Busan: Cycling the Urban Jungle – The Oncheon Stream

Shots by Ben Cowles

 62-cyclinAs far as I’m aware, Freddie Mercury never made it to Busan. Though I’m sure if he did (ignoring the impossibilities of time travel and necromancy), he’d want to get on his bike and ride… along the Oncheon stream! So with spring in the air, it’s about time you too got your fat bottom on your bicycle and cycled through Busan’s urban jungle.

A small stream in Busan
The Oncheon stream (온천천) should really be considered as Busan’s Central Park. The stream meanders on for 10 glorious kilometers, under the fading browns of the subway and beside apartment blocks and mountains stretching out in the background, before joining the Suyeong River near its mouth. Along the way, stepping-stones cross the water, reeds poke out towards the sky, and revelers in all the gear strut on by. Despite being within sight of some of the city’s most ghastly roads, the Oncheon stream harbors a fair amount of serenity.

Oozing down from the Geumjeong mountain range, the stream flowed on for thousands of years until Korea’s meteoric urbanization all but filled it in. Rectifying this grave environmental blunder 10 years ago, the city pumped in money (as well as water from the river) and redeveloped the area into a promenade that rivals the Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul.

Beside the stream are cycle and walking paths, badminton and basketball courts, and those bizarre exercising gyms the old folk use. Rejuvenation in Korea often involves some sort of art and the Oncheon stream has been fairly decked out with it. The undersides of the subway stations it flows beneath are lit up with funky wiggling lights, and whole sections of wall have been given over to street art, particularly down by PNU Station (부산대 역).

City legend has it that a beaver was once glimpsed frolicking in the waters after the redevelopment. However, you’re more likely to spot ducks, herons and other fowl congregating where the stream meets the river. Due to the unfortunate placing of a sewage plant, it can get a bit pongy down there, too.

Where to begin
There are numerous places to start an expedition down the Oncheon stream, depending on how long you wish to cycle. Get off at Namsan Station (남산역, Line 1) if you want the full 10km experience, though any station between there and Dongnae (동래역) will also do.

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Despite its length, the journey is easy and should probably take around an hour and a half at a leisurely pace. Watch out for flocks of aluminous ajummas and ajoshis with their dogs and grandkids who might not necessarily be so observant of the bicycle path.

Bikes can be rented for free below Dongnae Station between 9 am and 5 pm. It’s also possible to take your own bike on the subway on the weekends. Use the lifts and the last/first carriage of the trains.


Possible Routes
There are only two ways to go along the Oncheon stream: up towards Bomosa or down to the river. However, after it oodles out into the Suyeong River, you pass under a bridge and your options open up a bit more. You can go left and continue along the Suyeong River or right and continue on towards Gwangan-li beach.

Should you get all sweaty and gross from the journey, the path goes right past Spa World, which is inside the world’s largest department store, Shinsaegae. Keep an eye out for a bridge with a pair of killer whales jumping through it: go across and you can’t miss it. Otherwise, keep going down the river, passing the heights of Marine City to go on to Gwangan-li Beach. Stop here for food, drinks and a chill in the sea.