Discovering the charm of Chungju
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Author's Note: This is the eleventh in a series of articles about recreational travel opportunities for service members stationed in South Korea. Each article will highlight a specific South Korean destination, attraction, or event within the authorized travelling distance for U.S. forces in country. The aim of this series is to encourage everyone to safely and enthusiastically explore their surroundings, develop an appreciation for the history, culture, and customs of their host nation, as well as showcase the diverse activities available to service members, and their families, near and far, while stationed in the Republic of Korea. Concluding each article will be an approximation of how much money and time are required for each destination, attraction or event, as well as directions and amount of physical activity required. Many opportunities to travel in groups are available through the base's Information, Tickets and Travel office as well as Outdoor Recreation.
Sometimes opportunities present themselves to you by chance. As a restless traveler, I have a long list of desired destinations for my tour in Korea. Chungju, a small city in the North Chungcheong province, Republic of Korea, wasn't one of them. I probably wouldn't have even heard of it had I not stopped to chat with a ROK Airman during a photo shoot this March, who recommended the city to me and even offered to show me around.
Having good experiences with Korean hospitality while traveling, I took my new friend up on this offer, and spent a weekend getting a first-hand tour of Chungju with my wife in July. We got a chance to learn about the city as well as compare and contrast our Western cultural identity and experiences with the Eastern ones of our friend.
Chungju is easily accessible from Osan Air Base. Buses run several times a day from the nearby Songtan Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride takes approximately 2.5 hours, and costs W10,400 per person. Lodging is easily available in Chungju as well, from as little as W40,000 per night for basic motels to upward of W160,000 or more for full service hotels. There's no guarantee that everyone at the hotel you stay at will speak fluent or idiomatic English. I recommend coming equipped with a phrase book or dictionary in order to communicate a request. Another tip that's helped me is pruning my vocabulary and speaking in slow, short and simple sentences when trying to talk to someone with limited English. As always, it's best to remember to be polite and understanding, most people are going to want to help you, but communicating without the aid of language is difficult.
Our new friend and tour guide took us to a lot of outdoor locations around town. The city is renowned for its martial arts festival and for hosting the Worldwide Rowing Championship, so we visited a number of small, historical museums, which gave us a glimpse of the cultural components that made up Chungju and also learned more about the history of Korea in the process.
We learned how the modern day peninsula of Korea was once divided into three war-waging countries: Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. Chungju was an oft-contested city among the separate states, due both to its geographical location near-center of the peninsula and its abundant natural resource: steel. Famed for its ability to produce the best steel, essential for the large and mobile armies of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla, Chungju and its materials were a coveted resource in ancient times.
We also went to some of the many outdoor parks and saw some rowers practicing for competition, but the real pleasure of the trip was being able to get a first-hand tour from a local native.
Our personal tour guide was able to give us greater insight into the places we went, as well as direct us in trying out new food. For dinner Saturday night, we had Shabu-Shabu, a traditional Japanese dish, wherein vegetables and thin-sliced beef is cooked at the table in a boiling pot of water, along with other spices. We talked over dinner, exchanging our personal and cultural histories, covering a variety of topics from social etiquette to linguistic slang and idioms.
As a ROK Air Force Firefighter, my friend told us about how he's leaving for America in August for training and was obviously nervous about his English skills and how well they'll carry him in an unfamiliar country. We were able to help each other out in both ways in that regard, trying to teach him some common slang and accents common in Texas.
On Sunday we spent the day outside by the mountains, resting by the riverside and having some fun under a local waterfall before heading home. Unfortunately the 6:50 p.m. bus to Songtan from Chungju sold out, so we had to reroute through Seoul to get back home, making our journey slightly longer.
Chungju is a smaller city in Korea, but still has interesting asides to offer travelers. People fascinated by martial arts could do well to catch their gigantic exhibition and festival in October. However, the best part about traveling for me are the surprises and unexpected treasures you come upon. Had I not taken the time to say hello and ask a few questions to a person I was photographing in March, I might never have seen Chungju, learned its history or gotten to see a perspective of Korean culture in such a personal way. These are the reasons I love to travel, Chungju, or anywhere else, the experience and the knowledge gained is immeasurable.
Directions: Bus runs directly from Songtan Intercity Bus Terminal to Chungju. Additionally, bus connections are available in multiple Seoul bus terminals.
Cost: W20,800 round trip per person. Lodging and food varies, but motels are available from about W40,000 per night.
Time: A whole day trip or longer since it takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach by bus.
Documentation required: No ID required.
Who it's for: Camping and hiking fans. Also fruit enthusiasts who want to try the areas famous apples. Additionally, Chungju holds speed-rowing and martial arts tournaments during the year.
Activity required: As much as you'd like. A majority of the attractions involve light to strenuous walking and outdoor travelling, so it's for the moderately active.
What to travel with: Any overnight clothes and hiking gear if you plan on making a long trip. Make sure to take your SOFA and ID card as well as a functioning cellular phone. As always, when traveling, groups are preferable, but make sure to notify your supervisor and chain of command where you intend to go. The rest is a matter of preference and time, so enjoy.