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Tradition comes alive in the heart of Suwon: A quick trip from Seoul offers fun and tasty chicken

Dec 27,2019
A view of Hwaseong Fortress alongside modern buildings in Suwon. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Left: Performers demonstrate martial arts in front of Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, where King Jeongjo (1752-1800) used to stay. Right: A painting found at the Haenggung-dong Mural Village. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Two types of fried chicken available on Suwon’s chicken street. [LEE SUN-MIN]
SUWON, Gyeonggi - Most Seoul citizens rarely think of Suwon as a place to visit over the weekend simply because it is too close to the capital and a visit doesn’t feel like a grand getaway.

But don’t pass over the city just because it is close; it is a perfect place for a half-day trip from Seoul especially for foreign visitors who want to see remnants of traditional Korean life during a short trip. It should take about an hour by car to get to Suwon from central Seoul and a just little bit longer if you take the subway.

The city is known for its Unesco World Heritage site, the Hwaseong Fortress, which is easily viewed from any part of the city center.

The fortress was built in 1796 during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) under King Jeongjo (1752-1800) and is known for being the best use of construction technology of the time. Suwon is also known as the first preplanned and constructed city in Korea.

The city is one of the 10 regions the Korea Tourism Organization recommends to locals and international visitors.

Without providing an overly-detailed itinerary for what to do and what to eat in each region, the state-run travel agency gives rough explanations of what’s in each region so that travelers can set up the route they want to take. The 10 regions are spread out to cover the entire country.

Soon after the fortress was completed, King Jeongjo - who wanted to pay tribute to his father Crown Prince Sado (1735-62), who died after being ordered to be confined in a rice chest by his father King Yeongjo (1694-1776) - started to build a haenggung, a palace where the king stayed during his trips across the country.

During King Jeongjo’s visits to the city that is now known as Hwaseong, where his father is buried, the king always stayed in Hwaseong Haenggung Palace. He made 13 visits over 12 years from 1789 to 1800 and also held a party to celebrate the birthday of his mother as well.

To commemorate the king’s annual trip, the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival recreates the king’s visit to the haenggung every year. The festival is usually in October.

The haenggung was greatly damaged during Japanese colonial rule in the early 1900s. Then, some locals started to express interest in recovering cultural heritage in the 1980s, and the first round of the recovery project was completed and opened to the public in 2003.

The second round of the recovery project is scheduled to begin next year.

The fortress is usually not too crowded to walk around. If you walk slowly enough to check out every building, it should take about 30 minutes.

There are performances held outside the main gate throughout the week. Every morning from Tuesdays through Sundays, performers demonstrate the martial arts that soldiers at the time practiced to protect the palace and the fortress for about 30 minutes.

The performances are free, but admission to go inside the palace costs 1,500 won ($1.29) for adults, 1,000 won for soldiers and for those in between the ages of 13 and 19 and 700 won for children between the ages of 7 and 12. Anyone older than 65 with identification can enter for free. The fortress is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Since there have been many visits from foreign travelers, on-site tours are also possible for groups of at least four people. You can simply register at the Hwaseong Fortress tourism information desk and ask for a quick walking tour.

Afterwards, head over to Hwaseo Gate, where many people start their exploration of the fortress because it is easy to park your car nearby.

A light walk through the fortress is possible, and you will see the harmony between the traditional Korean-style architecture against the backdrop of modern buildings. After dark, many come back to take in a night view.

The city has become popular as a food destination as well after the success of the movie “Extreme Job,” which hit local theaters in January.

In the movie, the characters sell fried chicken called Suwon Wang Galbi Tongdak, which translates to fried and marinated large chicken from Suwon. Galbi, a term used to indicate marinated Korean barbecued meat, was never a popular sauce for fried chicken, but the movie inspired local chicken shops to add the galbi flavor to their menus.

Other fried chicken places that have been running for decades in the area have also gotten more spotlight with people who want to try the fried chicken.

The so-called Tongdak Street, which is dominated with fried chicken restaurants, has people lined up out the doors during lunch and dinner hours. Chicken joints here offer gizzard alongside fried chicken as well.

Need something a bit more artsy? There is the Haenggung-dong Mural Alley, where one can see old homes painted in vibrant colors. There are a number of cafes nearby for you to take a walk to and enjoy their caffeinated offerings.

Plan your daytime to walk around the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace or alongside the fortress, and then grab dinner and enjoy a light walk to appreciate the night view of the traditional Korean architecture before heading home.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

For more information about Hwaseong Fortress and Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, go to http://www.swcf.or.kr/english/ where you can also get details in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, or call (031) 290-3600.