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Five walks along a river of dreams

2011/09/20 | 288 views |  | Permalink | Source

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Visitors relax and watch the sunset on the walkway beneath Gwangjin Bridge along the Han River in northeastern Seoul. By Kim Seong-ryong

While I was vacationing in London this summer, enjoying some free time near the River Thames, I couldn't help but think of the Han River.

Although many cities have a river running through them, it's rare to see one with such a great volume of water and clarity as the Han. Walking along the Thames, I noticed rows of grand old buildings and world-renowned galleries lining the streets nearby amidst large crowds of visitors, but compared to the Han River, the Thames looked rather small.

However, the fact that the Thames is such an integral part in the lifestyle of Londoners, and that it is in such an accessible part of the city, is one thing I admired about it. Everywhere I looked, Londoners and tourists were walking along the river, enjoying their leisure time and looking happy.

The Han River on the other hand, symbolizes economic development for Koreans. Until quite recently, it was quite difficult to imagine that you could actually enjoy walking along its banks. The facilities near the river and its bridges were there for function only, for transportation and to prevent flooding.

In recent years, however, the tides have turned and the Han is now a part of the Seoul experience. Residents go there to enjoy various cultural activities or just to walk or bicycle along the newly-paved pathways.

In honor of autumn, I've chosen five of the most popular walking courses along the Han River for you to enjoy.

Left: The Yongsan Water Level Observatory on Course 1 is still one of the city's oldest monuments. Right: Gangseo Ecological Wetland Park on Course 2 has an observatory from which you can see the tidal currents on the Han.

Course 1
Mapo Terminal IC to Seongsan IC (4.8 km)

This course includes a number of historic attractions along its path. The course begins near Mapo Station, line No. 5, exit 4. From the exit, walk approximately 10 minutes until you reach Mapo terminal. While you are walking, you will see Bam Island and Yeouido on the left.

After walking for a while, I arrived at Mapo ferry, known as a salt trading center during the 1940s.

As soon as I looked over at Wonhyo Bridge, I saw Yongsan Water Level Observatory, a white lighthouse that is also city monument No. 18, as designated by the city government. Built in 1924, it was the ninth water level observatory built in Korea. The observatory is no longer functional but is still one of the city's oldest monuments.

By the time I passed Seogang Bridge and arrived near Yanghwa Bridge, Jeoldu Mountain appeared in the distance. The name of the mountain, which means "cutting off the head", originates from its history during the 19th century. In 1866, during the Byeongin Catholic Persecution, Catholics from all over Korea were brought to this mountain and their heads were cut off.

Thinking back to that tragedy, I looked up at the rocky mountain for quite some time in solemnity. The Martyrs Memorial Park and Martyrdom Museum are there on the mountain. The quiet trail through the mountain is connected to Seongsan Interchange and from there, you can reach Sinchon Station, line No. 2, by taking Mapo village bus No. 9.

Course 2
Guam IC to Junggok IC (3.4 km)

This course, which runs through Deogyang Mountain and Bukhan Mountain, is like a rural town within the city and offers a scenic walk through nature. Amidst the smell of grass and the sound of small insects, I felt lighter and lighter as I walked.

When I arrived at Gangseo Ecological Wetland Park, toward the end of the course, I almost forgot the fact that I was in Seoul. After passing the wetlands, with its fields of reeds and willow trees, an observatory appears, from which you can see the tidal currents on the Han. You can borrow binoculars from the information center on the second floor of the observatory if you bring your identification card along with you.

From Gayang Station, line No. 9, exit 1, go straight and turn right at Gayang intersection. Then, pass Guam Park until you see the stairs connected to Guam Interchange. To go back, go to Junggok Interchange right next to Gangseo Ecological Wetland Park, and ride Gangseo village bus No. 6 to go to Banghwa Station, line No. 5, which is 3 stops away.


Left: The Gangbyeon Interchange on Course 3 leads to the scenic Nakcheonjung pavilion. Right: The walls of Apgujeong Interchange on Course 4 are full of colorful graffiti.

Course 3
Gangbyeon IC to Nakcheonjung IC (1.3 km)

Following the advice of Yoon Jin-hwa, head operations manager of the Han River, I took this course close to sunset.

"This course is a best kept secret offering the best view of the sunset on Han River", Yoon said.

From Gangbyeon Station, line No. 2, exit 4, walk toward Jayang Hanyang apartments for about 10 minutes until you see Gangbyeon Interchange.

As I walked along Ganbyeon Interchange, I noticed that the sunset had turned the river a luminescent orange. I stopped several times while I was walking to watch the sunset and smell the pungent fragrance of lilacs. Walking this way, it took me more than 30 minutes to get to Nakcheonjung Interchange, which is around 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) away from Ganbyeon Interchange.

There I found Nakcheonjung Pavilion, which was built in 1419 for King Taejong, the third king of the Joseon Dynasty. The current pavilion was built in 1991 after the original was destroyed.

To catch the subway from Nakcheonjung Interchange, take Gwangjin village bus No. 5 and get off at Konkuk University Station, line No. 2 or 7.

Course 4
Apgujeong IC to Cheongdam IC (2.5 km)

Apgujeong Interchange is located behind Hanyang 8-cha apartments in Apgujeong-dong. When I walked into the dark, narrow entrance to the tunnel, I walked carefully, thinking some wildcats might appear. Instead, I encountered some fascinating graffiti.

The walls alongside the interchange are over 100 meters long and covered with images of hip-hop musicians, DJs and a tiger with laser beams shooting from its eyes. At the end of the interchange, a quiet walking trail appears. The trail is a popular path for joggers.

One thing that I found inconvenient about this course was that there wasn't a single store on the trail, so I had to wait for 30 minutes until I reached Cheongdam Station to get water. If you take this course, be sure to take some water with you.

It takes around 10 minutes to walk from Cheongdam Interchange to Cheongdam Station, line No. 7.

Course 5
Jamsil IC to Sports Complex IC (2.5 km)


The Jamsil Han Ecological park on Course 5 is small but contains an abundance of facilities for visitors.

This is a good course to take with kids. From Jamsil Station, line No. 2, exit 6, walk straight until you pass Jamsil Interchange. Walk for about 5 more minutes in the direction of Jamsil Bridge and there you will find a "fish trail". The fish trail is an ecological passageway allowing fish to swim upstream. The trail includes an observatory where passersby can watch the fish swim by.

The river course takes you to Jamsil Han Ecological Park, which has a small botanical park where you can see wild flowers, crops and fish.

There, I saw purple plantain lilies and rugosa roses, which are said to contain more vitamin C per ounce than lemons. After I looked around the garden, I took a break in a Korean-style hut and enjoyed the autumn breeze.

From Sports Complex Interchange at the end of the course, it takes approximately 15 minutes to get to Sports Complex Station, line No. 2.

By Yoon Seo-hyun

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