Korea is full of great destinations, but sometimes the best choice for a fun day outside is in the middle of the city. In fact, among some of the most densely populated areas of Seoul, you can find a great escape and surround yourself with trees and a babbling brook. Easily accessible by everyone, even those in wheelchairs, the Cheonggyecheon is Seoul’s historic stream. Modern walkways and bridges stretch along its banks taking visitors from Seoul Plaza all the way to the Han River.
The Cheonggyecheon runs nearly 11km along its current course. The Joseon shaped the stream to provide Seoul with ample fresh water. However, this iconic waterway was destroyed during the Korean War. While it was partially restored following Seoul’s reconstruction, it wasn’t until 2003 that the government spent nearly 4 billion won to beautify the area. In doing so, the Korean government outlined five separate themed areas along the stream’s course and planted more than 2.1 million plants and trees.
Operating expenses total W3.83 million won per day or 1.4 billion won per year. While the total number of annual visitors hasn’t been released, it was reported that when the stream re-opened in 2005, more than 10 million people visited its banks within the first two months. In addition to its natural water source, the current Cheonggyecheon receives 170,000 tons of purified water.
When people think of the Cheonggyecheon, most often they think of the portion near Seoul Plaza and the giant “corkscrew.” This bit of the stream is only Zone One, or the History Zone. It runs for more than a kilometer has a few special features within its boundary. Two of the most notable features are the water screen and tiled wall depicting King Jeongjo’s royal procession to Suwon to pay respect to his father.
Zone Two runs through the heart of Dondaemun, one of the premiere shopping districts of Seoul. While the shops lining the Cheonggyecheon aren’t as fancy as some of the most modern boutiques, it doesn’t take away from the shopping experience to be had. Furthermore, dotted among the greenery, the planers have installed several contemporary art pieces for visitors.
Being a nature lover, Zone Three is my favorite. Not only does the sound of the Cheonggyecheon fill the air, dampening out the cluttered sounds of the surrounding city, but also the look and feel of the stream becomes greener. Walking along the banks, one can see several fish, ducks, and birds. Planners have also constructed wide wooden platforms – perfect for whole families to sit and enjoy an afternoon. Two key features of this zone are the cement recreations of stones used during the Joseon era for washing clothes in the stream and the rhythmic waterfall.
The stream widens and the walking path morphs into bike trails when the stream reaches Zone Four. This area of the Cheonggyecheon has been dubbed the Harmony Zone, an area created for migratory birds. Unlike the other areas, this zone features grasslands along the stream. This takes the visitor farther way from the water, but gives one perspective on how nature and an urban environment can coexist. This is also one of the longest zones, so many people visiting elect to ride bikes rather than walk the trails.
The final zone takes one to the Han River and Seoul Forest. Exploring this green area can be a day just in and of itself. For a description of this zone, please visit this entry.
Walking the Cheonggyecheon from start to finish can take more than three hours at a leisurely pace. Most elect not to do this, but rather visit only a portion of the stream. However, if you’d really like a memorable experience, I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
For complete information on the stream visit the official site.