Story and photos by Paulo Loreto Lim
On the latest journey to South Korea, after a previous visit to Busan and multiple trips to Seoul, thought about Incheon for the next daytrip. Having viewed videos online of people exploring the city’s Chinatown and various other sites, seemed like a good idea to see what was there beyond one of the world’s most magnificent airports.
Traveling to Incheon from Seoul is very simple – the two subway systems are linked!
Starting at Seoul Station, the 1-line takes passengers to, essentially, the next-door neighbor. The line, however, does split as the train originating from Seoul Station is bound for Sinchang. Luckily, there are announcements to inform Incheon-bound passengers to transfer at Guro; from there, Incheon is the last stop on the line.
Getting out at Incheon Station, one immediately notices the impressive façade of Incheon’s Chinatown, which dates back to the 1800s. Also sitting in front of the station is an information booth, something that is never taken for granted given other locales that aren’t as “tourist-friendly.” Stepped inside and there were numerous brochures and maps in a variety of languages (accessing information is something Korea does very well).
Crossing the street and walking through the colorful and ornate gate, visitors are greeted by a steep street. Visiting on a morning in March, the streets were fairly desolate as it was chilly, windy, and a workday. Trekked up the street and found lines of stands selling different kinds of Chinese snacks, including mooncakes and gonggal-ppang, or “balloon bread,” which is a very firm roll that is hollow inside (the vendors offered plenty of samples).
From then on it was a matter of wandering the neighborhood. There were several historical markings to peruse and, even without the map from the information booth, Chinatown had several maps posted all over in order to get an idea of where one was standing.
After walking up a few more steep inclines, ended up at Jayu Park, or the Park of Freedom, which offers a nice walking path and great views of the port area. However, the main reason for the visit was to see the statue of American General Douglas MacArthur, who led the Incheon landing during the Korean War; the same MacArthur that led the war effort in the Philippines during World War II.
Before leaving Chinatown, there was one more spot that deserved a visit: the Jjajangmyeon Museum. Jjajangmyeon is a popular dish of noodles in black bean sauce that has its origins from Chinese immigrants who settled in Incheon. The museum is located at the site of one of the first jjajangmyeon restaurants in the city. On that day, was informed it was a cultural day and admission was free. The museum is small and presents the evolution of jjajangmyeon from a dish enjoyed by migrant laborers to becoming one of the most popular takeout items in the country, along with a display of the countless instant varieties.
Incheon Station provides a link to the Suin Line, which is part of the Seoul Metropolitan Subway; the line connects Incheon Station, which is at the end of the 1-line, to Oido, which is at the end of the 4-line. The Suin Line also connects to the Incheon Subway at Woninjae, from there, one can board Incheon Line-1.
On this trip, took the train towards Songdo Central Park.
Getting out at Central Park Station, one is greeted by the massive Tri-Bowl Culture and Arts Center. While closed at the time, the unique structure, which is run by the Incheon Foundation for Arts and Culture, features a concert hall inside and is used to host performances, educational activities, and exhibitions. Walking along the path takes visitors deeper into Songdo Central Park, which is modeled after New York City’s Central Park. On warmer days, there is a water taxi where one can tour the man-made waterway.
A short walk from the park is the NC Cube Canal Walk, an expansive shopping center that spans across several city blocks. While unaware of what the area is like at night or on the weekends, during a random workday, the place is pretty desolate. However, several K-dramas have filmed scenes at the mall including KBS2’s “Are You Human?,” starring Seo Kang-jun; tvN’s “Cheese in the Trap,” starring Kim Go-eun; and JTBC’s “Clean with Passion for Now.”
Getting back on the subway, took the train to Bupyeong Station, which provides a connection to the 1-line and a link to Seoul, but before boarding the train back, Bupyeong Station is home to Bupyeong Modoo Mall, a massive underground shopping center. Stores of all varieties have set up there, from recognizable beauty stores to accessories to vendors selling local crafts – and food.
Once wrapped in Incheon, it’s a simple trip back on the 1-line and to Seoul Station./WDJ