Our plan today is to visit Suwon and walked along the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon at night. This is something that my friend and I did three years ago when we came to South Korea. We liked the experience and found strolling along the wall at night to be quite enjoyable. The plan is to visit the Hwaseong Haengung before sunset and head out to walk on the wall in the evening.
Walking around Namdaemun Market
As we still have some time today, we stopped by Namdaemun Market which we did not have the time to visit the last time we came to Seoul. We make it a point to plan it into our itinerary during this trip to South Korea. We heard that Namdaemun Market is a great place to shop, with lots of things to buy and are generally cheaper compared to Dongdaemun or Myeongdong. Arriving at Namdaemun Station, we followed the signs in the station to get to Namdaemun Market which puts us right in front of the market. The large Namdaemun Market is an open-air market that seems to branch out in all the roads in the area. There are hundreds of stalls here, spreading from the shops on the sides of the road and even the centre of the road. It seems that the roads are closed to traffic to allow stalls and visitors are safe to stroll on these roads. The shops on the side of the roads sell mostly souvenirs and Korean ginseng, while those in the centre of the road sells a variety of items ranging from clothing to souvenirs and even pots and pans. The whole market feels disorganised with stalls and shops randomly set up. We walked around a little and due to the change in season from autumn to winter, most of the clothing on sale at Namdaemun Market are mainly winter wear. We ended up merely browsing through the market did not find anything suitable to buy as the items on sale are not suitable for us to bring home plus we have doubts about the authenticity of the branded clothing on sale. After walking around for a little, we felt a little bored at Namdaemun Market and left the market.
Namdaemun Gate – Southern Gate of Seoul
Namdaemun Gate, one of the eight gates along with the ancient fortress of Seoul in Joseon Dynasty, is only 5 mins walk from Namdaemun Market. Since we are in the vicinity, we decided to pop by Namdaemun Gate to take a look. There are signs along the road that leads visitors to Namdaemun Gate, which is the largest of the eight stone gates in Seoul. The double-tiered roof Namdaemun Gate was built in 1398 and was restored in 2013 following the infamous arson of the gate in 2008. The gate sits majestically in the southern part of Seoul, relinquishing its role from the main gate that welcomes the King’s return to the city in the ancient days to serving as a symbol of the Korean history. Visitors can get up close to Namdaemun Gate, walking through the gates like how previous Kings has done. However, the top levels of the gate are closed to visitors. Going up close to Namdaemun Gate, we can see the intricacies in the design of Namdaemun Gate, the top tiers of the gate are made of wood, brightly painted in traditional colours of green and mahogany found in Korean Palaces. There are some stone carvings of animals sitting on each of the two roofs of Namdaemun Gate, visible from the arch. We were in time for the change of guard ceremony at the time of our visit when we saw three Koreans dressed up in ancient guard uniforms crossing the road and heading towards Namdaemun Gate. As soon as they arrived, these guards matched towards the gate waiting for their colleagues to take over guarding of the gate. We stayed a little, wanting to watch the ceremony. But later learnt that the guards are not stationed at Namdaemun Gate, unlike those in Palaces such as Gyeongbokgung or Deoksugung. Moreover, the change of guard ceremony feels more like a show to entertain visitors with no commentaries, we decided not to wait for the change of guard ceremony and left for Suwon.
Suwon Market – A Surprise Find
To get to Suwon, we took the 1½ hr subway ride from Seoul Station to Suwon Station. Suwon is in a neighbouring Gyeonggi province south of Seoul. Suwon Station is bustling with life with locals going about their daily life. As we felt a little hungry, we wanted to get lunch before we head over to Hwaseong Haenggung. My friend and I was here three years ago and stumbled into a night market and some shops on either side of the night market, we knew we might find some food there. We crossed the road came to the street where we remembered where the night market was. We were glad that the market is open in the day and the street is very lively with mostly young Koreans hanging out in this area. There are shops on either side of the street with some of them being restaurants. In the centre of the street, there are some roadside stalls set up selling street food. We walked around to check what our lunch options are and ended up in a street that sells fresh produces from meat to fruits and even seafood. Looks like we have stumbled into a local market. As we saw no restaurants are in sight, we headed back towards the street opposite Suwon Station and settled for KFC instead. There were simply too many restaurants here.
