Korea Day 2 (2 Jan 16) – Suwon Fortress: Legacy of the Joseon Dynasty

Getting to Suwon Fortress

Suwon is built by King Jeongjo, the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, in a bid to make this place the 2nd capital city of Korea. The fortress is complete in 1796. The 5.74km Suwon Fortress was listed by UNESCO in the World Cultural Heritage List in 1996, making it a valued national treasure of Korea. Getting to Suwon, despite being located some 48km south of Seoul, is a breeze with the reliable subway system taking about 1 hour from Seoul Station and transfer to bus numbers 11, 13, 36 or 39 from the bus stop in front of Novotel Hotel. The fortress is 5 stops from Suwon subway station. Taking a bus in Suwon is a challenge, especially for non-Korean speaking visitors. There are announcements made on the bus PA system, however, there is nothing close to “Suwon Fortress” or “Hwaseong Palace” being announced. One would have to religiously count the number of the bus stops the bus whizzes by. I made the mistake of listening out for “Suwon Fortress” or anything with “Suwon” in it and did not pay attention to counting the bus stops. Without paying notice to the number of bus stops, the scenery outside the bus changed from city to outskirts of the city. My friend and I finally got to the fortress with help from a local shop keeper, who pointed out where to take a bus, and counting the number of buses stops that we had zipped by. The bus will stop at Paldamun, the Southern gate of Hwaseong Fortress. Paldamun is detached from the rest of the gates, located in the middle of the busy city. The gate is encircled by a present-shaped wall. The purpose of this design is to prevent the enemy from attacking the fortress.

Taking the subway from Seoul to Suwon
Underground shopping in Suwon Station
The bus stop where we ride to Suwon is just outside Novotel Hotel
Suwon in the day
We are in Suwon City
We did not count the bus stop and ended up here
Well taking a wefie at this place since we are already here
No idea what this says, my guess is this is the name of the bridge
Reminds me of Cheongyecheon Stream in Seoul
Information in the bus stop. Do pay attention to these
Travelling on a local bus
Me at Paldamun
From Paldamun, we headed west towards a tourist information booth, which also doubles up as a ticketing booth for the entrance of the most of the gates (except for Hwaseong Haenggung). We found out that Hwaseong Haenggung would be closed shortly (thanks to missing the stop and we spent time waiting for the bus to come) and made the palace our first stop. From the information booth, we headed north passing through what seems like a traditional Korean street, towards Hwaseong Haenggung
From Paldamun, we took this street to reach the tourist information booth
Tourist information booth and part of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress on the left
Some Korean Street from the Tourist information booth

Suwon Hwaseong Haenggung

Hwaseong Haenggung was a temporary palace used by the Royal Family as a retreat during the war in the Joseon Dynasty. Other than serving the purpose of temporary shelter during the war, King Jeongjo stayed in this palace during trips when he paid respect to his father’s tomb. As we arrived at the palace, we noticed that there was no one at the entrance to collect any tickets and the ticketing booth was closed as well. To get to the audience hall one has to pass through three doors, with Sinpungnu as the main door to the palace, followed by Jawikmun and Jangyangmun. At our visit Sinpungnu is still open, we ventured into the palace grounds for a quick visit and to snap some pictures before they are closed. Compared to the other palaces in Seoul, Hwaseong Haenggung is a rather small palace. Despite its size, the palace still has essentials of a palace such as a front yard, a mid yard and a back yard. Visitors would have to pass through other two doors before they reach Bongsudang, a building at the rear yard of the palace where royal audiences are granted to visitors to the King. Bongsudang is also used as a banquet hall for the celebration of the King’s Mother’s 60th Birthday. Facing Bongsudang, to the right of the building is the King’s rest area known as Naknamheon. The palace was about to close, we did not get to visit the buildings here. We did manage to quickly visit the other parts of the palace before they are closed. To the left of Bongsudang, in a separate courtyard connected to the main courtyard by a low wall and low door, is the Yuyeotak. This is the area where the King used to conduct interviews with his subjects during his stay in Hwaseong Haenggung. South of Yuyeotak, near to the entrance to the palace complex is where the Oejeongniso is located. Oejeongniso is the office for the temporary officials who were responsible to organise various events. Further south is where Bijangcheong is located, serving as the quarters to the staff member to the King. Still further south of the Bijangcheong, nearer to Sinpungnu, one will be able to locate the Seoricheong, an office for the official who is responsible for issuing, receiving and recording documents, very much akin to the Post Office for the King in modern time. As the palace is near its closing time, my friend and I hurried out of the palace before their closing time, missing out on the other parts of the palace.
Map of Hwaseong Haenggung
Main gate of Hwaseong Haenggung – Sinpungnu
Me at Sinpungnu
These cardboard cutouts are characters from a famous Korean drama – Jewel in the Palace(大長今) placed in front of the entrance to Oejeongniso in the first courtyard after Sinpungnu
This courtyard greets visitors upon entering the palace from Sinpungnu
Me in the first courtyard with Jawikmun in the background 
The second door in the palace – Jwaikmun, the third door – Jungyangmun can be seen in the background
These buildings in Hwaseong Haenggung are painted in red with very simple roofings. There are no carvings or statues on these roofs
Entrance to Yuyeotaek
The building at the back of the palace – Bongsudang
Me at Bangsudang
This corridor leads to the rest area for the King – Naknamheon
The courtyard in front of Bongsudang
Back view of Jwaikmun. There seem to be some rooms here
Entrance to Seoricheong
My friend at the entrance to Seoricheong
Very simple roofings
In the second courtyard
Second Courtyard and the entrance to Yuyeoktaek
This is where they burnt the wood to head up the floorings at night 
Outside Hwaseong Haenggung at night
Night lightings at Sinpungnu

