When most people think of South Korea, the first thing they think about (besides North Korea), is Seoul, the ultra-modern capital home to nearly 10 million people, made famous by K Pop and Gangnam Style.
However, this post isn’t about Seoul (or North Korea) – it’s about Incheon, the city I call home.
Located just outside of Seoul, Incheon is technically part of the greater Seoul metropolitan area. However, with a population of nearly 3 million, Incheon is a huge city in and of itself with many exciting places to explore.
Here’s just a few of the places I’ve discovered in my new home so far.
Just a 30 minute walk from my apartment is Heungryunsa Temple, a Buddhist temple sitting on a hill overlooking Incheon. Despite being right in the middle of a massive city, the temple feels peaceful and is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of Incheon. Like most Buddhist temples, Heungryunsa consists of several buildings used for prayer and meditation as well as a giant Buddha. I spent about an hour wandering around the gardens and buildings to the soundtrack of traditional Buddhist prayer chants .
However, the best part was a trail I found behind one of the temple buildings. This trail took me to the top of the hill where there was a fantastic view of Incheon. There were actually tons of trails crisscrossing the surrounding hills so I took my time exploring and enjoying some nature in the midst of this concrete jungle.
Chinatown came into existence when the Incheon Port opened in the 1880s. Incheon became an extraterritoriality of the Chinese Ching Dynasty and many Chinese immigrants flocked to this area in search of better economic opportunities. For a long time, Chinatown was a very poor part of Incheon, but in recent years it has been transformed to help preserve the Chinese culture and attract tourists.
Despite efforts to maintain the Chinese culture and traditions, I quickly realized Chinatown isn’t very Chinese. Over the years, it has become a tourist attraction full of panda statues, fortune cookie souvenirs and street vendors yelling at you in English to buy ice cream (I’m pretty sure ice cream isn’t Chinese). However, it was still a fun place to explore and there are some very nice touches that highlight the unique history and culture of the neighborhood.
Songwol-dong Fairy Tale Village
By far one of the most bizarre places I’ve stumbled upon during my time in Korea is the Fairy Tale Village.
The Village is part of the government’s efforts to revitalize poor, old neighborhoods to attract more tourists. Basically, their plan for Fairy Tale Village was to go wild with a paintbrush and paint a bunch of classic fairy tales on the houses in the neighborhood. And surprisingly, it worked. Tourists flock here like crazy.
The entrance to the Village greets you with an incredibly obnoxious rainbow gate and pushy street vendors selling souvenirs. The streets are lined with colorful murals of Disney princesses, the Wizard of Oz, zoo animals and other random characters. There’s also statues if you want to pose with a 3D Disney princess instead of just a wall mural.
While I personally was not a fan (fairy tales aren’t my thing), I’m sure if you’re a kid or are obsessed with fairy tales, then it’s probably a pretty cool place. Regardless though, there were some nice paintings and I’m glad I accidentally stumbled upon it, just for the experience.
Also known as Songdo International City, New Songdo is a modern, high-tech, international neighborhood built on reclaimed land from the Yellow Sea. It also happens to be the neighborhood where my office is located.
Every detail of the city was carefully planned out with sustainability in mind. The city has incredible biking infrastructure, lots of green space, a state-of-the-art water-recycling facility and the highest concentration of LEED-certified projects in the world. It’s also home to several international organizations so the city is very diverse. And because there are so many foreigners, English is more common, which is really nice.
However, New Songdo is kinda a weird place. Because it’s super modern, clean and high-tech, it feels like it could be in an country in the world and I sometimes forget I’m in Korea. And while there are some businesses, shops, restaurants and bars, with a population of only 100,000 (small by Korean standards), the city seems empty at times, making it feel like a really fancy ghost town.
Located just across the bridge from the New Songdo, Old Songdo feels like another world, full of Korean history, culture and tradition. And lucky for me, it’s the neighborhood I call home.
Old Songdo is very residential with lots of families, schools and parks and is WAY cheaper than the New Songdo (why I’m living here). But I absolutely love it! There’s a large market just five minutes down the street where I can buy fresh fruits and veggies and even an alligator if I’m feeling crazy. There’s a middle school nearby with a track where I go running most mornings. And there’s lots of cute coffee shops, which if you know me well, you know I’m a coffee addict and love spending my Sunday afternoons at a coffee shop. It feels very safe and I love being able to walk down the street and see families taking their kids to the park or walking their dogs (seriously SO many dogs around here!). There’s also a bus stop just a few minutes away where I can catch a bus to work and there’s a metro stop just 10 minutes away where I can easily connect to anywhere in Incheon or Seoul.