Cheongju aims to make its mark as tourist destination
CHEONGJU, North Chungcheong — Compared to other cities like Busan, Jeonju and Sokcho, Cheongju is not as popular among travelers due to its lack of prominent places to visit. However, thanks to its proximity to the Seoul metropolitan area and the nature it has to offer, the state-run tourism institute is now on the move to more systemically promote the city with “potential.”
One of the first places many locals and those who have been to Cheongju recommend is Sangdang Fortress. From the central area of the city, it takes only about 10 minutes by car to get there.
It is originally built in Baekje Dytnasty (18 B.C. to 688 A.D.) as an earthen fortification. After invasions in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) from Japan and China, the country decided to use rocks to make the fortress much sturdier in 1716. However, after the reinforcement efforts, the fortress never really faced any further major battles. Because of this reason, the spot is less enticing to history buffs, despite the great condition it is in.
If you're after a better view of building-packed central Cheongju from afar, keep on walking on the trail along the top of the fortress. If you'd prefer to be protected from the sun, there is another walking trail that features trees to offer some shade. The full trail takes about one hour and 30 minutes to complete.
Right by the fortress, there is a number of restaurants where most people go for lunch after walking the trail. Most places sell similar dishes, such as marinated acorn jelly and a variety of banchan, small dishes that accompany a bowl of rice.
Some of the hanok, or traditional Korean homes, in the cultural complex have been moved there from neighboring areas in Cheongju, as they were in danger of being flooded by the Daecheong Dam, which was established in 1980. Besides hanok where Joseon era aristocrats used to live, the cultural complex also has some of the dolmens rescued from the area that is now underwater.
It is located on top of Mount Yangseong, neighboring the newly-built Daecheong Reservoir. The hanok there have thatched roofs or roofs made with giwa, or tiles. Given that the area generally had a moderate temperature except during winter, the main entrances to the houses are usually placed in the eyeline of where residents would sit so that they could take in everything that nature has to offer from the comfort of their own homes.
A jumak, or bar and restaurant usually located in the entrance of each neighborhood, is also located inside the complex, although it doesn’t function as a bar now. It also has a building called Munsangwan, used to bow toward the north where the king was in the past. The building was where overnight officials coming from where the king was would stay.
While the history books have no special records about this area, it still makes for a lovely stroll and you can easily picture what it would have been like centuries ago with people walking around or riding horses, dressed in hanbok. Since it is located on top of the mountain, the view of the reservoir and other hills is well worth the hike.
The cultural complex is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. The last admission is at 5 p.m. It is 1,000 won (86 cents) for adults to enter, 800 won for teenagers and 500 won for children.
Cheongnamdae, which used to be a vacation house for the country’s president, is another hotspot relatively well-known in the city. Since 1983, it was used as an official vacation house for presidents until it was open to the public in 2003.
It is now a garden that is home to about 100 different trees and 130 different types of flowers. The area measures 1.8 square meters (19.3 square feet) large and many wild animals have also built their homes there. It has a large pond covered with lotus leaves, as well as a metasequoia tree forest with seats on the ground. It also has a paved trail to a pavilion set up by the reservoir.
The building which temporarily housed previous presidents is still set up with the furniture of the time. Visitors are not allowed to enter the rooms but can view them from the corridor outside. There is also a framed piece of paper on display that has the signatures of previous presidents and kings from the Joseon Dynasty.
In another building commemorating the works of past presidents of Korea, paintings that show what they have achieved are hung on the wall. Statues of presidents are also scattered around the garden.
Getting to Cheongju takes less than two hours from Seoul City Hall in central Seoul by car. It is also easy to get to the city from neighboring Osong, through which the express KTX train runs, if you plan on renting a car there or use public transportation. Or you can choose to get on an express bus from the Express Bus Terminal in southern Seoul which will take you to Cheongju Bus Terminal. For more information about how to navigate within Korea, call the travel hotline at 1330.
BY LEE SUN-MIN [email@example.com]