Tuesday, 9 April 2013

F is for...

I really struggled with this one, there aren't really places or things starting with this letter.  Apart from a restaurant, for example Fry Pan (best fried chicken in Seoul), or using my friend's idea of Face and discussing the crazy cosmetics industry in Korea I've been coming up clueless.  I might hit upon the latter in another post though.  A look at the index of my Rough Guide to Korea just proved it, there are no places beginning with F!  It is not a sound you hear in Hangul.  

Until about two seconds ago I was going to go with Fitness and discuss how outdoor gyms are really popular in Korea (and how old people do not just sit down and became immobile, they work out).  But then I spotted Fortress in the index and thought about a day trip I took with my friend to the fortress at Suwon.

So, today, F is for Fortress.

Located just an hour or so south of Central Seoul is the city of Suwon.  It's been a little swallowed up by the ever growing Seoul, but it is a city in it's own right rather than just a satellite city built to house workers for the capital (although some of these are quite nice too).  

Hwaseong fortress is a UNESCO-listed fortress at the centre of Suwon.  It was completed in 1796, built on the orders of King Jeongjo (an important ruler from the Joseon dynasty) to house the remains of his father, Prince Sado.  Sadly for poor Prince Sado, he never made it to the throne, instead meeting his doom by the hands of his father, King Yeongjo, at Changgyeonggung Palace in Seoul (thank you to the Rough Guide, 2008).

I went there with my friend Jenny, she popped by to visit me on her way home from Australia (via Korea and Hong Kong) and we had a great 10 days together.  Unfortunately, I had to work during her visit, but she's a well seasoned traveller and soon had both her solo days and our together days and evenings planned.   We popped down to Suwon one weekend and had a walk down to the fortress, we didn't get to see much of the rest of the city as we had a deadline to meet a friend of mine at the Art Park in Anyang, but what we saw was nice.  It was one of those days where nothing quite goes to plan, as is often the case with us, but it was a good day none the less (and hot because it was August).

We arrived at the train station and followed signs and the map in my Lonely Planet through the town and to the fortress.  

When we knew for certain that we were heading in the right direction.
It's free to enter and the thing to do is walk the wall.  As we followed it round we came to a gift shop, restaurant and place to buy tickets for the little dragon trolley that you can ride up and down the hillier part of the wall.  Korea has it's moments that leave me perplexed and we had one of them that day.  There was a possibility that it was going to rain, so they had decided to stop running the dragon trolley.  This is fine, and I agree that it was a typical humid summer day, but later we saw the dragon trolley packed with people enjoying the ride!  

Ah well, it was still fun to follow the wall.  At one point it disappears and you walk through the town trying to find the next segment, in fact the centre of the fortress is no longer really there and instead it now surrounds regular concrete buildings.  Every now and then you come across something resembling the original centre, the odd pagoda or green patch of grass, but the city has definitely grown up around this old relic.

The whole wall stretches for 5.7km so it's a walk-able distance and takes a little while if you want to stop and look at things.  It winds around quite a bit.  

There's a big Buddha statue and a small former palace you can see as well. 

When you get to the higher ground there is a big bell that you can pay to "gong", you pay tuppence to do so, I think it was 1,000 won for 3 goes, but it's quite fun.  Apparently, it's one gong for your parents, one for a healthy, harmonious family, and one for whatever you desire (Rough Guide).  All in all, it was a great day trip.

Hazy day in the city.

Something childishly thrilling about ringing a big bell.


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