Hwaseong Haenggung – The Temporary Palace
After lunch, we headed to Hwaseong Haenggung, which is the largest temporary palace outside of Seoul, used by the Korean King in Joseon dynasty during war or whenever he visits the tomb of his father. We took a 10 mins bus from outside Suwon Station to Hwaseong Haenggung. The Naver Map app (I can’t recommend this app enough for travels in South Korea, whether one is driving or not) indicated the number of bus stops before we arrive at Hwaseong Haenggung, and I conscientiously counted the number of stops to prevent history from repeating. The last time my friend and I were here we missed the bus stop and ended up getting lost in Suwon. Three years ago my friend and I did not manage to visit Hwaseong Haenggung as it was about to close when we arrive at the palace. This time around, we ensured that we cater enough time before it closes to visit the palace. Looking at the main entrance, my first impression of Hwaseong Haenggung is that it is a very small palace. The main entrance to the palace is a two-tiered wooden gate that seems inconspicuous with the building around it. It does not command the majesticness that the other palaces in Seoul do. Passing through the main gate, we came into a large empty courtyard surrounded by short walls. This is the largest single space in the entire Hwaseong Haenggung. The sanded courtyard is laid with flags and a couple of cheesy standees of characters from the Korean drama which was shot here at one corner. At the end of the courtyard is set of three wooden doors which led us to a very small second courtyard with another set of wooden doors literally steps away. Passing through the second set of doors, we come to another courtyard, smaller than the first one, with the main audience hall sitting at the end of the courtyard. This audience hall is a small building with a large opening looking out into the courtyard. Inside the audience hall, there is only space for the king’s throne and small tables with four cushions. I can imagine the king’s officials would speak to him from outside the audience hall, after all, Hwaseong Haenggung is not used as a main residence for the king. Hwaseong Haenggung is also used by the king to celebrate his mother’s 60th birthday, in fact, there are displays near the audience hall to give visitors an idea of the food being prepared for the celebration. We went around exploring the different parts of Hwaseong Haenggung, there is a sleeping quarter next to the audience hall where the king and the queen used. The sleeping quarters for guards and servants are located to the front left part of the palace. Each quarter is no large then a pod where the residences used to do other things like sewing and preparing court documents other than using it to sleep.
Just went we thought we were done with Hwaseong Haenggung, we spotted an exit that leads us to the annexe of Hwaseong Haenggung. This is part of Hwaseong Haenggung mainly houses the main sleeping chamber of the king and the queen whenever they visited the palace. The biggest building in the annexe of the palace is used for morning assemblies with his officials when the king visited. Similar to the main palace grounds, some buildings were used as sleeping quarters for the palace workers. Most of these buildings have their doors shut or are left empty which did not give us a good context what these buildings are meant for. My friends and I did however enjoyed the autumn scenery around Hwaseong Haenggung, especially the annexe. The annexe to the palace is relatively open and less crowded, giving us a good view of the hills behind Hwaseong Haenggung. The annexe is also a great place to take pictures with the trees growing in the palace grounds and on the hill donned on their red autumn gowns. As the palace was closing, my friends and I left Hwaseong Haenggung. We wanted to wait for dusk to visit Hwaseong Fortress and since it is still early, we decided to go for early dinner. Three years ago when we visited, we chanced into a local restaurant and wanted to go back there. However, we were disappointed to know that it was closed down. My friends and I ended up in a nearby cafe for a drink while waiting for the sun to set.
The Tranquil Night Stroll along Hwaseong Fortress
As the day turned dark after our coffee, we decided it is time for us to commence our walk along the Hwaseong Fortress. I always recommend my friends to take a walk along Hwaseong Fortress when at night as not only the walk is tranquil, the night light along the fortress wall is amazing. There isn’t much crowd and we can take our time to take pictures. Hwaseong Fortress is the official fortress surrounding the centre of Suwon and stretches 5.5km with a variety of command posts. There are four gates to the city of Suwon, of which we visited three along the walk.
