CONTRIBUTED BY CHRISTINE BRUNS
What better to do on a commitment-free weekend than go on a trip to another city in Korea? Well, that’s what we decided to do a few weeks ago with a trip to Incheon organized by the USO. When we arrived at the office, we found we were the only ones signed up for this particular tour (Wait, no one else wants to walk around outside all day in January?!), so we were loaded into a passenger van with our tour guide and driver for the day.
When you hear “Incheon” most people immediately think of the Incheon Airport, as that is the main reason for most to go west of Seoul.; however, the airport is actually slightly removed from downtown Incheon and all the fun things to do there. The van ride took about one hour, even with a bit of traffic on the expressway, and we soon found ourselves in the main tourist area of Jung-gu.
Our first stop was the Incheon Port Modern Architecture Museum, on the street of themed museums, for some background on the area. Incheon is the 2nd largest port in South Korea (Busan is the largest); it has a large amount of reclaimed and rebuilt land near the shore, and it has a complex military history. We picked up some handy maps, a complete guidebook in English about the many attractions in town (Nuri Street), and headed back outside to explore.
Due to its location on the west coast, Incheon was populated by a large number of Chinese immigrants, which resulted in a large Chinatown neighborhood. We turned the corner and found ourselves at the base of the Boundary Stairs – the left side was where the Chinese settlement ended and the right side was where the Japanese settlement began. If you look closely, you’ll see that both the pillars and lanterns are of two different styles as they lead up to a statue of Confucius.
At the top of the stairs we were greeted by some great golden dragons and then turned left to walk down the Samgukji Wall Painting Street. The wall features scenes and characters from the Romance of Three Kingdoms, a Chinese novel with fables and lessons on how to behave during the Han Dynasty. There were also some fun places to take some selfies and family portraits along the way.
At the end of the street, we entered into the unmistakably adorned Chinatown – red lanterns, gold dragons, and ornate architecture. There is a great example of a traditional Chinese row house, vendors, restaurants, three giant gates (pai-lou), a cultural center, and much more.
One of the many “firsts” for Incheon (there is a entire wall dedicated to them on the History and Culture street) is the fact that the first Korean-style black bean noodles, called Jjajangmyeon, were made here. So of course we had to go to the Jjajangmyeon Museum and then have some for lunch! Did you know that there are three different lengths of chop sticks? And that Korean chopsticks are slightly longer than Japanese chopsticks? Of course they are – you know you need to be able to reach all of those tasty side dishes!
Filled up on noodles and ready for more walking, we headed up the hill towards the 3rd Pai-lou and Jayu park. Also known as Freedom Park, this area affords a great view of the port and is home to the statue of General MacArthur, in honor of the role he played in turning the tide during the Korean War, as well as a few other memorial pieces.
Pro Tip: If you have more time to roam around Jung-gu, you may also want to visit an area slightly northwest of Chinatown known as Fairytale Village. The inhabitants and city have decorated the buildings with murals and fun art displays of fairytale and cartoon characters. A great place for fun pictures and to make the kiddos smile.
Since we hadn’t had enough walking for the day (okay, I had, but little did I know the fun was just about to begin!), we got back in the van for a quick trip to Wolmido Island. Called Wolmi for short, this is a popular tourist attraction throughout the year, with a hiking park, observatory, gardens, a food experience center, a sports stadium and even a theme park, called My-Land. Our guide let us out at the East Gate, near a traditional hanok family house, and led us to a “hiking trail” up the mountain towards the Wolmi Observatory. I say “hiking trail” as it was really just stairs – lot and lots of stairs – 475 stairs, to be exact. I know this, as they have signs posted telling you how many stairs there are and how many calories you’ve burned every 20 steps or so. This is actually pretty awesome, and the view and scenery were great, but if you have a bad knee like I do, you MAY want to find a different way to go!
The view at the top was pretty great and there is a café where you can rest for a bit before heading back down the mountain (and stairs).
Thoroughly spent and with legs shaking, we got back into the van for a 20 minute ride to our last sightseeing stop – The Memorial Hall for Incheon Landing Operation. It’s an impressive complex built by the Incheon citizens to commemorate the decisive military landing that took place on September 15, 1950 under MacArthur’s leadership. There is an indoor museum, movie theaters, outdoor displays of military vehicles, and the hilltop Tower of Liberty Protection and flame.
A great day with something for everyone – just wear comfortable shoes and bring extra batteries for your camera or phone!
Directions to Incheon, Chinatown, and Wolmido:
We took the tour offered by the USO (for convenience of transport throughout the day and so we would have a tour guide to delve into things a bit deeper), but Incheon is very easy to reach using the Seoul Subway system and to visit on your own.
Seoul Subway Line 1, Incheon Station (Exit 1) – there is an Information Desk right by the station (grab those handy maps!) and you will see the gate to Chinatown right across the street.
From Incheon Station, it takes about 10 minutes by taxi to Wolmido Island.
Directions to Memorial Hall for Incheon Landing Operation:
Incheon Subway Line 1, Dongmak Station (Exit 1)
Transfer to bus 6-1, 8, or 908 and get off at Songdo Resort Bus Stop. (송도유원지)
It is a 5min-walk from the bus stop.
It takes 10 minutes by taxi from Dongmak station.
Incheon Station’s Google Coordinates: 37.476364, 126.616936