Photo courtesy of Suwon City Hall
Photo courtesy of Suwon City Hall

Take a balloon ride over a Korean fortress

by Story and Photos: ChiHon Kim
Stripes Korea

Nighttime beauty


Photo courtesy of Suwon Cultural Foundation

Visitors to Suwon might think visiting one of the city’s most prominent landmarks, Hwaseong Fortress, should be done during the day because they’ll get to see more. However, from my experience, the fortress is even more beautiful at night when it is bathed in golden light, giving its gray stone walls a completely different look. Below are two other places for a perfect late afternoon or sunset visit that will guarantee you a great view of the fortress.

Flying Suwon     

You don’t have to struggle to locate the Flying Suwon because the balloon continually moves up and down over the wall making it easy to spot as you stroll inside Hwaseong.

“Unlike the hydrogen balloon which is highly flammable, Flying Suwon is filled with helium which is safer. Also, we don’t run the balloon if the weather conditions are bad,” said Bae, Junho, the security guard from the balloon company.

If there is a strong wind or breeze when you visit the fortress, chances are the balloon will not be running. You can also call ahead to check if it is operational that day.

Grab a ticket outside of the Changryong-mun, then you’ll have to wait a few minutes in a tent before you’re led to the balloon. The Suwon balloon can carry up to 20 passengers at a time and takes you up to 150 meters off the ground. 

At 50-meters high, I could see the entire fortress and surrounding neighborhood spreading out before me. Depending on weather conditions, the balloon will take you up anywhere from 100 to 150 meters and stops for about 7 to 10 minutes, giving you enough time to get a perfect photo and a good look at the tiny cars in traffic below. The glittering night view of the castle and city stretched out below is unbelievable!

Bell tower of Suwon Jeil Church

The bell tower of Suwon Jeil Church in Ji-dong area, a 10-minutes walk from Paldal-mun, houses a “sunset observatory” called Noeulbit-jeonmangdae that offers a bird’s-eye view of downtown Suwon and Hwaseong Fortress.

Finding the church is easy from wherever you are in Suwon as its bright lights and towering spire are difficult to miss. Completed in 1988, Jeil Church stands 45-meters (148 feet) tall, about the same height as a 13-story building. The bell tower would be a great option for those who want to enjoy the night view but fear floating in the sky. The building was originally designed to be 55-meters high, but was built 10 meters lower due to the its proximity to a military base.

Stop by the security office on the 1st floor to sign for the key to unlock the door of the bell tower on top of the church. Take the elevator to the 7th floor and then walk up a colorful spiral staircase that also leads you to different floors featuring artwork by different artists. These floors are perfect for browsing when you need a break from climbing the spiral staircase.
 
The wall of the entrance features an interesting mural dedicated to laborers during the construction period of Hwaseong Fortress in the Joseon Dynasty. Though the climb might leave you gasping for air, the view from the bell tower will actually leave you breathless. Take in the soft breeze and bright city lights and check out Changrong-mun and Dongnamgangnu Pavilion from above, and the Suwon World Cup Stadium, nicknamed “Big Bird,” in the distance.

Both the Flying Suwon and the Suwon Jeil Church bell tower offer a different side to Suwon and a unique way to enjoy the beauty of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress’ night view.

Suwon balloon
Address: 697, Gyeongsu-daero, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do. 
Operation hours: Weekdays: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Weekend: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Ticket price: Adult 18,000 KRW, Children 12,000 KRW
Homepage: http://www.flyingsuwon.com/ (KOR only) 
Contact number: 82 31 247 1300

Bell tower of Suwon Jeil Church 
Address: 3, Paldalmun-ro 57beon-gil, Paldal-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do. 
Operation hour: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (winter time), 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (summer time), Free admission

kim.chihon@stripes.com

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