On a semi-chilly day roughly two weeks ago my boyfriend and I went on a short city getaway trip to the Jeollanam-do area. While the trip was just only for a day only I am glad that we got to enjoy most of what Suncheon had to offer.
We decided to travel by ITX-새마을(a Korail train) on an early Monday morning from the Suwon train station down to Suncheon. The total time by train was roughly 4 hours(*with multiple stops in-between). Since it was an early commute we decided to sleep for a little after eating some convenience store food and planning out what sites to visit once we arrived. My boyfriend and I knew that the first place on our list to visit would be Suncheon’s Open Film Location(순천 드라마 촬영장), also commonly known as Drama Town by the locals. A well-known and popular tourist attraction on weekends Suncheon’s Open Film Location stands alone as a one of a kind drama town split into three decade periods. Upon visiting each decade visitors can walk up to, go into, and take pictures with historic re-make houses, shops, restaurants, a school-house, music/ movie halls, and villages from Korea’s 1960s, 70s, and 80s era.
Being big history buffs I knew that my boyfriend would enjoy walking around the town and exploring. However, since visiting the Open Film Location was a request of mine I provided suggestions of other areas in Suncheon that he might like to check out as well. Since he had visited Suncheon in the past before my boyfriend was open to anyplace new, which led to our decision to later tour the Suncheonman Bay Nation Gardens(순천만국가정원).
Upon arrival in Suncheon we briefly walked around the station area before deciding on having lunch a local restaurant. Since we were visiting Jeolla-province I requested to have bibimbap(비빔밥) while my boyfriend had galbitang(갈비탕), which were both delicious and each hit the spot in our stomachs after our long commute. During our lunch my presence happened to catch the eye of some elder Korean men, which led to them switching tables to sit closer to me and my boyfriend. It wasn’t too bothersome for me since foreigner presence in Suncheon is much lower than bigger cities. However, upon leaving to catch a taxi to the Film Location I was surprised when another elder Korean man walked straight up to us and inquired about my stay in Korea, among other things (*some personal). I felt a little flustered after answering back using formal Korean jondaemal(*formal speech used for those older than oneself) when my boyfriend chimed in and kindly told the man we had to leave.
After having a long laugh in the taxi, I still felt bothered by the men’s questions only to receive new questions from our taxi driver. To disclose some questions asked, many entailed – my age, why I was not yet married, and when would I be having children. My boyfriend found the questions non-obtrusive, but understood that I was being viewed as marriage-ready due to my age. In Korea, among many other countries women tend to marry in their mid-twenties. However, once what was the norm has slowly been changing and many female Korean friends of mine now in their 30s are waiting until the right time for marriage, as are me and my boyfriend. So, not too surprisingly, my boyfriend provided the same answers to our taxi driver who was quite happy to have a foreign female as a passenger, and learn more about me.
Upon arriving outside of the Film Location we thanked our taxi driver and went to the gate to purchase entry passes. Since it was a Monday afternoon we were lucky because there were no big crowds or foreign tour groups. After purchasing the tickets me and my boyfriend posed outside the entrance before making our way inside. As soon as we entered we felt like we had time-wrapped into the past, standing before us were buildings with a 1980s design with 80s music playing overhead. Taking a looking at the guide map we decided to stroll through 80s main street and turn into the 60s neighborhood.
After passing by a 80s music hall playing Robert Palmer’s Bad Case of Loving You song me and my boyfriend turned toward the 60s neighborhood. Once we arrived the architecture of the houses, buildings, restaurants changed from concrete to wood shacks, wooded bridges, and tin-like roofs covering the tops. For those who do not know much about South Korean history after the Korean War (1950-53) many refugees and destitute citizens flocked to the capital area for a better life. Having nothing these people made homes out of basic materials. Many of these makeshift villages once lined Seoul’s well-known Cheonggyecheon stream or filled the hillsides of modern residential areas today. Seeing how homes looked like in the past brought to light how much the country has grown and developed.
Walking through the 60s my boyfriend and I stumbled upon an opened 60s style snack vendor shop that was teaching patrons about an old street food snack that many older generation Koreans use to eat when children called Bbopgi(뽑기). Wanting to try some ourselves we paid just 1,000won(around 60cents) for a quick lesson and left with the melted sugar delight. After checking out some empty buildings we strolled back to the 80s area where visitors could rent old-fashion school uniforms and role-play classic Korean dramas like Reply 1988. Uniform rentals for both a male & female was only 2,000won (around $1.50USD). After paying the rental fee me and my boyfriend were shown the uniform selection. Picking out a matching set we went to the gender separate dressing rooms. I was quite surprised upon entering the female dressing room to see that the young ladies who also rented a uniform brought with them specific time-matching accessories to achieve a real 1970s or 80s look.