Hwaseomun – Start of our Stroll
The gate nearest to Hwaseong Haenggung is Hwaseomun, a two-storey stone gate with a semi-circular extension in front. From Hwaseomun, we crossed the road and walked along the walls up to the hill that was behind Hwaseong Haenggung, we came to the first pavilion we saw along the wall and wanted to go up. However, it seems crowded and we continued our walk up the hill to a military outpost. The outpost was closed at this time. From here we got a good view of the first pavilion that we just walked past. This is where we made a u-turn and traced back our footsteps towards the first pavilion we just went past. The two-storey open-air pavilion welcomes visitors to take a rest when walking along the wall 24hrs a day. As it was no longer crowded, we went up the pavilion to enjoy the peacefulness and the cool autumn breeze and got a great view of Hwaseomun with its semi-circular front from the top level of the pavilion. After taking a few pictures, we headed back towards Hwaseomun and continued our stroll along Hwaseong Fortress.
Janganmun – The Gate that was used by Kings
From Hwaseomun, it took us 20 mins of casual strolling plus the time we stopped to take pictures, passing another military outpost, we were near the main gate to ancient Suwon city – Janganmun. As we walked along the fortress walls we got closer to Janganmun, before reaching the gate, we passed by a canon platform. My friend and I were here three years ago, having the same scenery before our eyes. Back then I had difficulty capturing a picture of this canon with Janganmun as the background, due to the low light at the platform. This time around, I managed to take a picture of the canon with Janganmun in the background. As we walked up to Janganmun, we were again awed by the sheer size of Janganmun. The stone wall of Janganmun is topped with a two-tiered wooden structure, meticulously painted with the green and red colours appearing in palace buildings. Janganmun is significantly taller and larger than Hwaseomun. To continue our path on Hwaseong Fortress, the pathway skirts in front of Janganmun, which through the opening, we were able to see the majestic Janganmun, as though it is still protecting the people staying inside Suwon City.
We walked past Janganmun along Hwaseong Fortress wall and arrived one of the two flood gates in Suwon City – Buksumun Flood Gate about 20 mins later. Buksumun is dressed in the typical Korean palace colours of green and mahogany, with a building built over stone foundations above a stream. The doors leading into Buksumun was closed at the time of our visit. It is here that my friends and I stepped off the wall for a view of Buksumun, which stood solitary performing its role as a defence wall and as a flood gate. We headed under the fortress wall to get a good view of Buksumun from the front of the fortress wall, which is as impressive as the view from inside of Hwaseong Fortress.
My friends and I headed back onto the wall and continued our stroll along Hwaseong Fortress. Some 5 mins later we came to another sentry post. This sentry post is built on higher grounds, which gave us a good view of Buksumun and parts of the Hwaseong Fortress. There are some very good photo spots in this sentry post, where we spent quite a bit of time to take photos. From the open-air pavilion-like sentry post, Hwaseong Fortress resembles a mini Great Wall of China. After taking photos we continued our walk on Hwaseong Fortress towards the next landmark on the wall. Some 30 mins of uphill and downhill walk, we arrived at Dongjangdae, which was used as a training ground for the Korean troops for over two centuries. Dongjangdae is enclosed with stones walls and was closed at the time of our visit. These stone walls surrounding Dongjangdae was low enough for us to peep over and see the command post inside the wall. Beside Dongjangdae, there is a large open area which was used these days for tourists to experience archery training of Korean troopers.
Towards Changnyongmun – Our End Point
From Dongjangdae, we could see our endpoint, Changnyongmun, across the road. I told my friends that seeing Dongjangdae is an indication that our walk along Hwaseong Fortress is coming to an end and pointed to our endpoint across the road. We skirted around Dongjangdae and resumed our stroll along the wall. The next structure we came across along Hwaseong Fortress is a three-storey circular-shaped watchtower. The watchtower is rather plain with no patterns or designs engraved onto any part of the tower. It was also closed at the time we arrived it. My friends and I took some pictures and left the watchtower. Not far from the watchtower (about 2 mins walk), we reached the crossbow platform. The lighting here is not as great as some parts of the wall, making the crossbow platform a tad difficult to visit. There is an opening to allow visitors to access the crossbow platform, however, due to the poor lighting, we merely took some quick pictures of the structure.
