Slow it down and discover Korea's Daejeon City
Many who move to Korea are terrified that, unless they find a job in Seoul, they’ll be stuck in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest bar, burger or foreigner. What they don’t know is that there are great options outside Seoul; cities where you might not see a foreigner for days, but will know exactly which bar to visit to be surrounded by them. Daejeon is a happy medium between metropolis and country village: a place where you can immerse yourself in Korean culture, but also escape every once in a while if you so desire.
Situated more or less in the middle of Korea, Daejeon is a transportation hub and is thus accessible from much of the country. It’s also an easy city to get around, with its own subway system and a good network of buses. Its footprint is much different from sprawling Seoul or Busan, though, given that you can get from one side to the other in a taxi under an hour. And with each area having its own unique charms during both daytime and nighttime, you will definitely want to explore its four corners. Daejeon's new downtown is Dusan-dong, which lies near its geographic center. It has a lively, modern feel, with an upmarket department store (Timeworld Galleria), a variety of places to fuel up or wind down, and several foreigner hangout spots. Small boutiques share space with larger shops on the busy streets. You’ll also find a good mix of restaurants, from fried chicken to all-you-can-eat sushi, along with a couple of worthwhile Indian restaurants and a Western-style brunch café. If, come sundown, you’re more into nightclubs than noraebang, there are ample
places to get your fill of cocktails, K-pop and dodgy dance moves. Foreigners tend to gather at bars such as The Cantina and Lady Pocha, lured in by the promise of pool tables, dartboards and, surprise, other foreigners.
Eunhaeng-dong is known as the old downtown of Daejeon, but this area of the city is far from irrelevant. It has an artier feel than the shiny, new Dunsan-dong. In addition to dusion Japanese and Italian restaurants, you will also find Sung Sim Dang, a bakery founded in 1956 that was recently featured in the Michelin Guide Korea. Keep an eye out for their soboro (deep-fried bread filled with red bean paste), which is incredible. Several arcades in the area invite you to while away an afternoon shooting invading aliens or, if you’re feeling brave, join the throngs of teenagers clinging to the sides of “disco pang-pang” - a sort of merry-go-round-cum-disco from which a DJ ejects people.
Daejeon Jungang Market, one of the most famous traditional markets in the city, is just across the river. Make your way over for an interesting assortment of sights and smells; the market has fresh meat and seafood, clothes, plants, snacks, fruits, vegetables and teas.
If kitsch is more your thing you can head to the Hello Kitty Café, or maybe have an Agwa bomb (or five) at Watermelon Sugar, a bar where you can dance the night away in the shadow of a large wooden penis that hangs from the ceiling. The Hanbat Baseball Stadium is just down the road, and even for people who are not particularly interested in sports, it is really just an excuse to eat chicken and have a couple beers in a great atmosphere.
Gung-dong is the main student area of the city, with KAIST and Chungnam University nearby. Pop into Maeul Game Café to play your favorite board game with a group of friends. There are open-mic nights and bands playing at trendy spots such as Santa Claus and The Shisha House, where you can escape Cass for a night to have a pint of IPA and, as its name suggests, indulge in some shisha.
When you want to take a break from Daejeon’s urban offerings, there is a plethora of mountains, rivers and other beauty spots to explore around the city. The name "Daejeon" means “large field,” and although it is fairly developed now, it has still retained many of its beautiful natural sights. A survey of the skyline reveals some of the area’s many hike-worthy mountains, showcasing a variety of terrain and providing access to some of the region’s cultural heritage.
Bomunsan, for example, has several historic sites at its peak, and you can take a cable car up if you’re feeling lazy. Closer to ground level, you’ll notice that the rivers and streams in Daejeon are all accompanied by cycle and walking paths, and reasonably priced bikes are available for rent at a few places around the city. Alternatively, you can find one of the designated spots where barbecuing is allowed, such as under the Expo bridge; a lazy summer evening spent here crisping up some samgyeopsal and sipping soju is heavenly.
Yuseong’s natural hot springs are found in the western part of the city, and you can either splash out on a visit to one of the hotels, with their seaweed and medicinal herb baths, or dip your toes into the free outdoor foot pools to experience their renowned healing properties.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for an escape into nature or just a slower-paced weekend, Daejeon has it.
Daejeon is accessibly by KTX or by express bus from Seoul's main bus stations.
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