I’m home again–a bit muzzy from the jet lag, but nothing too bad. (I have a portable light box I bought during our massive gloom this year, so I brought it along to help with the jet lag. I think that worked–I haven’t been to Asia before, so maybe this is just because of the location, but my jet lag wasn’t nearly as bad this trip as it has been in the past.)
Anyway, it was super-easy to get around Seoul–the subway is great–but while it was easy to get to Suwon, and while I really liked Hwaseong Fortress, getting around Suwon was a little tricky. Obviously I managed, but I would have appreciated having some more guidance–whereas Seoul’s transportation system is very much set up with the non-Korean speaker in mind, that is not the case with Suwon.
So, let’s say you subway, Korail, or KTX it down to Suwon Station. (There’s also a $12 shuttle bus that goes between Incheon Airport and Hotel Castle in the hotel district.) That’s great, but your hotel probably isn’t near the station. The cool stuff isn’t there, either.
How do you get to the cool stuff and the hotels? Luckily there are a number of buses (the 10, the 66, and the 83-1 are three, there may be more) that run up and down the big east-west street connecting Suwon Station to the hotel district (and passing just south of the cool stuff)!
But here’s the tricky bit:
There are two big exits out of Suwon Station. The one to the west takes you out to an enormous roundabout where you can catch all sorts of buses!
This is the wrong exit.
Those are not the buses you need–they are express buses that will zip you off to God only knows what faraway corner of Korea. You want to go out the opposite way, to the east. You will come out onto a great big street. Make a left (don’t cross the street) and walk up to the local bus shelter (local buses are green). They pull in and pull out again at about 100 miles an hour, so get ready! (But if you miss one, don’t panic–the buses come often, and there is a display telling you when the next is coming.)
You can use your T-money or CashBee card on the buses, and I suggest you do. I also recommend that, while in Suwon Station, you make sure that your card has plenty of money on it. Why? Because I still have no idea what the fucking bus fare is–it was not displayed on the buses anywhere that I could see, and the information I got on-line was obviously out of date, which is why my card ran out of money.
OK, so now you’re on your way! And you want to see the cool stuff!
That’s a satellite picture of the wall–you can see that it’s quite something! The little castle marker down where the circle doesn’t quite complete itself is Paldalmun Fort. (It’s in a roundabout.) The long dark north-south line between the fort and the beginning of the east wall is a river, which has been channeled and has a park around it. The treed area where the west wall is is actually a pretty steep hill!
The famed Joseon Stairmaster.
You can see that the wall runs right through the city. The neighborhood just between Paldalmun Fort and the beginning of the east wall is a traditional market where you can get street food; the neighborhood west of the fort is very pretty and more touristy, with crafts shops and cafés. Also in the area is, no lie, the chicken district–as in the kind you eat. Apparently there’s also a soondae district, although I did not see it myself. In short, many food options lie about the fort. Yum-yum!
As you walk along the wall, you will sooner or later come upon a tourist information center. There, you can pay the whopping $1 fee it costs to visit the wall (if you’re too cheap for that, 1. you’re an unbelievable jerk, and 2. you’re SOL because they will check for the ticket if you’re a foreigner). You can also pick up an English-language map, which I should note focuses on the wall and the tourist attractions, not the city itself–the blank spaces are actually full of buildings.
I walked, so my map got all beat to hell.
If you’re not up for the hike, you can pay to ride a trolley–less physical labor, but the downside is that you won’t get see things up close, and the trolley road doesn’t go to the attractions at the top of the hill. I should note that, if you walk, you usually have a choice of two trails–one is right up next to/on the wall and is more rugged, and the second is a little bit away from the wall and is more level and smooth (a lot of locals, including many seniors, walk or jog the smoother trail for exercise). I walked the wall east-to-west (counterclockwise on the map), but I think it would be better to go west-to-east–that way you get the big hill done with early in your hike, you end your hike right at the market, and you can just follow the river back down to the bus. I was not up for visiting the temporary palace after walking the wall, but I would assume it’s a good option if a long hike is not your cup of tea.
All right! So, I hope that helps anyone thinking of making the visit to Hwaseong Fortress to navigate the trip. I really thought it was worth doing!