to Hwaseong Fortress begins!…

Paldamun Gate is located on the southern end of Hwaseong Fortress...

Paldamun Gate is located on the southern end of Hwaseong Fortress…

About 15 minutes later I saw Paldamun Gate up ahead and got ready to get off. I don’t remember but I think there was an automated voice message on the bus announcing each stop. Anyways, once you see Paldamun Gate you know it’s time to hop off.

As always it’s hard to get the lay of the land the first time even with a map on hand. So I just wandered a little bit around Paldamun gate to get my bearings. And from there I see where the most people were headed which was east of Paldamun Gate.

I basically went on my good old instinct. So far it’s never failed me and I found a section of town well known for its farmer’s Market Yeongdong Market (수원 영동시장) and Jidong Market (지동시장).

After walking around the markets briefly it was a good time to whip out the map and take a good look at where to go next. It was interesting to see that right in the middle of Hwaswong Fortress is a town. And surrounding the town are walls and a small mountain called Paldalsan. And Suwoncheon Stream runs right through the center of the fortified town.

There are plenty of maps around the Suwon...

There are plenty of tourist information maps around Suwon…

I couldn’t make up my mind which way to go so I just decided to follow up a trail on the east side of the wall. The terrain is quite hilly along the walls which makes sense from a strategic standpoint. I could just imagine an invading medieval army having a hard time trying to take Hwaseong Fortress.

This is the center of Hwaseong Fortress, there are walls and gates surrounding the town's center...

This is the center of Hwaseong Fortress, there are walls and gates surrounding the town’s center…

Luckily the stairs made the walk up a little more easier. And when you get up there, the view is spectacular. I was there in the afternoon time and it was a little overcast. So someday, I would love to go there when the sun comes up.

I could’ve walked straight up along Suwoncheon Stream which cuts right through the town center. That would’ve been an easier walk. However, Suwoncheon Stream isn’t really that appealing at the moment because there wasn’t a lot of water.

I took another quick look at the map and learned that the fortress has strategic points of bastion where soldiers could fire arrows, guns and cannons at invading armies. There is no mistake. Suwon was once protected by a mighty formidable fortress.

There are also many pavillions overlooking the city. I can just imagine Korean royalty hanging out and enjoying a landscape of a countryside once full of farms and forests miles away as far as the eye could see.

Seonamammun (Secret Gate)

Seonamammun (Secret Gate)

Every bastion, sentry post, observation post, gate and flood gate has a Korean name and the map I picked up at the tourists info center tells which one is which. Hwaseong Fortress was built in the 18th century, so some parts of the compound could be under construction during your visit. But while I was there I only saw one pavilion being renovated.

These bastions are found around the fortress. Defending soldiers fire arrows out of those holes...

These bastions are found around the fortress. Defending soldiers fire arrows out of those holes…

After walking mid way along the east wall I looked west across the town and saw a tall buddhist statute. At this point, I was just going by what looked interesting, and Daeseungwon Temple certainly caught my attention! So back down another set of steps I went. It was time go across town.

Daeseungwon Temple in the distance...

Daeseungwon Temple in the distance…

This set of stairs on the east side of the wall leads back down to the town center

This set of stairs on the east side of the wall leads back down to the town center

Many small apartment buildings and businesses are located in the middle of the fortress. Wall murals on residential homes seems to be popular in South Korea...

Many small apartment buildings and businesses are located in the middle of the fortress. Wall murals on residential homes seems to be popular in South Korea…

I can walk through the neighborhoods of South Korea all day and and enjoy myself. There are many residential buildings, houses and small apartment buildings. I would love to live inside a fortress!

Yeomingak Bell Tower

Yeomingak Bell Tower – You will find this bell tower in the center of the town facing Hwaseong Temporary Palace

Hwaseong Fortress was designed by Jeong Yak-yong, considered one of the greatest thinkers in the Joseon dynasty. And the circumference of the fortress is approximately 4.7km. It was designed keeping the aesthetics of its surrounding intact using advanced build techniques for the time such as a cable drive system.

It took me about 15 minutes to walk from Dongichi Bastion located on the east end of the wall to the large open grounds of Hwaseong Temporary Palace.

Cross this wide avenue and you'll be in front of Hwaseong Haenggung Square and the front entrance of Hwaseong Temporary Palace...

Cross this wide avenue and you’ll be in front of Hwaseong Haenggung Square and the front entrance of Hwaseong Temporary Palace…

Hwaseong Temporary Palace

A fortress is built to protect a place and someone. In this case it’s protecting the Hwaseong Temporary Palace completed in 1796 by the order of the 22nd King of the Joseon Dynasty, King Jeong-jo. And he built it for his father the Crown Prince Jangheon where he was laid to rest. That’s a tough one to beat. I once bought my dad a smoking pipe as a gift.

The outside entrance of Hwaseong Temporary Palace...

The outside entrance of Hwaseong Temporary Palace…

Sadly, through time and especially through the Korean war the Hwaseong Temporary Palace fell into disrepair. Until work was done in 1975 to restore the palace grounds. In December 1997 it was listed on the UNESCO world cultural heritage and it deserves that honor.

Inside there are 16 points of key interests such as a government offices, few palaces, dining halls and massive bedrooms for Korean royalty. There’s even a big kitchen too designed for cooking large banquets.

