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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Ulsan: Then and Now

Overlooking Ulsan, 2017

It was almost this time way back in 2003, when I stepped off the plane and met the recruiters who brought me to my first hogwan. It was located in Samsandong and although it has changed names a few times the school is still there. Looking back, it was an interesting time because I was a new teacher and  living in an area that was not the most cosmopolitan of places at that moment. Ulsan was still primarily a worker’s city back then and you can barely see that now as you look around and see all the changes. Recently, Jung Min-ho from the Korean Times wrote an article about the changes around Ulsan and I thought that I would give my perspective.

Hogwan in Samsandong


The community was what made Ulsan one of more well known places to work and live for many years. If you asked anyone about why they lived in Ulsan, they would have no doubt mentioned the foreign community. Back then we relied on each other to learn about what was going on, where to go and how to basically live. The center for those meetups was typically the foreign bars like Benchwarmers and Tombstones. We also started a local English newspaper called “The Ulsan Pear” to share information before Facebook and the Ulsan Online website. Again, over the years the places have changed names and owners but I feel that the community spirit is still great in because of the places like JJ’s and Cima bar.

Samsandong 2003

The biggest difference to me is the fact that the community now seems a little more diverse with the inclusion of more Korean people. The language exchanges and the different facebook groups now show a healthy mix of not just foreign teachers but local Ulsanites and foreign students as well. This was always a huge challenge for many of us when we first arrived so many years ago; just meeting local people. I was grateful for the friendships that I made.

The best thing is that despite all of the changes people still feel that Ulsan has one of the best communities. In a recent poll on our facebook page, people overwhelming stated how awesome Ulsan’s community was. While Ulsan Online maybe the digital focal point, I feel there the city and the businesses around also create a healthy community by being friendly places where people can relax and feel a part of something.  Not to mention that the city of Ulsan has always been a huge supporter of the foreign community here. I had a chance to have lunch with the Deputy Mayor last year and was surprised at how interested he was in our community.

Ilsan Beach, 2003

Ilsan Beach, 2017

Ulsan for You

I remember a comment on an article (now removed) that I wrote for a magazine based out of Seoul, the comment sarcastically mocked Ulsan for having seemingly boring features. However, truth be told they were sort of right. Back in the day, if you wanted a decent cup of coffee it was either Dunkin Donuts which only had a few locations around the city and they were not that into “real” coffee. There were also lots of “Da-bongs” but if you know what they are, you’ll know that they were not really into coffee either. Thus, you had to head to Busan to chill and relax in a starbucks-type cafe.

Samsandong 2003

Now… you can’t throw a stone and not hit 5 coffee shops. The point being is that while coffee maybe a trend it also shows the level of change that Ulsan has gone through. People’s tastes have changed and many places around Ulsan are very upscale and trendy. Places like Ilsan beach used to be nothing more than pay-per-hour hotels and pojangmachas. Now, it is resembling Haeundae beach in many ways. Seongnamdong is continually improving and shedding it’s sort of “aged/sketchy look” to something that really makes you want to visit there. There is a reason why there is a “new downtown” and an “old downtown” but as Ulsan continues to improve, so do these places. If you walk around Seongnamdong these days, it looks nothing like it did when I first went there.

Samsandong 2017

Coffee aside, there are many places and amenities that Ulsan now has that make it a great places to live. From the parks to the observatory, from the beaches to the growing list of trendy restaurants. It is amazing to see how fast a city can change.

Hyundai Department Store July 2003

Parks and Green Spaces

If you look around Ulsan, you see a lot of parks, bike paths, and green spaces. Would you believe that many of these were not here when I first arrived? Actually Ulsan Grand Park was much smaller and did not have the addition of the zoo, rose garden, butterfly exhibit or any of that. The Taehewa River Grand Park did not exist and the river itself was very nasty.

Taehwa River looking towards Haksungdong 2003

These days the Taehwa River has been given a second life and as I look out over the river most days I can see kayakers on the river and cyclists enjoying the bike paths alongside. It is amazing to think back to the time when many of these places did not exist. Even more recently, there is a new park in Samsandong that use to be a waste treatment area. Now it has outdoor basketball courts, a running track and tennis/badminton courts!

Walking along the Taehwa River, 2017

Setting the Standard

While it may take a long time for Ulsan to catch up to places like Busan, it is still a great place to live. The continuous improvements that I have seen are what make life here a lot better for us. I feel that these changes also bring in better and better establishments. As foreigners, we have it pretty good compared to what it was like when I first arrived. While Ulsan may not have everything you need, it has a KTX station that can get you to pretty much anywhere in a record amount of time.

Ulsan Grand Park, 2016

To put this into perspective, back in the day you needed to take a bus to Daegu to hit the costco or even jump on the KTX. As I said before much of the western style shops and cafes were in an hour bus ride away in Haeundae. So, many of us picked up scooters or jumped on a bus and toured around the country. Now, it is a lot different and after 14 years I am happy to see all of the changes to Ulsan over the years.

Daewangahm 2017