A Detour Up and Down the Hill

Exiting the palace grounds, we plan to visit Seojangdae, the Western Command Post situated on a hill at the back of Hwaseong Haenggung and is the highest command post along the wall Suwon Fortress Wall. As we were walking up to the mid-point of the hill, we spotted a small red shrine with its doors shut. King Jungjo specially decreed the Sungshinga Shrine be built in honour of the god for his protection of the people in Suwon. As the shrine is closed, we merely snapped some pictures of the external of the shine. When we were about to continue our ascent to Seojangdae, we spotted a huge Buddha statue and decided to detour to visit the statue. This statue is situated within the grounds of Daeseungwon Temple. As the statue is situated outdoors and there are practically no barriers surrounding the Buddha Statue, we entered the temple grounds and paid our respect to the statue. It felt tranquil in a cold winter evening visiting Daeseungwon Temple, mainly there are hardly any crowd other than another local family visiting the temple to pay their respects to the Buddha.  There seems to be a small shrine at the base of the Buddha. As the sky is turning dark, we decided to give Seojangdae a miss and head towards Suwon Hwaseong Fortress instead.

These walls forms the exterior of Suwon Hwaseong Haenggung 
On our way up the hill towards Seojangdae
Nice stroll amongst the trees uphill
Sungshinga Shrine dedicated to the god for the protection of people of Suwon
Sungshinga Shrine was closed at the time we arrived
Me at the entrance of Sungshinga Shrine
At the entrance to Daeseungwon Temple
The Buddha statue in Daeseungwon Temple grounds
Me at the Buddha statue
Daeseungwon  Temple grounds

As we were walking, we decided to grab dinner at a nearby restaurant. After walking for about 20 mins, we came across a restaurant which seemed to be opened. We entered the restaurant to find that we were the only foreigners (again). When we asked for the menu, the owners of the restaurant seem to know that we are not locals and immediately passed us a menu with pictures and English writings on it. We ordered a King Pork Cutlet and Bibimbap. The food was delicious and the servings are huge! For a size of the serving, the bill did not burn a hole in our pockets

We bumped into the restaurant on our way to Hwaseomun where we had dinner
Typical Korean Restaurant
I had Bibimbap
My friend had the Pork King Cutlet. The portion is huge!
Soup that comes with my Bibimbap
Side dishes are free flow

Along the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress Wall

After dinner, we continued walking towards Hwaseomun, the Western Gate of the Suwon Fortress. The magnificent gate is just the beginning of a series of gates and guard posts awaiting for us to explore. We intended to move clockwise ending up in Hwahongmun before heading back to Seoul to rest for the night. As the sun has already set, when we arrived at Hwaseomun, the night lights have already been lit up, displaying the grandeur of the Western Gate and the walls that surround the city. From inside the city, Hwaseomun seems like an ordinary gate. This impression soon changes once I scaled to the top of the wall (it opens 24/7), where a crescent extension opened at one end can be seen from the top, facing the outside of the wall. The purpose of this crescent is to serve as a protective barrier to prevent intruders from entering the city gate. From the top of the gate, very distinct Korean architecture can be seen engraved onto the ceiling and the roof of the gate. Instead of heading clockwise, my friend suggested for us to visit the immediate anti-clockwise guard post, which is less than 100m from Hwaseomun.