I’ve never watched really watched movies nor follow Korean period soap operas. But Hwaseong Temporary Palace was the site where numerous films and dramas were shot on location.

For the Korean film and TV show addicts, these were filmed on location:

  • Dae Jang Geum
  • I San
  • Moon Embracing the Sun
  • King and the Clown

I walked around the palace grounds for about an hour and I started getting hungry. It was 1pm which was way past my usual lunch time. Time for some Gal-Bi!

Now I didn’t know where to go of course. If Suwon is well known as a Gal-Bi city then I was sure someone at the tourist information booth would have a good recommendation.

There are many tourists information booths in the fortress, this is a big one though...

There are many tourists information booths in the fortress, this is a big one though…

I found one information booth right outside the palace so I asked a guy if he knew of a good Gal-Bi restaurant. Oddly, the tourist assistant says Suwon is not well known for Gal-Bi. Undaunted, I asked where I could find some good restaurants and he pointed out an area not far from the palace where there are a row of restaurants.

I went down not far from the palace and stopped at a restaurant with a bunch of posters of raw beef sizzling on hot grills. This place must be it. I went in and was greeted by a couple in the middle of their lunch. I assume they are the owners. They welcomed me in and showed me my table.

I saw Gal-Bi on their menu and it was $25USD. However, Korean BBQ restaurants are meant for 2 diners, so $25USD x 2 = $50USD which is too rich for lunch. I opted for the thinly sliced fatty brisket Chadol-Baki (차돌박이) and it cost me $32USD for the standard 2 orders. Yes, still pricey for lunch, but I was starving from all the exploring.

To be honest I can’t say it’s the best Korean BBQ I’ve ever had. The beef slices were still frozen when it was placed onto the hot plate. My friendly server, an old lady did all the cooking for me. The beef didn’t really caramelize and was a bit soggy for my taste. But the accompanying traditional side dishes banchan (반찬) together with the beef satisfied my hunger.

After a belly fully of beef and so much banchan I really had to walk off some of it. And what better way to that than to tackle the steps leading up to the western wall of Hwaseong Fortress!

From the western side of the fortress I made my way up north along the wall. It was a nice stroll, passing by more bastions and a command post. And you’ll get a great bird’s eye view of the Suwon city. And the sky was clearing up and the sun was out. It was definitely warming up a bit as well.

I also checked out the Bell of Hyowon (but I forgot to take a picture). It’s the symbol of Suwon. I struck the bell 3 times, one for health of parents, second for health of family and the third; for the person who needs it the most… myself.

The view from Seojangdae command post...

The view from Seojangdae command post…

Seojangdae command post...

Seojangdae command post…

A little further up from the Bell of Hyowan is Seojangdae command post. From this spot you get a wonderful view of north east Suwon.

From there I continued on to the northern section of the fortress. I also want to point out that the western wall is the highest section of the fortress. There are plenty of steps and the paths are easy to walk on. So it’s best to have on a good pair of walking shoes if you are planning to visit.

After rounding out the northern section of Hwaseong Fortress it was time for me to head back to Seoul. So I hopped on a #39 bus nearby back to Suwon Station. It cost the same price as getting to Paldamun Gate, just 1300KRW.

While on the train and taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi I saw that I missed out on a lot sights and attractions in Suwon. However, I vowed that once I return to Suwon I’m going to visit those areas.

Things to do in Suwon next time I’m there:

  • Haeujae & Toilet Park – This museum has a bunch of funky toilet bowls. How cool is that?
  • Paldalmun Rodeo Street – I’m not a shopper. But if it’s the same as Hongdae Street in Seoul I’m going there!
  • Suwon Fried Chicken Street – Need I say more? (Update: Check out my latest blog about my experience at a Suwon fried chicken restuarant.)
  • Byeokhwa Street – This neighborhood has more wall art murals on residential homes.
  • Korean Folk Village – Part theme park, part museum. Sounds like a good place to learn something.
  • The Royal Tombs – Have to pay respect to the great kings of Korea.

I would love to explore more of Suwon city. It’s so close to Seoul, so why not? For me it really is a lot of fun walking around the different neighborhoods and just checking out local life.

Final Thoughts on Suwon City (while back in Seoul with a Latté and Lemon Meringue Pie)

After a full day of exploring the wonderful city of Suwon I went back to my favorite café near Insadong in Seoul, Anguk (안국) 153 Bakery to reflect about my day trip in Suwon. And I came to the conclusion that one day is not enough to explore that wonderful city. I would need at least 2 to 3 days. So I’m really looking forward to going back.

One good cup of coffee and sweet pie!

At Anguk (안국) 153 Bakery in Seoul…

Also, one thing I noticed is that there were not a whole lot of tourists visiting while while I was there. And I wondered why? Suwon is such a wonderful city. Granted I went during late March which is kind of chilly in the morning. But it got nice and sunny in the afternoon. To me the weather wasn’t so bad. But because of the winter the grass was not green and the ices have not melted so Sowoncheon Stream was not as picturesque as it could be. It could be I visited Hwaseong Fortress off season.

Suwon is a wonderful small city to visit and if all you’ve got is a day that’s fine. But if you truly want to enjoy your time and learn more about Suwon you’d definitely need more than a day!


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