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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Suncheon Bay – Korea’s Ecological Playground

By Deirdre Madden

Last Chuseok, while on a road trip, my partner and I stumbled upon the Suncheon Ecological Park. We were attempting to go to the Suncheon Bay Garden Expo, but due to misread road signs while trying to find a parking lot, we ended up at the Ecological Park instead.

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It turned out to be a happy mistake, as the Eco Park is a very interesting, preserved wetland area, filled with a large variety of birds, many species of crab, and a bizarre little fish-with-legs called the “Goggle Eyed Goby”. We didn’t have a lot of time to properly explore the park, so we decided then and there to return another time.

I swear, I'm not making it up

Like a frog and a fish had a baby.

The first weekend in June, we hopped in the car and headed west, back to Suncheon (순천). From Ulsan, the trip only takes about 2.5 hours on the expressway, but there are notorious traffic jams around Gimhae and Changwan/Masan, so try to avoid peak travel times, or look for alternative routes if you’re going on a long weekend/holiday.

Our first stop was back to the Ecological Park to finish what we had started. We spent a lovely, sunny morning strolling the boardwalk through the wetland reeds, watching a million tiny dramas play out in the mud below us between the various tiny crabs and gobies looking for food and defending their territories. Bring lots of water and maybe a parasol with you on the walk, as there is little shade out there, and it gets pretty hot.

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We opted not to hike up the mountain and out to the observatory that gives a brilliant view out over the Suncheon Bay, but instead bought tickets for the boat ride that takes you on a tour (adults 7,000W, youth 3,000W, kids 2,000W, under 5/over 65 free – 35 min/6km round trip tour through the wetland). Unfortunately, the tour guide speaks only Korean, so we missed out on the running commentary, but the view was amazing, and we saw lots of birds of various shapes and sizes fishing in the mudflats out beyond the reeds. If you’re at all interested in bird watching, this is a great place for it, especially during various migrations, as it’s a stopping spot for hooded cranes and other endangered species.

Suncheon boat

One of the two boats for the cruise. On busy days they sell out quickly, so buy your ticket before you go on the walk out into the marsh.

After a refreshing ice cream break, we went into the little museum, but it’s a rather disappointing display of basically the stuff you can see outside in the park. There is also a little planetarium and observatory attached, which we didn’t go into. Overall, we spent about 3-4 hours wandering the park and enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and wetland nature.

On the cruise

On the cruise

There are a couple of cafés in the Eco Park, but no real restaurant. There are picnic tables in a shady spot near the parking lots, outside the gates, and there are lots of restaurants and cafés to be found just across the main road from the grounds, if you’re looking for food. It’s also not far back into Suncheon city, which of course has a lot of places to eat.

For the afternoon, we headed to the Suncheon Bay Garden, which opened as an Expo in summer 2013, but has been put on permanent, year round display as of April 2014. This Garden could easily take a day or two to properly explore, so as we had only a few hours in the afternoon, we decided to explore only one section, near the East Gate. We bought a double-entry ticket at the Eco Park that also got us into the Garden, so we were able to avoid the ticket lines, and walk right in. You can also take a “sky cube” between the two areas if you don’t want to pay twice for parking. More on that, later.

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The Garden has a lot of different areas all through it, each with different themes. When you first enter the “East Gate of Earth”, you’ll see a view similar to the one in the photo above, with the yard grass area overlooking the Suncheon Garden Lake, with the Lake Hill Path rising behind it. As we were there on the Saturday of a rare long weekend, the place was pretty busy, and the Hill Path looked somewhat surreal with distinct trails of people marching up and down in a line.

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The Hill Walk makes an interesting visual feature.

We stayed on the east side of the Dongcheon (east stream), exploring the rose garden, which was bursting into bloom,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand the various gardens that are themed after 12 different countries, including China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Thailand, etc. There are also gardens dedicated to the Rose of Sharon, which is Korea’s national flower, to herbs, to rocks, and to kids.

The French Garden - vineyards and herb boxes.

The French Garden – vineyards and herb boxes.

Some parts are very conceptual, like walking through artwork, others are more “hands on”, such as the Participatory garden, or the Flower Coach horse and carriage ride (5,000W).

A water feature on the "Lugworm Path"

A water feature on the “Lugworm Path”

A favourite among kids while we were there was the “Hooded Crane Maze Garden”, a giant hedge maze filled with lovers strolling hand in hand, and kids careening around corners, shrieking when they hit a dead end.

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In the rose garden

An interesting corner of the park is the Extraodinary Bike Riding Site. When I first saw it on the map, I kind of assumed it was a typical bike riding site, but that the people doing the naming wanted to make it sound more exciting. I was wrong, however. It turns out to be a place to ride Extraordinary Bikes on a 1,250km long trail. For 3,000W per person for 30 minutes, you can rent car-cycles, sideways bikes, pedal free bikes and other strange and wonderful contraptions.

A car-cycle. Or at least that's what I've named it.