Hwaseomun at night. From this view, the gate looks rather small
Painting on the ceiling of Hwaseomun
My friend at Hwaseomun, the wall at the background is the crescent extension
My friend at the top of Hwaseomun
Top of Hwaseomun
Side view of Hwaseomun
My friend at the side of Hwaseomun
Looking out of the Fortress wall
Side view of Hwaseomun
Front view of Hwaseomu. The crescent wall can be seen from this view
Front view of Hwaseomun with its crescent wall

The Seobukgangnu Pavilion or the Northwestern is positioned on an elevated plain. It served as a watchtower as well as a resting point for troops in the olden days. The 2-storey open pavilion is painted in the traditional Korean green colour that is common in most older Korean buildings. The view from the second level of the pavilion gives the visitor a glimpse of a section of the fortress walls, especially at night where one can see the Fortress walls being illuminated for miles. The view is simply magnificent, coupled with the night time where the number of visitors dwindles to a mere handful, there is a sense of tranquil and zen here at Seobukgangnu. The pavilion remains open at night, however one is expected to remove ones’ footwear before getting on the stairs to the 2nd level of the pavilion.

Seobukgangnu at night
Me at the 2-storey Seobukgangnu pavilion
Traditional Korean Roof decked out in bright green colour in the under roof and red
My friend on the second level of Seobukgangnu
View of the Fortress wall from Seobukgangnu
Me at Seobukgangnu second storey
Despite being a modest structure, Seobukgangnu was still painted with murals
View of the wall from Seobukgangnu
Me on the second level of Seobukgangnu

We continued our walk along the walls of the fortress, passing by Bukseoporu, the Northwestern Cannon Fort (which was closed at the time of our visit) and Bukseojeokdae, the Northwestern Guard Platform towards our next stop – Janganmun. There is a cannon at BukseojeokdaeJanganmun is the Northern Gate and also the main entrance to the city, as the King would arrive from this entrance during his visit. The 3-storey Janganmun is largest of the four main gates to Suwon Hwaseong Fortress. This structure departs from the rest of the gates where in place of a crescent extension, a semi-circular extension complete with a pavilion serving as a watchtower was constructed before the main entrance of  Janganmun. From the protruding extension, one can feel the grandeur of Janganmun gate. As the gate was closed during our visit, we could not enter the upper levels of Janganmun. Moving clockwise pass Janganmun is another Cannon Platform fortifying the Main entrance to Suwon. One can spot another cannon at Bukdongchi, the Northeastern Turret).

Bukseoporu cannon fort
Bukseoporu closed up
Bukseoporu was closed a the time of our visit, we can only take pictures outside the cannon fort
Janganmun from afar
Cannon platform next to Janganmun
Janganmun with its semicircular extension wall. Unlike the crescent wall design, there are no openings on this structure
Janganmun is the biggest gate and the solemnly stood  in the middle of the night
Me with Janganmun in the background
Top levels of Janganmun
My friend on the pavilion at the semicircular extension of Janganmun
Janganmun from the semicircular extension of the wall
Janganmun at the background
Janganmun at night
Night view along the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress wall
Cannon Platform on the other side of Janganmun

We continued our walk clockwise towards our next stop – Hwahongmun, which was supposed to be our final stop before heading back to Seoul. Instead after visiting Hwahongmun, we decided to continue walking towards the Archery centre as the walk was pleasant and more importantly the view of the night fortress wall is simply breathtaking. Hwahongmun is one of the two flood gates to the city, being the Northern one. This seven-arched structure is built across Suwon River allowing control of water into Suwon Fortress. As with SeobukgangnuHwahongmun has a 2-storey pavilion built on top of the floodgates. It is opened 24/7 however we did not go up to the pavilion as we would rather skip the hassle of taking off our shoes.

