Take a trip to the end of the line
And like the city, it has its own attractions. It leads to places both without and within. Some of the former can be quite photogenic.
Don’t bother to fill the tank with gas nor to stuff a backpack with provisions. The furthest reaches of the subway system have their own interesting tourist attractions, including mountains, seashores and historical remains, and all it requires is a metro ticket and a camera.
And the patience to ride to the end of the line.
Incheon Station, line No. 1
At the western end of Seoul’s oldest subway line sits Incheon station, the backdrop for a scene from the movie My Sassy Girl when the leading male character, Gyeonwu, wakes up there after passing out drunk on the subway.
Incheon station doesn’t have the glitzy modern silver exterior favored by Seoul’s more modern stations; in fact, it’s a simple green building that looks more like a countryside rail station. It does lie near two interesting destinations, however: Chinatown and Incheon harbor, where Chinese immigrants landed in droves over a century ago.
Incheon station is also close to Wolmido, a half-mile street along the seaside that attracted couples in the 1970s and ‘80s with its cafes, cotton candy vendors and street deejays. Despite the “-do” suffix, it’s not an island (it’s a “land-tied island).
Wolmido still has its carnival atmosphere, but it’s most famous now for its “Viking” ride, the massive ship-shaped swing that makes some riders scream and others want to puke. It’s a fun thing to do on a date, because once you’re in the seat, you inform your date in all seriousness that the safety bars don’t actually work and the operator only stops the ride after someone gets sick.
While your better half is laughing and trying to determine whether you’re kidding ― you were kidding, right? ― you can sit back and enjoy the fun for only 3,000 won ($2.90) a ticket.
Uijeongbu station, line No. 1
On the other end of the line is Uijeongbu station, far outside the city limits. It’s still crowded, though. The place is a popular destination for weekend hikers due to its proximity to routes up Mounts Dobong, Bukhan and Surak.
About two-thirds up Mount Dobong is Mangwol Temple, which can also be reached from the appropriately-named Mangwolsa station, on line No. 7. Either way, it takes an hour or so to get to the temple.
The temple was built during the 7th century, at the time of the Silla Kingdom. A Buddhist monk established the temple on the top of a cliff facing in the direction of Gyeongju, Shilla’s capital, to wish for the kingdom’s prosperity.
Once you’ve gone up the mountain, you can come down for a big pan of budaejiggae, “Army base stew.” The dish, a collection of about everything you can throw into a pot, is said to have been created in the Uijeongbu area, where there are a few US Army bases. For the uninitiated, a warning: the dish is heavy on Spam. It is, however, delicious, and there are plenty of restaurants specializing in the dish around Yangju City Hall, north of the mountains, near Uijeungbu station.
Oido station, line No. 4
The No. 4 line stops at Oido, on the western seashore. Once again, the“-do” suffix gives the false impression that the area is an island.
“We’re busy on weekends,” said one snack vendor at the station, “but it’s because we have to give directions to tourists, not because we have so much business.”
Near the station is Okgu Natural Park, which sits on top of a hill and has a fantastic view of the city, and the Sihwa tide barrier, which surrounds the seaside village.
“On a clear day, you can see the Sihwa lake to your left and the islands lying off the Incheon coast to your right,” one Oido resident said.
Oido is the place for clam bakes. It’s wall-to-wall clam grill restaurants. The price of a platter ranges from 33,000 to 58,000 won, depending on the size, but other seafood might be included, such as oysters, shrimp or octopus.
Though there are lots of people in Korea who love both seeing nature and grilling it, there are few who are willing to travel to Oido for the pleasure of fresh seafood.
The nearby Sihwa lake was until recently infamous for its pollution, and a continuous clean-up effort has only begun to make the place an attractive trip destination.
Amsa station, line No. 8
Not too far to the east is Amsa station, at the northern end of line No. 8. Amsa is popular with school field trips, and for good reason: it’s the home of a Stone Age archeological site filled with pottery and objects from the Neolithic period (generally placed from 10,000 to 4,000 B.C.)
The station is about a 15-minute walk from the Amsa Prehistorical Residential Site. The walk itself is pleasant, leading down a tree-lined boulevard. Inside the park is a museum displaying mannequins dressed in prehistoric clothing and using replicas of restored artifacts. The museum is relatively new, having opened in 2000, and is an interesting contrast to the Stone-Age huts laying around it.
Other than a group of elementary school children prancing around on a field trip, the park was almost empty, even on a warm Saturday, populated only with a few readers and strolling couples. Oddly, the park also has an ostrich farm. Kids seemed to enjoy watching the ungainly animals foraging out in the fields.
For an admission fee of only 500 won, and 300 for those under 17, the park and museum is a decent attraction.
Odd stations: a long walk to nowhere
Seoul’s subway system might be one of the world’s busiest, but it also has two of the weirdest stations: Sanseong, on line No. 8, and Magok, line No. 5.
What’s weird about Sanseong station? Its staircase is only for the truly fit: the station was built 48 meters (157 feet) underground, making it the deepest rail tunnel in Seoul. Two escalators connect the platform to the entrance. The first escalator is 36 meters and the second 48 meters (it’s at a slant, of course, so the total depth is still 48 meters).
An official at Sanseong said the reason the station is so deep is that it was built in a mountainous region near the walled refuge at Mount Namhan.
So what do you do if you get off the train and find the escalators have broken down?
“The smart thing to do is wait until the mechanic comes down to fix it,” the official said, “but we can’t guarantee when he’ll arrive.”
What makes Magok station peculiar? It would look totally normal - if you could stop at it. No train does.
Magok is located in the middle of a vast empty field in northwestern Seoul. It has been fitted with every item necessary except passengers. The station was originally built as part of a development plan, but the plan changed by the time the subway line began operating in 1996. The field was supposed to be a new business district, which would have fed passengers to the station.
The plan is still on the drawing board, set to be launched in 2011. Even if everything goes as planned, however, it will be a long time before any train stops at Magok.
by Lee Min-a
More in Features
Sculptor Joo Hoo-sik finds inspiration in the Year of the Cow
Nothing's fair in love and Covid
Top culture stories of the year
[ZOOM KOREA] The pipe organ master with plans for a uniquely Korean instrument
ENFJ-LMNOPQ what does the MBTI say about you?