The ride from Seoul to Suwon is roughly an hour long. Ben and I hopped on the subway after grabbing some Paris Baguette for breakfast and a Subway sandwich for a picnic lunch. It was about 11AM on Sunday morning by the time we arrived in Suwon. The guidebook said to get off at Suwon where we could walk to Hwaesong, aka “brilliant fortress.”
When I mentioned to my Korean coworkers that I was going to Hwaesong Suwon they were surprised I had even heard of it. Few of them had been there although those who had said it was a good trip. For the two of us it was as simple as looking in the guidebook under “day trips.”
The walk from the subway station to Hwaesong was longer than we expected but easy to follow. There were brown signs every few hundred meters to let us know we were going in the right direction. After about 30-40 minutes of walking we finally saw signs of the fortress. There were massive walls that led up a hill towards a casual gate with a road running through it. The forest erupted just past the gate and we continued our climb wandering up a trail through the trees. Walking parallel to the wall we eventually came across a path that led up to stone steps that watchmen patrolled a couple hundred years ago.
Stopping for a water break an a few pictures we realized that there were many more steps to go. The walls were interspersed with arrow slits and holes for rocks or cannons and the climb kept going. Before long we found ourselves at the top with a stupendous view of the city, a small pavilion and a crossbow tower. We snapped off a few photos before breaking for lunch in the shade.
After eating we continued along the wall passing a sign letting us know that we were about 12,000km from NYC before coming upon a marvelous bell. The thunderous toll from this intricately designed artifact had a beautiful display surrounding it with a giant log hanging for those who wished to ring it.
Most of this massive fortress was built in the late 1700’s under King Jeongjo and although most fights were likely with steel gunpowder was certainly in use. Further down we passed wooden cannon and arrow towers. The wall continued along with regularly placed slots for Korean warriors to attack their enemy while staying safe behind the walls. We caught a view of the training yard where he had his soldiers learning “24 martial arts.”
Stopping at another cannon tower Ben posed for a picture in front of the painted turret before starting our descent. The way down provided a great view of the city inside the walls of this brilliant fortress. We reflected on how the city has grown yet wondered how much there was actually a change in the life here in Suwon. Hwaesong was predominantly a training ground and holiday retreat for the royalty so the locals ran a bustling town inside these very walls hundreds of years ago.
Today we passed through the Paldalmun, or the South Gate, to find a town with a touristy market supplying all kinds of wares. There were restaurants, banks, clothing stores and a mini-mall with stalls selling everything you can imagine; the street vendors were happy to see us and one of them even posed for a picture.
We strolled through the bustling town on our way to the hanok in the center passing another fabulous bell before turning into the training grounds. In the yard we found metal figures inlaid into the tiled floor demonstrating positions with various weapons for the martial arts. As we got closer to the hanok we saw the remnants of a parade full of traditionally dressed Korean guards. We caught a few lucky glimpses as they exited the village.
Ben and I continued wandering through the town heading for the western gate. Walking down the narrow alleys we saw many modern homes and an absurd tire-man before coming to a green hill leading up to the rampart. Following the wall south we were greeted with a magnificent display at the Janganmun, the North gate to the city.
The massive entrance to Hwaesong was clearly refurbished with new wood and exterior paint but the inner decorations on the roof displayed colorful dragons keeping watch. We climbed the steps to the top of the wall to find a yin-yang painted on a doorway that was clearly made for someone shorter than us. Inside we found a semicircular protrusion of the wall from which they could bombard enemies who breached their first set of doors. Atop the wall we found a cannon facing an obstructed view of the hills due to the modern apartments.
Continuing along we quickly found ourselves looking at a sparkling river. Taking off our shoes shoes we entered the river-house along the wall and quickly found ourselves resting among the natives. After enjoying the picturesque view for a few moments we decided it was time to start our walk back to the subway.
Along the way we stopped at one more gate but unfortunately it was covered with a bleak facade for renovations. We continued catching up on brotherly things and enjoying a vigorous discussion on religion and politics during the remaining walk to the subway. Hwaesong Suwon certainly was a “brilliant fortress” and well worth it; I wholeheartedly recommend the day trip to anyone who has an extra day in Seoul!