The fortress walls remind me of the Great Wall of China
Night view of the fortress walls
Hwahongmun is used to control the amount of water that flows through Suwon Fortress. At the time of our visit, there isn’t much water flowing through
Another view of Hwahongmun at night

Continuing eastwards, a short distance from Hwahongmun is the Dongbukgangnu – the Northeastern pavilion. This 2 storey pavilion, similar design and structure as well as decor to that of Seobukgangnu, sits above a pond surrounded by a small garden. This structure was originally built as a command post. The view of the night fortress wall and the garden is fantastic. I like the view of the wall more than the garden. One can never get tired of seeing the lighted night scenery of the Suwon Fortress wall.

This is one of the several secret gates spread throughout the fortress walls
Dongbukgangnu pavilion is a typical Korean structure with the Taichi sign on its doors
View of Dongbukgangnu with the wall
Me with Dongbukgangnu in the background

We strolled along the fortress wall towards Dongjangdae, the scenery opens up to an air of familiarity. It turns out that I have been here a few years ago whilst on a package tour. Little that I realise I been to only one small section of the entire Suwon Fortress. The thing about package tours is that they only bring you to one small section and that picks a tick in the list of the itinerary that says Suwon Fortress. This part whilst iconic did not do justice to the grandeur the entire Suwon Fortress (that is one of the reasons why I don’t like package tours). Dongjandae is a command post on the east side of the fortress as well as a training camp. Dongjangdae comprises of a huge sheltered platform and an open field enclosed by a short wall. As it was nightfall, the doors accessing Dongjangdae were closed. The Archery Centre is located outside Dongjangdae. We skirted around the parameters of Dongjangdae to continue walking along the fortress wall to get to our final destination – Changnyongmun. 

Night view of the fortress walls
Dongjangdae command post
Peeking at Dongjangdae
Night view of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress Walls
Night stroll along the fortress wall is very tranquil
Dongjangdae from Changnyongmun

Changnyongmun is just right across the road from Dongjangdae, however, we saw a couple of buildings along the wall and decided to continue our journey along the wall rather than taking the short cut (after all we had been walking the whole night, a few more steps will not matter). The two buildings that we passed by along the along are Dongbuk Gongsimdon Observation tower and Dongbuknodae Crossbow platform. Dongbuk Gongsimdon Observation Tower is at the Northeastern edge of Suwon Fortress. The 3-storey oval observation tower was closed for preservation works when we visit. The next structure we came across is Dongbuknodae Crossbow platform, which is an open-air raised structure fortified area with small holes used by archers with crossbows to attack approaching enemies from all directions.

Changnyongmun – the Eastern Gate one of the four main gates of Suwon Fortress. It looked the same as Hwaseomun, the gate that we began our 2.8km walk along the fortress wall, with another platform on top of the gate (we did not scale up to the top of the gate). As the gate was not closed at the time of our visit, we ventured outside the gate and see how it looked like from outside the fortress. The walls of the fortress gave me an impression of guardedness and defensiveness. I guess this is the impression the designers of the fortress wanted to portray when constructing the fortress walls. We did not stay outside the gates for too long and headed back into the gate, crossing the road and took a bus back to Paldamun, where we started our entire Suwon Hwaseong Fortress trip.

Side of Changnyongmun
Changnyongmun at night
Changnyongmun from Dongjangdae
Outside the Fortress
Me at Changnyongmun
My friend at Changnyongmun

Suwon at Night

When we first arrived at Paldamun, we saw it was buzzing with life with all the shops and thought that it would be the same and perhaps there is some sort of night market in the vicinity. We wanted to head back to Paldamun area and do some night shopping before heading back to Seoul. When we alighted the bus at Paldamun, it seems as if the whole area went to sleep. The liveliness in the day we saw was nowhere to be found. Disappointed we strolled a bit and took a bus back to Suwon Station.

The best thing about eating ice-cream in winter is it won’t melt and make a mess

At Suwon station, the liveliness we wanted to see at Paldamun area was here at what seems like a shopping street full of youngsters right across Suwon Subway Station. The shops remained open (but mostly the facial skincare product shops) and restaurants and pubs occupy most of the street. It seems like this is an area to be at night in Suwon. We strolled down the street and back up before heading back to Seoul to rest for the night.

Walking Street Opposite Suwon Subway Station 
There are no lack of choices for food and drinks
A lot of youngsters hanging out here


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