Han River reborn
There is something magical about water fountains at night, and if you find yourself near Banpo Bridge in the capital any day of the week, you will be treated to a spectacular interplay of music, light and foaming jets of ice-cold water plunging into the historic river.
It’s not that the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain has become a popular location for romantic trysts.
The fountain is just one part of a sustained local city government project to revitalize the Han River and create a more appealing landscape. For years, the Han River was noted more for its dull concrete riverbanks offering third-rate views in comparison to some of the more attractive waterfronts in other cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai or Sydney, for example.
Starting with the fountain, the city government has realized the potential and has started to run the artificial waterfall more frequently. On weekends, it springs into action seven times a day - it used to be five. And it froths over for 10 minutes at a time now but the duration will be increased to 20 minutes soon.
The waterfall has already found a modicum of international fame. It was listed in the Guinness World Records last November as the longest bridge fountain in the world. The water plunges 20 meters (65 feet) below from both sides of the bridge through 380 nozzles installed in the middle part of the bridge. An incredible 190 tons of water gushes every minute.
And if that’s not enough for you, the waterfall also dances. The designers have tried to create the effect of a willow tree waving in the wind for the daytime performances, and at night, we see rainbows as 200 lights along the bridge illuminate the night.
To make the Banpo Bridge waterfall more accessible to visitors, the city has turned two lanes on Jamsu Bridge, which runs under Banpo Bridge, into bike and pedestrian lanes. Jamsu means diving in Korean, and during summer’s rainy season, the lower bridge, a separate structure to the Banpo Bridge above, floods.
You can also take bus No. 8401 and alight in the middle of Jamsu Bridge. No other bridge along the Han River has a bus stop so far. The bus serves a route close to the bridge, stopping at Seoul Express Bus Terminal, Central City complex in southern Seoul, the Crown Hotel and Noksapyeong Station on line No. 6., among others. There is even a water taxi stop near the bridge from where you can travel on to 14 other stations including Yeouido and Jamsil.
The local government has also installed traffic lights on Jamsu Bridge to allow people to cross from one side to the other. In the past, walking across the bridge was only possible via steps at the either end of the bridge.
From Jamsu Bridge, you can see the new face of the Banpo riverside park. Anyone who was here before the renovations can easily spot the changes. Bushes that lined the riverbanks and occupied much of the area have been stripped away and in their place grass has been planted. Walking and bike trails have been created, too, and the passage to the park, which goes under the 88 Olympic Expressway, has been remodeled to make the gateway to the park more friendly. In the past, it was dimly lit and its ceiling and walls just bare concrete.
Now, it is a lot more pleasant to pass through thanks to the new lights. A further addition has been replacing the nearby concrete river bank with rocks to create a more natural wetland look.
There are also playgrounds, picnic areas, an in-line skating rink, football pitches and newly opened outdoor theaters - Riverside Stage and Moonlight Square. To mark the reopening of the park, performances are held at 7 and 8 p.m. every Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday.
However, that’s not the end of the story. The Seoul city government is also going to build floating islands near Banpo Bridge and riverside parks in other parts of the city such as Yeouido and Ttukseom, and Nanji-Sangam will be renovated in much the same way as Banpo.
All of this is part of what the Seoul city government calls the Han River Renaissance.
“Places like Sydney or New York have symbols that represent the cities such as the opera house or the Statue of Liberty, but Seoul doesn’t have any,” said Jang Jeong-u, head of the project, explaining the plans. “So, we picked Seoul’s two natural landmarks, the Han River and Mount Namsan, as possible options that could symbolize the capital.” Jang said Seoul is one of few cities around the world that has such a deep and wide river in the middle of the city.
However, some said the new park looks too artificial. “It looks pretty and clean, but they took away too many wild plants,” said Kim Na-young, another resident of Jamwon-dong. Kim said she comes here almost every day. “It used to be greener and more natural.”
The Moonlight Rainbow Fountain runs at 12:30, 3, 5, 8, 8:40, 9:20 and 10 p.m. on weekends.
To reach Banpo Bridge, take bus No. 8401 at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal, line No. 3 or No. 7; Noksapyeong Station, line No. 6 or the Crown Hotel.
By car, head west on the 88 Olympic Expressway. There are two exits to Banpo Park: one before the bridge and one after. From north of the Han River, head south on Banpo Bridge, turn right on the 88 Olympic Expressway and exit immediately.
For more information about performances, visit hangangfest.seoul.go.kr or call the Hangang Project at (02) 3780-0762. The water taxi fare (1588-3960) is 2,900 won ($2.35) from one stop to the next.
By Limb Jae-un [firstname.lastname@example.org]