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Day trips from Seoul: Suwon and Busan

Travel Diaries: South Korea, Part 3.

South Korea is obviously not just Seoul, and it’s always worth visiting other locations. To see all that the country has to offer.
One of the many recommended spots is Jeju Island, but this time I didn’t manage to go. Also, from what I could see from the aeroplane and the train, the countryside is just as beautiful.

Instead, I visited Suwon for its magnificent fortress and went to the unique Buddhist temple on the ocean coast of Busan. Each of them is easily doable on a one-day trip.

Suwon

I was about to start this paragraph by saying, “Suwon is a small city not too far from Seoul”… But apparently, Suwon is rather the largest metropolis of the most populous province that surrounds Seoul! Samsung have its HQ in Suwon! Guess I only saw a small bit of it.

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The city is known for its fortress and for being the origin of a couple national dishes: galbi, naengkongguk and sundae. This sundae is far from what you get at MacDonald’s: it’s a boiled sausage!.
And it’s only a short train journey from Seoul station.

When you arrive, the tourist info centre is just outside the train station. To the left, next to the bus stop. There’s a desk dedicated to English-speaking visitors, and the staff is very friendly and helpful.
From there, you can take a few buses to get to Paldalmun Gate, close to the ticket office of the fortress.
You can use the same travel card you use in Seoul, which is very convenient.

Padalmun Gate in Suwon
Padalmun Gate, close to the fortress entrance (and the covered market)

Suwon Fortress: Hwaseong

During the Joseon Dynasty, King Jeongjo made an unsuccessful attempt to make Suwon the nation’s capital in 1796. Part of this project was the construction of the Hwaseong Fortress, a fortified wall running around the entire city, partially intended to guard his father’s tomb.
The fortress walls once encircled the entire city, but modern urban growth has seen the city spread far beyond the fortress. The walls are now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
There are quite a few details on the construction on Wikiwand, if you’re interested. For example, you can learn that the North gate, Janganmun, is the largest gate in Korea. 🙂

At the time of writing, the ticket is only 1000 won. And although the fortress is likely to be easily accessible anyway, it’s only officially open between 9:00 and 18:00.
Entering from Padalmun Gate, as I did, the initial climbing can be quite steep. It’s easier when you enter from the Janganmun Gate, but most of the sites I liked were up the steep climb anyway.

Suwon. The steep steps to climb on top of the walls of the Suwon fortress
this is what I mean by steep… here I’m about halfway to the top
The resting place on top of the walls of Suwon fortress, with a panoramic view of the city
then when you reach the highest point, you can have your deserved rest and enjoy the view – just remember to take off your shoes when you go in

The walk along the fortress walls is gorgeous, particularly if you go on a sunny day with a clear sky. Well, you can see it here.
It can take a good couple of hours to go around the perimeter. But take it slow and enjoy the view, it’s well worth it.

On the way down, you can visit King Jeongjo’s palace (Haenggung) as well. If you plan to do so, get an integrated ticket to see both at a cheaper price.
Then stop at any restaurant to eat galbi. Or go to the covered market, back at Padalmun Gate, and try whatever you fancy. Seriously, I had a few dishes from different vendors, and everything was really good!


Busan

Busan is the second largest city in South Korea and is situated on the South coast. There are plenty of trains departing from Seoul station. Including the Korean version of the super-fast bullet train, which crosses the whole country in less than 2 hours. Just make sure you avoid going there when there’s a zombie apocalypse
Since I had limited time to visit the Buddhist temple, that was the transport I chose.

It’s fairly easy to book a train from the official Korean Railway app. And although the receipt says you need to bring a printed version with you, I didn’t have any issue simply showing it on my phone to the platform staff. It’s a very busy route, as thousands commute between the two cities every day. So I recommend booking a seat in advance. Particularly if you travel with someone and want to sit together.

Busan would require a much longer stay to appreciate it. But I didn’t have much time left in South Korea, so I opted for a day trip to the Buddhist temple alone. On the way from the station to the temple, I then saw plenty of sites I’d like to go back to. So here’s another excuse to go back to visit South Korea.
Definitely need to photograph the bridge…

Haedong Yonggungsa

To reach the temple you could get a bus or a taxi. The bus is cheaper but it might take about 45-60′ to reach the temple. A taxi would take you there in 20-25, costing around $25.
Also, if you decide to get the taxi, I recommend you have the destination written in Korean on a piece of paper or on your phone.

The beautiful Buddhist temple on the shore of Busan
the beautiful temple on the shoreline

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is situated on the coast of the northeastern portion of Busan. This superb attraction offers visitors the rare find of a temple along the shoreline. Most temples in Korea are located in the mountains. As such, combined with its proximity to the beach, the temple is popular with sightseers. Particularly during Buddha’s Birthday celebrations when the complex is decorated with paper lanterns.

Art inside the coastline Buddhist temple of Busan
this inside is just as magnificent

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was first built in 1376 by the great Buddhist teacher known as Naong, during the Goryeo Dynasty.
The main sanctuary of the temple was reconstructed in 1970 with careful attention paid to the colours that were traditionally used in such structures. Among the many sculptures and structures, in front of the main sanctuary is a three-story pagoda with four lions. They symbolise joy, anger, sadness, and happiness.

Other special sites at the temple are the 108 stairs and stone lanterns lining the rocky landscape. After going down the 108 steps, one will be delighted with the beauty of the temple. Midway down the 108 steps, one can stop and enjoy the calming sounds of the waves. And if you get up early, view the majestic sunrise (likely if you stay in Busan).

A golden statue of Buddha in the coastline temple of Busan

Also, read about my journey to South Korea in Part 1 (with tips and conclusions), then go to Part 2 for my top highlights for a first-time visit to Seoul.

OK, so maybe now you would like to book your accommodation in Suwon or Busan… If you fancy a £15 discount (or equivalent in your currency) next time you book a hotel on Booking.com, make sure you use this affiliate link: https://www.booking.com/s/35_6/cbe52082

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