Spend a day seeing the sites in this mid-sized city in southeastern Gangwon Province.
Words by Charity Yoro
Wonju may not have the beautiful coastline or Starbucks coffee that draws visitors to neighboring cities in Gangwon province. Yet there is a unique charm found in the city that makes the one-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Seoul worth taking, even if you have a mere twenty-four hours to stay.
As any seasoned traveler knows, all journeys must begin first and foremost with a satisfied stomach. Taking the first step on this journey across the street from the Wonju bus terminal will lead you to Caffe Bene, the best place to begin a day of exploring. The gelato waffle is a delicious indulgence, but there are other options available for those craving lighter fare (a good idea especially if you plan on hiking Chiaksan later).
The string of bars located in the neighborhood around the bus terminal (an area called Dangye Taekji or 단계 택지) is pretty impressive, and both locals and foreigners frequent them on the weekends. Places of interest include the Tent Bar, an open terrace with a big screen projector, plenty of seating, and an assortment of bar food; and just a block away, the classy aqua-themed Shiva Antique Pub (033-732-0079), one of two known shisha bars in the city, with friendly staff and an inviting ambience.
No trip to Wonju is complete without a visit to Chiak Mountain, one of the city’s (only) claims to fame. The bus that goes up to the Chiaksan National Park also makes a stop at Wonju’s modest hanji paper museum, where you can browse the handmade selection of souvenirs, or if you are ambitious in the arts, spend the afternoon making your own hanji crafts to take home. Of course there’s always the conventional option of spending your time in Wonju hiking Chiaksan, but if you prefer a more leisurely experience consider spending the afternoon at the Guryongsa Temple. Enjoy a delicious vegetarian lunch in the mountains, or even join the monks in afternoon prayer.
If you’re in the mood for another noteworthy cultural activity, head to the historical site in Dangu-dong dedicated to Korean novelist Kyung Li Park, where you can visit the preserved home-turned-public-park of the late writer. There is an eccentrically painted parked school bus on the premises that serves as a children’s library, which is definitely worth checking out. The variety of cute coffee shops in the neighborhood is enough to satisfy that afternoon caffeine fix as well (try Best Coffee for the lattes, 033-765-6011).
Finally, take a taxi to the shinae (시내), Wonju’s modest downtown, where there are quaint market stalls among cute upscale boutiques, and a selection of local bars and restaurants to choose from along the way. The tiny, newly opened Taco Family Mexican Restaurant (010-8360-8822) has the best burritos. Actually, they’re the only ones in the city, since this is the one Mexican eatery in town, but don’t be deceived the menu is simple, delicious, and cheap. Or if you’re in the mood for something a little more romantic, try Brand New, a little second story Italian restaurant, where the pasta is among the best in the city and the mood is date-perfect.
Venture up the street for a singing session at the posh and stylish Arumdaun Noraebang (033-735-4167), where the rooms come complete with neon floor lights, full drum sets, and plush seating. Then, satisfied by the past twenty-four hours of wandering, end your experience overlooking the Wonju city lights, sipping a cocktail upstairs at the classy Le Reve Bar (033-746-9963). After all, ending the trip in the dream seems only appropriate.