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Subway sojourns: Short trips out of town

A Seoul subway train heads to Chuncheon. Ridership on this and other subway trains has increased in recent months as Seoulites look for short trips out of the city. By Kim Seong-ryong

With the grueling winter cold finally giving way to springtime weather, highways in and around the capital have been congested with Seoulites trying to get their first taste of warmth in months. If you want to escape the traffic and try an old school approach to short distance travel, journeying by subway might just be the thing for you.

The Seoul subway system allows people to get to destinations in and even outside Seoul all within two hours, without the traffic and gas money. (The maximum subway fare is just 3,000 won per trip, or $2.67, depending on how far you go.)

The Seoul subway system runs in all directions. To the east, the subway stretches to Yangpyeong (Jungang Line) and to the west, it extends to Incheon (line No. 1). Way up north, the subway takes people to Mount Soyo (line No. 1) and Munsan (Gyeongui Line), while down south it goes to Asan in Cheonan (line No. 1).

Late last year, Chuncheon Station (Gyeongchun Line) was added to the metropolitan subway system. Prior to this, the station had been a staple for the Gyeongchun Line’s regular trains. With the new service, Chuncheon has had a horde of visitors from Seoul in recent months.

“Since the Chuncheon subway station opened to the public, around 15,000 people visit on weekdays and over 20,000 people on the weekends,” said Jung Gyeong-ho, the station manager at Chuncheon Station. He said that with the previous train service there were around 3,000 visitors at most on weekends.

Earlier this month, when the JoongAng Ilbo Week& team visited Chuncheon, it seemed there were more people in the city center than in Myeongdong, central Seoul. As soon as you get off the subway at Chuncheon Station, mountains and a river stretch before your eyes. When you cross the road, there is a museum and an art gallery, and next to this is Chuncheon’s famous dakgalbi (spicy chicken stir-fry) street.

The increase in the number of tourists from Seoul to cities close to the capital can be seen in other areas as well. Seoulites are traveling to Hyeonchung Temple in Asan, South Chungcheong, as well as Onyang, famous for its hot springs. The JoongAng Ilbo Week& team set out to rediscover four destinations near Seoul that can been reached by subway.

Incheon Station (line No. 1)

A whole other world awaits at the end of line No. 1, where Incheon Station serves as the gateway to the city’s colorful Chinatown. This is the only official Chinatown in Korea, and it boasts authentic Chinese restaurants and a wealth of souvenir shops. A local favorite is Gonghwachun (032-765-0571), which is one of the 30 or so Chinese restaurants in this area and is often credited for selling Korea’s first bowl of jjajangmyeon (black bean paste noodles), a popular Korean dish that has its origins in a similar Chinese dish.

Next to Chinatown is Culture Town, which showcases the city’s history and development. The area is home to several buildings that were all built by the Japanese during the colonial era in Korea, including the Japanese Consulate, banks, museums and a post office. There are numerous tours around these areas, lasting from one to three hours.

The trip to Incheon Station from Seoul Station takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Ungilsan Station (Jungang Line)

Ungilsan Station, in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, is a relatively small station. But it handles a great deal of traffic from scenic Mount Ungil, which draws a flood of hikers from Seoul and Gyeonggi every weekend.

At around 600 meters (1,969 feet) in height, Mount Ungil is not as steep as some of the more prominent peaks in Seoul and Gyeonggi. As such, the mountain’s trails are good for beginners who do not have special hiking equipment or hiking shoes.

On the ascent to Mount Ungil, hikers will find Sujong Temple, which is famous for its majestic scenery. In fact, a Joseon Dynasty scholar, Suh Guh-jung, wrote that the view from Sujong Temple was the best view in Korea among its numerous shrines and temples.

The hike from Ungilsan Station to the peak of Mount Ungil takes about two hours. There are, however, various trails ranging in length from 7 to 17 kilometers (4.3 to 10.6 miles).

After hiking, the Week& team visited Namyangju Studios, run by the Korea Film Council. There is a free shuttle bus that operates six times a day and takes visitors to and from the studios to Ungilsan Station. In addition to the exhibits on display, the studio offers a free screening of a different film each month. This March, the film is director Lee Joon-ik’s “Pyongyang Castle.”

The Jungang Line starts from Yongsan Station in Seoul. The trip from Yongsan Station to Ungilsan Station takes around one hour and the cost is 1,600 won.

Cheonan Station (line No. 1)

This month is a perfect time to visit Cheonan, because the city has a number of historic destinations that are related to Korea’s March 1 Independence Movement Day.

Most independence movement sites can be found by departing Cheonan Station through exit 1 and taking bus No. 400 from Dongbu Square to Yu Gwan-sun Shrine, which is the first historic site.

The shrine is dedicated to a female independence fighter who lived during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Yu’s former home is designated as another historic site. It is located about 1.3 kilometers from the shrine in the direction of Mount Mebong.

The home of another independence fighter, Cho Byeong-ok, can be found just a 10-minute walk from the Yu family home.

The area is also home to around 20 sundae (blood sausage) restaurants, many of which have been popular for decades, including Byeongchen Sundae (041-561-0151) and Jame Sundae (041-552-2993).

On your way back on the No. 400 bus, a last but important destination for visitors is the Independence Hall of Korea, a large history museum dedicated to the independence movements of the colonial era.

The trip from Yongsan Station in Seoul to Cheonan Station takes around two hours by subway, and the fare is 2,500 won. The fare for the No. 400 bus in Cheonan is 1,200 won. There is also a city tour bus in Cheonan (041-521-2038) that departs every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. in front of the tourist desk inside Cheonan Station.

Chuncheon Station (Gyeongchun Line)

One of the most popular destinations in Chuncheon is Soyang Dam, one of the largest in East Asia, and the nearby Soyang Lake, which connects to the scenic Cheongpyeong Temple. As the Week& team got off on Chuncheon Station, almost eight out of 10 visitors from Seoul were asking Chuncheon residents about the bus to Soyang Dam.

Besides the dam, Chuncheon offers an abundance of sightseeing activities, one of which is a museum tour around the city. There are many museums in Chuncheon, including museums for animation, makguksu (buckwheat noodles), dolls and even model airplanes. The animation museum is especially popular among children.

Another noteworthy destination is the Kim You-jeong House of Literature, dedicated to the late novelist. Inside, visitors can walk through replicas of alleyways that he described in novels like “Bombom” and “Camellia Flower.” Next Tuesday, the city will host a Kim You-jeong memorial festival, where visitors will be able to see rows of camellia flowers in blossom.

The trip from Sangbong Station in Seoul to Chuncheon takes around one hour and 20 minutes and the cost is 2,600 won. The Animation Museum can be reached by taking bus No. 81, 82 or 83 from Chuncheon Station. The city tour bus departs from Chuncheon Station every day at 10 a.m. and costs 5,000 won for adults.

By Lee Seok-hee [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]

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