My boyfriend and I hardly recognized each other when we met outside. After storing our coats and bags away at a coin locker we set out like everyone else to take some memorable pictures of us in the 80s era. I was happy to see so many groups of people offering to take pictures of one another since everyone wanted iconic shots next to large-scale buildings. After having our photo taken at the movie hall we thanked our photographer and decided to head north to tour the Film Locations ‘Moon Village’ (달동네). Moon villages, as somewhat described were villages perched on high hilltops extending out and visibly basked in moonlight at night. These villages were areas where the poorest people lived. Some moon villages still exist today, very few exist in Seoul with the demolition of these villages for condos, apartment complexes, and businesses.
Touring the moon village was the best part of Film Location for me and my boyfriend. We loved the view of the surrounding Suncheon area, and the feeling of seeing what life was like for those who lived in hanok-style hill-top villages and knew all their neighbors due to their close proximity and shared living conditions. Taking some pictures together inside and outside of some of the moon village homes we headed back down to the 80s era and ended our time by visiting the 80s music hall where the music we had first heard when arriving was echoing from. Inside the music hall we were stunned to see a disco ball with flashing lights and no one present on the dance-floor. Having the place all to ourselves I danced a little for my boyfriend and then challenged him to a dance off, which we both recorded(*I think our 80s dance moves were pretty good).
After leaving the music hall we retrieved our belongings from the outside lockers and went into the 80s style school-house to change back into our 21st century clothes. Meeting up inside we looked at the display of visitor pictures taken over the years, took some pictures of the school house, and headed out. After leaving the Film Location we moved on via taxi to our next and last location for the day: Suncheonman Bay Nation Gardens(순천만국가정원). By this time is was nearing 4 o’clock so we knew we’d only have a few hours of daylight to walk around before the evening. Upon arriving at the Bay Gardens gate, we purchased our tickets, and went inside.
Once inside me and my boyfriend were awestruck by how vast the world gardens zone was. There was so much green, so much water, and so many pathways that you could start on or end with. Deciding to go either left or right we went left. As we began our stroll my eyes were fixated on the water or man-made lake inside the gardens. Taking some pictures by the water we entered into the international garden area and were able to see a few that seemed worth touring in mid-winter. Afterwards we stumbled across a Metasequoia tree grove strikingly similar to the tree path on Nami Island.
After an hour or so of walking we found ourselves in the middle of the gardens at the bottom of some man-made swirling hills. My boyfriend and I dared to climb up while everyone was climbing down due to it being a little windy. But, we still climbed. In the end it paid off with a beautiful panoramic view of the entire world gardens zone from all sides. Taking pictures we raced each other to the bottom trying not to fall and continued walking to tour the next side we did not yet see due to choosing to go left in the beginning.
At the Bay Gardens I let my boyfriend lead the way since I was the one who had led us around the Film Location. He enjoyed walking around the international gardens, and wanted to visit another wonderful location with me. Not reading the guide map I followed him as my guide. Though I talk a lot about my boyfriend I never mentioned that he majored in tourism & management in college, so naturally he was enthusiatic to visit a new tourist location and be the one to give a tour for me. Our next stop within the Bay Gardens was Suncheon’s Dream Bridge. The Dream Bridge is a permanent exhibition piece, made up of the hand-drawn dreams of Korean children that connects the world gardens zone to the Bay Gardens Arboretum and Wetlands Center Zone.
Touring Dream Bridge we crossed over into the Wetlands Center Zone area. Strolling past a lake full of ducks & swans and watching the sun set we started to make our way out. After being outside most of the day we were starting to feel winter’s chill, so we stopped along the way for some warm Bungeoppang (붕어빵), (*a Korean fish shaped snack with cream, bean, or other type of filling inside). I was quite surprised to find out that the vendor was selling Bungeoppang with a pizza filling option. My boyfriend chose the pizza one to try while I chose the red-bean paste flavor. After our quick bite, we made one final stop at the Bay Gardens gift-shop and then left the gardens for the Suncheon city’s central area for dinner.
Our time in Suncheon seemed to go quite slow, which is just the way we like to travel. I was happy that our 1 day, 1 night trip went as smoothly as we hoped. While the trip down to Suncheon was planned it had remained unscheduled for some days while we were enjoying our time back up in the Seoul area. Looking back me and my boyfriend traveled all over the peninsula this time around, exploring many new parts of the country together. As we continue to cross off new places in our travel book I look forward to sharing our memorable experiences as a part of a new K-Travel series I plan to start.
Have you been on a trip recently? Where did you go? What did you do? Was it planned a head of time like ours or spontaneous?