CONTRIBUTED BY SIBO LUNGU
For most of us, South Korea is a foreign place, and when we find out we are heading there we quickly hit Google Search or Google Maps to get an image, a blog, a website, basically anything that can tell us about this place called “Osan”. I’d heard of Seoul of course, but Osan? Where the heck was that?!
Here’s a quick post to put your mind at ease and give you a head start to the inevitable questions from your family and friends about where you are going and how close or far it is from North Korea.
Korea has nine provinces and Osan Air Force Base is in Gyeonggi province (Gyeonggi-do), the same province as Seoul. It’s located about an hour drive south of the center of Seoul, and only about a 40 minute drive from the southern parts of Seoul like Gangnam district.
The Air Force base itself is called Osan, but isn’t actually in the city of Osan which is 15 minutes or so from base. I hear they named it Osan because it was easy to pronounce. (Nevermind the confusion, right?). Anyway, Osan AB is in Songtan, a district in the city of Pyeongtaek, which is a decent sized city, though by Korean standards and trendy Seoulites’ views, it’s a village-like place with nothing to do.
With a population of close to 500,000 people, I’d hardly call Pyeongtaek small, but hey – when in Korea, it’s all about Seoul, and if you need a getaway, then Busan or Jeju are candidates. Other than that, everything else is blah. And it is also relative. Seoul has 10 million people, so in comparison, 500,000 is a village.
With that said, Pyeongtaek has everything a city has: a city hall, police department, schools, hospitals, banks, a transportation system, government buildings, etc. And in terms of the more fun things, it has malls, restaurants, movie theatres, shopping centers, music and art events, supermarkets, outdoor traditional markets, historical sites, parks, a river, a lake, trails, and a lot more to do if you are willing to dig a little or use this website to search for activities.
The main city is Pyeongtaek but it’s made up of several communities, districts or neighborhoods. I am not really sure what to call them actually. It seems they may at some point have been stand alone towns (Songtan, Seojeong-ri, Jinwi, Jije specifically), but got swallowed by the growing city of Pyeongtaek and thus all exist under it today. Some of these places are so close together, for example, you can walk from Songtan station to Seojeong-ri station in a few minutes.
Osan AB is in Songtan. If you are trying to live close to base, this is likely where you will choose to live. Within Songtan there are a handful of neighborhoods. Some have high-rise apartments, coffee shops and restaurants to give you that urban-living feel; and other neighborhoods are in the “country” with only two convenience stores nearby and cows for neighbors. (Literally. I am not kidding. They moo’d all winter long, the poor things!)
Songtan is known for its shopping street right outside the main gate where you can get clothes and accessories made from scratch or customized for good prices (with some negotiation).
Songtan also has an intercity bus terminal and a subway station so you don’t have to go 20 minutes into Pyeongtaek to catch a ride unless on the long distance KTX high speed train. However, if you needed to, the taxis and local buses run city-wide.
Another important thing you may be wondering about is safety. Trust me: you will be hard pressed to find a safer place than Korea. Kids walk around freely all alone here. I get off work after dark and have never felt unsafe. Not to be naïve, crime does happen, but (sadly) it’s usually domestic violence, or between parties who know each other, or by those who had a little too much to drink (beware of soju) in the club.
As for our neighbors to the north, yes we are close (35 miles away), but not exactly in their backyard so feel free to explore the country, and go hiking and biking in the beautiful parks and even the local Buraksan mountain. Not that you should forget, but unless you travel to the DMZ or follow the local news daily you probably will forget how close you really are to DPRK.
So there you have it. I hope this gives you the general scoop about Songtan/Osan Air Force Base surrounding area. And if nothing else was helpful, at least now you can point out Songtan on a map when people ask you where you are going!
(Note: Camp Humphries Army Base is also in Pyeongtaek (Anjeong-ri area), but about 20 minutes from Songtan).