A car-cycle. Or at least that’s what I’ve named it.

It took us several hours to walk around the East side of the Garden, and we didn’t even go into every themed area to explore it. You could easily spend an entire day visiting, and still not see the entire site. There is a “Ferris Wheel” train (2,000W – free for people with disabilities) that runs around the park, if you have mobility issues, or are traveling with small kids.

In the  Chinese garden

In the Chinese garden

There are also several cafés and snack shops throughout, if you need energy to keep going. Each side of the Garden also has a “Namdo Restaurant”, though we didn’t eat there, so I can’t comment as to the variety/price/service.

The two halves of the park are separated by the Dongcheon (east stream), which flows into Suncheon Bay. To cross the stream, you need to take the Dream Bridge, which is decorated with tiny tiles that were drawn by 140,000 children in 16 countries, and represent their hopes and dreams.

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The West side of the park can be gained either by this bridge from the East side, or from the “West Gate of Light”, near the West Gate Parking Lot and the Water Retention Parking Lot (who names these things?!). We didn’t have the time to explore on that side, but from the map it appears to be a little more of a natural style garden, with a wetland area and interpretive center, and a “Resting Place for Thinking”. There is also a large Korean Garden, and Royal Azalea Garden that would be beautiful for about a week in April.

The West side is also where the Sky Cube Stop is (5,000W round trip). This is an odd-looking, eco-friendly transit option that links the Garden to the Eco Park, and runs alongside the Dongcheon. It is automated, so you just hop on board and it takes you down the track to the other stop. It’s electric, too, so there is no exhaust and no engine noise to disturb the wetland wildlife. The Eco Park stop is about 1km from the Park entrance, and you pass the Suncheon Literary Museum on the way. There are rental bikes available all over Suncheon, so if the walk seems far, you can take a bike from the stand and leave it at the stand near the Park entrance.

Sky Cube in action

Sky Cube in action

The map (free when you enter the park, and available in several languages including English) has suggested routes for 2-hour, 3-hour, 5-hour and 8 hour days, depending on how much time you have to spend, which gate you enter, and which gate you want to leave by. It’s a handy thing to pick up, as it not only keeps you from getting lost in this vast park, but also has a schedule of any performances in the park, a list of other things to see in the Suncheon area, and restaurants and hotels nearby. We ate at the Happy Bapjib buffet, which is listed on the back, and were quite satisfied. It was one of the better quality buffets of Korean food I’ve been to. There wasn’t a huge variety compared to some places, but what they made, they made well.

A tower of soju bottles in a recycled art display

A tower of soju bottles in a recycled art display – I know guys who could build this after a weekend (yikes!)

Overall, I’d highly recommend a trip to Suncheon if you like flowers, trees and nature. The gardens were full of flowers in bloom, and others ready to bloom, so it’s likely a gorgeous spot to visit most of the year. There is lots to see and plenty to do, with special activity areas for kids.

Hours of Operation:

Suncheon Bay Gardens – Fall/Spring – 09:00 – 18:00, Summer – 09:00 – 19:00, Winter 09:00 – 17:00

Suncheon Bay Ecological Park – 08:00 – Sunset

Entry Fees: (same for both the Gardens and the Ecological Park. You can buy a ticket with entry for both places to avoid multiple lineups)

Adult – 5,000W, Youth – 3,000W, Kids – 2,000W, Under 6/Over 65 – Free

2day ticket (for use two days in a row, only) – Adult – 8,000W, Youth – 4,500W, Kids – 3,000W

Parking: (same for both venues)

Motorbikes – 500W, Cars 1000cc or less (subcompact) – 1,000W, Small vehicles – 2,000W, Medium vehicles (11-25 seats) – 3,000W, Large vehicles (+25 seats) – 5,000W

Please note, these venues are NO SMOKING and NO PETS (and there is no shade in the parking lots, so please don’t take your dog with you. They will overheat in a car easily.)

To Get There – It’s definitely easiest to go by car, if you have access. Just take the Express highways across the south, heading towards Mokpo, and Suncheon is on the way, shortly after Jinju.

From the Suncheon Express Bus Terminal, take local buses 60~63, 65~68, 88 – They run past both venues.

There is a bus to Suncheon from the Intercity Bus Terminal in Samsandong, which takes approximately 5 hours, and leaves twice daily, either at 8:20 or 11:00 am (times may have changed since they were posted).

From the Suncheon (train) Station, take local buses  60~68, 81~85, 88 – They run past both venues.

You can take a slow train from Taewhagang Station in Samsandong to Bujeon Station in Busan, and then transfer to a train to Suncheon. This takes approximately 5 hours (including connection time), and costs just under 20,000W one way, for both tickets.

There is currently no easy way to get there by KTX, as you’d have to take the train from Ulsan to Daejeon, then go to the Seodaejeon Station for a train to Iksan, and then transfer to the train to Suncheon, which sounds like it would take many hours.

 

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