Photos by Chihon Kim
Photos by Chihon Kim

History, architecture and lots of food at Incheon’s Chinatown

by Chihon Kim
Stripes Korea

If you’re looking for a nice daytrip or craving some Chinese food, Incheon’s colorful Chinatown is the place to go. Centered in an old port area, the district is full of red and gold buildings nestled on a steep slope with lots of narrow streets to explore. Just about every turn features a slew of Chinese restaurants serving localized dishes, but it is the history of the area that is intriguing. It is host to several museums offering a glimpse into Korea-China relations and heritage. The area also offers many places to explore with your family, including buildings with architecture from the Japanese colonial period which lasted from 1910 to 1945. Even if history is not your thing, a pair of good walking shoes are necessary to explore everything Incheon Chinatown has to offer.

Samgukji Mural Street

One of Chinatown’s most popular attractions, Samgukji Mural Street is located at the top of the stairs between the Qing and Japanese settlements. The street is a 150-meter-long stretch of road which boasts a colorful display of murals depicting the classic novel of China’s three kingdoms, called Samgukji in Korea, glazed into the tiles on the walls. The story is written in Chinese and Korean, but the paintings are worth a look and are a great photo op.

Stairs between Qing and Japanese

At the end of Samgukji Mural street, check out the stairway that dates to the Japanese colonial period. View the different architectural styles on either side dividing the Japanese and Chinese concession of 1880 from the top of the stairs.  The two stone lanterns at the entrance of stairs leading to a statue of Confucius, represent the Japanese style on the right and the Chinese style on the left.

Jajangmyeon Museum

History buffs will want in on the all-in-one admission ticket offering access to the Jajangmyeon Museum, Incheon Open Port Modern Architecture Museum and Incheon Open Port Museum. The buildings housing the museums were once used as banks and are prime examples of Japanese architecture and how Chinatown offers a blend of Chinese culture, Korea’s modern history and splashes of Japanese colonial architecture.

Jajangmyeon (noodles with black bean sauce) is undoubtedly one of Korea’s most favorite dishes, and the museum is one of my favorite places. The museum building is located in the same spot where the dish was first introduced and is a love letter to Korea’s beloved black bean noodle dish. Learn about its rich history and how Chinese laborers working in the port brought this dish to the country.

Jayu Park
(Jayu gongwon)

A short walk from the staircase will lead you to Jayu Park, also known as Freedom Park, where you can get a panoramic view of the ocean, old port and Incheon city. Here, you will find the statue of General MacArthur, who led the allied Incheon Amphibious Landing Operation during the Korean War.

Fairytale Village

On your walk of Chinatown, you may find yourself making a turn and stumbling upon Fairytale Village, a neighborhood made to be photographed. Mostly a kids’ attraction, this area heavy on bright, pastel-colored buildings, murals and life-sized cartoon characters, is also for the young at heart. Take a selfie with Pinocchio, Cinderella or Alice in Wonderland. The homes and streets here are made to make you feel like you’re in a childhood story book. Best of all, there is no entrance fee, so spend as much time exploring the area and taking photos as you’d like. Though Fairytale Village is a tourist attraction, people do live here, so please be respectful and remember to keep your voice down.

Wiseondang

At this small Chinese temple dating back to 1893, visitors can take in the colorful murals on the yellow exterior walls. You can also enjoy the quiet surroundings and look up to see the dragons on top of the golden tiled roof and the architecture that is quite different from Korean temples.

Chinatown: Foodies rejoice!

RESTAURANT
- Jin Heung Gak

No visit to Chinatown would be complete without sampling Chinese food. Probably the most famous restaurant among tourists in the area is the new Gonghwachun, the original Jajangmyeon maker. Take note, however, that many locals say the new location isn’t as good as the old one and lines to get a seat can get pretty long. Jin Heung Gak, another local favorite, serves up Jajangmyeon and sweet and sour pork. The restaurant also serves Jjambbong, a Korean spicy noodle soup that is very common in Korea. At Jin Heung Gak, however, their signature Jjambbong comes topped with abalone and sea food (KRW 6000-8000).  It wasn’t as spicy and the taste of the soup was not as strong as I expected. If Jin Heung Gak is too crowded, try Joong Hwa Ru, a good alternative if you’re hungry and don’t want to wait.

Street food

All over Chinatown, you can find many eateries, bakeries and shops selling street snacks. Walk up the main road from the Paeru (entry gate) until you reach the T-shaped alley. To the right of the alley, you’ll find many food stalls selling baked goods and sweets. Try the moon pie (KRW 2,000), a delicious treat filled with sweet bean paste and a variety of flavored creams like green tea or cheese. The line to get one might seem long, but it’s worth the wait.

kim.chihon@stripes.com

Address: 14, Chinatown-ro 52beon-gil, Jung-gu, Incheon, Republic of Korea
Homepage: www.icjg.go.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
Directions
Car
Camp Humphreys, Osan Air Base  → Incheon China Town(1hrs 30 -40min)
Subway
Pyeongtack station (Line No.1) → Guro Station (Transfer Stn, Line No.1) → Incheon Station (Line 1), Exit 1 (2hrs) It’s hard to miss Chinatown’s enormous entry gate, located just opposite the subway station.

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