Trip to Cheonan
By Micky Miranda
If you have been in Korea for an extended period of time, then you know February is a month of endings and beginnings. It is the month of change. February is a time when Korea always sees an exodus and influx of expats. A friend of mine had been in Cheonan for three years. His stay was coming to an end, and so I decided to visit him one last time.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cheonan, it is a city that is about 82 kilometers south of Seoul. You could say it is a transportation hub as it lies on one of Korea's major highways. As such, there are plenty of transportation options for those curious in making the trip there (bus, subway, train, KTX).
Cheonan is a sleepy city, although it boasts a population of around 600,000. Since it is a transportation hub, a lot of big corporations have warehouses on the outskirts of the city and offices within the city.
My Trip to Cheonan Begins
I woke up Saturday morning, had a quick breakfast, and headed over to Express Bus Terminal. I got into the bus terminal, found a ticket counter, and bought my ticket for 5,000 won. Five minutes later, I was on a bus and on my way.
My friends and I had decided to meet up at noon, and as there was little traffic, I was going to have plenty of time to spare. I decided to kick back and relax on my bus which exceeded expectations.
There was hardwood flooring, pleather seats, and an LCD TV in the front. The only thing missing was a bathroom. I put on some **live NBA action**, and before I knew it, I was in Cheonan.
**(Tip: Get a sports league pass for traveling across the country. It helps to pass the time.)**
I got off the bus and walked out of the bus terminal. I found myself in 'downtown' Cheonan. There were the standard Shinsegae department store, coffee shops, and ubiquitous big-box stores such as E-Mart.
As soon as my friend and a few other buddies showed up, we got a bite to eat from the food court in the nearby mall. We thought about eating with style in the classier restaurants at the top of Shinsegae department store, but in the end we settled for the commoner's food. After filling our bellies, we headed to Taejaksan for an afternoon of hiking.
From the bus stop in front of Shinsegae, we took Bus 52. It took us to Taejaksan Park which was about 17 stops away.
Honestly, I wasn't expecting too much from the mountain. The peak is only 421 meters high. How can a mountain that low be any good? Anyways, my buddy wanted to check it off his Cheonan bucket list, and I love hiking, so we decided to see what it was all about.
We started the hike from the aforementioned park. The park could have been a pleasant final destination in and of itself. It had a nice little pond with a few ducks. Along the trail in the park, we also saw various sculptures and military hardware.
Once we passed the military hardware, the path deposited us at the base of the mountain. We thought that since it was such a small mountain, we'd veer off the beaten path. Instead of hiking straight along the path, we went to the right.
As we were hiking, we passed a very old playground. However, that wasn't the highlight. Shortly afterwards, we discovered an old, rope suspension bridge. A monkey bridge. There was a net underneath to catch those who fell. There was no real need to cross the suspension bridge except for the thrill. The middle of the bridge provided a nice dose of adrenaline as it acts as though it is going to fall apart at any minute. Two of my friends ducked out, but the rest of us crossed it with ease.
We continued up the mountain, but again, making our own path. It was an enjoyable hike. The ground was covered with leaves. There were very few hikers in sight, and not a sound could be heard except for our footsteps and voices.
Once we reached the mountain ridge, we had a choice to make. We could either continue towards the peak or head towards the big Buddha. We opted for the Buddha. I HATE hiking mountains and not reaching the peak, but I was outvoted.
As we headed toward the big Buddha, we passed a cave. I was a bit apprehensive about exploring the cave, but two of my cohorts proved to be braver. They went in and told me to come in with my flashlight (cellphone light).
The cave was an amazing site in itself. It was clearly man-made, but it was deep. Fifty meters in, the cave dipped and we could see bats sleeping near the roof. We decided we had gone deep enough. Our cellphone lights weren't powerful enough, and we didn't know how extreme the dip would be. For those of you interested in exploring this cave, be sure to bring some powerful flashlights. Also, don't try to wake the bats or disturb the Batman.
After we passed the cave, we went through "Inuksuk City". There must have been over twenty Inuksuks ov varying sizes. Then it was on to the big Buddha.
I hadn't been looking forward to the big Buddha too much. There are plenty of big Buddhas in Korea. However, this one was truly a sight to behold. The temple setting along with the sheer size of the Buddha made for quite a sight. I also didn't have high expectations, which always helps.
Back To Town
We continued down the stairs and walked straight past a lake. There was a bus stop shortly past the lake. Bus 24 is the only bus that stops there, so we naturally took that one.
On our way back into town, we stopped to get some Indian/Nepalese food from Kali. The food was great. It came out piping hot and had a fair bit of spice. To top off the great meal, we got some complimentary chai (tea) at the end.
We jumped in a cab and headed over to my friend's place in Dujeong-dong. There is a reason he decided to live in Dujeong-dong, and it has to do with the nightlife.
Dujeong-dong is the bar/streetfood/nightlife center of Cheonan. We freshened up, knocked back a few shots of Jameson, and headed out for the night.
Our first stop was Tap Five. It is a relatively new bar in Cheonan and was a great place to start the night. As you may have guessed, they had five beers on tap: a pilsner, a stout, an IPA, a wheat beer, and a pale ale.
After a few drinks, we walked on over to Temple Street, a modern bar with a glow-in-the-dark bowling alley. After having a few rounds there, it was time to go and watch some soccer.
World Beer Outlet Barket ended up being our bar of choice. We spent a few hours there watching football, playing darts, and hanging out with the fellow expats. Once the game wrapped up, we decided to burn off some steam at Salt. It is a local nightclub with a 10,000 won cover charge. The music wasn't bad, but drinks had to be bought in a separate "bar" room. What the?!?!?
The Next Morning
The next morning, I woke up and made my way to the bus terminal. On the way there, I stopped at Cheonan's hidden gem: Ebony and Ivory. It is not a shop that promotes racial harmony. It is actually one of the best English bookstores in all of Korea.
There were books in other languages, but the selection wasn't as big. The store is very cozy and the service is great.
Definitely stop by if you are in Cheonan. To find the shop, walk out of the bus terminal and take a right. Walk along the main street for about 3 to 5 minutes. Ebony and Ivory will be on your right.
After buying my books, it was time to say goodbye. We hugged it out and went our separate ways. I easily found a bus for Seoul and read one of my new books on the ride back.
The End...The Beginning
It had been two years since I had been to Cheonan, and I regretted waiting so long between visits. Although Cheonan is a city of 600,000, it has a sleepiness and intimacy that is missing in Seoul. Sadly, my friend will be missed. However, since it is Korea, new friends will soon arrive, at which point new cities and locales will need to be explored.