SUWON, Gyeonggi Province — Trekked up Bukhansan? Check. Walked the Han? Been there, done that, too. If you’ve already checked off your day trips in Seoul over the past few sunny Sundays, hop down to Suwon, an interesting place packed with rich historical sites just an hour train ride from Seoul.
Hwaseong Fortress, the rolling, 20-foot-high wall that surrounds central Suwon, is over 200 years old. While it’s not as old as some of the more popular historic sites around Korea, hiking along the three-and-a-half-mile perimeter can be a pleasant way to spend a Sunday.
On a recent Sunday, I started at the base, Hwaseong Haengung, just as the sun was setting. I wanted to check out both day and night views of the city, so dusk was the perfect time to go. The trek up the stairs to the top of the hill is quite a hike. Only at the top was I able to really relax and take in the scenery and sunset. Not 40 minutes prior, I had been navigating my way through the streets riddled with Paris Baguettes, banks, kimbap restaurants and coffee shops. Here I was at the top of a massive fortress with a humbling view of Suwon down below.
Not many people were at the top, so I relaxed and quietly enjoyed the scene in solitude. After that I scooted down the stairs to visit the various historical landmarks. During the day, a trolley brings passengers around the wall until 5:30 p.m. But at this hour, my only option was to hoof it.
Most of the landmarks have English inscriptions, including the archery pit that is, not surprisingly, only open to the public during daylight hours.
I meandered next to the wall for 90 minutes, encountering a few characters along the way. Elderly couple ss exercised in near pitch black darkness at more than one spot. I also happened to see one man hunched over on a bench, quite possibly deceased.
All this walking made me hungry and thirsty, and I was in the mood for some of Suwon’s famous “sutbul” galbi with, of course, a little soju to wash it down.
Sutbul galbi was first created in Suwon, and although it has made its way around the Korean peninsula over the years, there are some nationally famous restaurants which prepare it the way it’s always been done: roasted over charcoal.
I descended the wall via the Jidong Market, a maze of little alleys and roads filled with fresh meat and foods from around the country. I passed butchered pigs’ heads on display in a shop front and tons of market food, but no real restaurants serving Suwon’s famous galbi.
I stumbled across a sex shop that was as big as the average Korean bathroom. I decided to check it out for fun, and the sweet little lady inside gave me great directions to Hwaseong Sutbul Galbi, just around the corner from her shop.
It was immediately clear that the multiple-level restaurant was the kind I was looking for. The place was huge, the waitresses wore matching outfits, and the room was filled with that friendly, culturally rich Korean atmosphere.
The food was delicious, as expected. It’s served with tons of side dishes and the kimchi was the freshest I have ever eaten. And although you have to sit on the floor, it is a big enough restaurant that you can sprawl out and shift as much as you want without ever having your butt or feet or legs falling asleep.
After stuffing my face with pork, the waitress brought some “suh-bis-uh” (Konglish for complimentary service) noodles at the end of the meal. I treated myself to some more soju (I felt I had deserved it, after all), paid the bill and left feeling very pleased.
Directions: Simply head south on Subway Line 1 and get off in Suwon.