It is another 2 mins walk from the crossbow platform to our final destination on Hwaseong Fortress – Changnyongmun. Changnyongmun is one of the four gates into Suwon city and this marks the end of our 2 hrs stroll along Hwaseong Fortress. Similar to Hwaseomun, Changnyongmun is a smaller gate and has a semi-circular wall with an opening in front of the gate outside the fortress. The architecture is very similar to Hwaseomun, decked with a wooden building on top of the stone fortress wall. The wooden building in Changnyongmun is painted with the familiar green and mahogany colour, prevalent in most ancient Korean buildings we have seen so far on this trip. We went outside of Hwaseong Fortress at Changnyongmun. The gate looks almost hidden and the entrance is difficult to spot from the front of the gate outside of the fortress. After some photos, my friend and I went through Changnyongmun and headed to the bus stop between Changnyongmun and Dongjangdae where we caught the next bus to Suwon Station and headed back to Seoul.
Experience Jjimjilbang – The Korean Sauna
As we were on the subway, I noticed that we would pass through the station where Dragon Hill Spa is. A quick insertion of activity, we decided to stop at the station for the spa. One of the experiences that we set out to do when planning this trip is to try out the Jjimjilbang, the traditional Korean sauna. Dragon Hill Spa is a Korean jjimjilbang caters more for tourists than locals, nonetheless, it is a good place for us to try out jjimjilbang. We alighted the subway at Yongsan Station and made our way on foot to Dragon Hill Spa, which is located next to the station. The moment we enter Dragon Hill Spa, we were taken aback by the number of people waiting in line. There is a crowd of at least 30 people at the entrance, part of a tour group waiting for their turn to enter the jjimjilbang. One of the staff saw us and waved us to go around the crowd and immediately served us. The jjimjilbang costs KRW16,000 per adult and we were given a key tag that also doubles up as a credit tag which we used to buy things from and settle the bill when we exit. We got into the front area of the jjimjilbang and had to take off our shoes and place them in the locker provided. The locker number corresponds to the number on the tag we were given. Male and female changing rooms are separated by level, I gave direction to one of our friends on where to go and what to do and made our way up to the male changing room. In the male changing room, there is a locker for us to put our clothing and a counter for us to take the size of the clothing that we would wear when going in the main sauna area. We took a shower at the wet area and spent some time soaking in the hot spring water. The hot spring soak was very effective in relieving the aches from our travels in South Korea so far. After soaking for 10 mins, we got dressed and went to the main area to meet our other friend.
Before we went to the main hall, we headed to the restaurant in the jjimjilbang to have dinner. After dinner, we headed to the main hall for the treatment rooms. There are several treatment rooms: ice room, kiln sauna, Nephrite jade energy room, and pyramid mediation room. The last time I came to the jjimjilbang was 10 years ago when I first visited Korea as part of an escorted tour. Back then the tour guide told us that Koreans believe going to hot and cold treatments rooms will force our pores to open and close for detox purposes. My friends and I went to the ice room (temperature was -15°C) and stay for around 5 mins, followed by one of the five kilns with 88°C temperature. We did this a few times, alternating between hot and cold rooms for the next 30 mins. As it was getting late, we changed up and headed back to the hotel. As it was already past midnight, the subway service has ceased for the day. We originally wanted to grab a cab back to the hotel, however, there was a long queue at the taxi stand and with no cabs in sight. This is when I whip out my mobile phone and used the Naver Map App to guide us. The app pointed us to a nearby bus stop and the bus to be taken. True enough, the bus came exactly at the timing shown on the app and we got back to the hotel without any incident. When I checked the app again, I realise the bus we just alighted is the last bus.