Gongju was capital of an early Korean kingdom 1500 years ago and it's been down hill since then. An attractive setting on the Gumgang River, a beautiful restored fortress and a small shopping area make Gongju a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. Well, I did and it showed me that people there are proud of their conservative upbringing and have a deep connection to the land. Hometown of both Texas Rangers pitcher Park Chan-Ho and LPGA sensation Park Se Ri, Gongju is a town of about 150,000 people boasting a national university and a teachers' college, but often seems much smaller. Life is slow here, off the train line and you best sit back with a two-litre of soju outside the Buy The Way and get ready to practice some English and meet a sordid collection of expats that ended up in a town that most Koreans have never heard of.
The nearest international airport is Incheon. Buses run from there to central Seoul's Express Bus Terminal where you can transfer to Kumho Express's bus to Gongju running many times daily. Alternately, you could bus to Daejeon and then bus or cab to Gongju depending on the time of day. Daejeon-Gongju is about 35 kms, buses are W3,000, bullet cabs going 140 kmh late at night are W30-40,000 one way but a whole hell of a lot of fun with a bunch of drunk club-goers.
Saemaeul trains from Seoul Stn. or Yongsan Stn. take you to Jochiwon, about 25 kms east of Gongju in under an hour. Buses and cabs can take you from there to Gongju, Jochiwon has little to recommend it over Gongju other than the train which will take you away. It is not, however, on the KTX nor is it likely to be.
As I said, Seoul Express Bus terminal, Nambu Bus terminal and Seoul East Bus terminal all have many buses per day going to Gongju. Express Bus Terminal has the earliest and latest running times. Costs have dropped due to competition for the coveted Gongju dollar but are in the W5-9,000 range for this 124.5 km, 90-120 minute voyage into the Baekje heartland of Korea. Trying to keep a straight face....The bus may or may not stop at a rest area around Cheonan for 15 minutes for you to pee, buy strange food, smoke and spit. I never figured out which buses stopped and which didn't so be careful with liquid consumption on the voyage.
Buses also are quite abundant from Daejeon and to varying degrees from other places.
Go to Kangnam, get on the #1 Seoul-Busan, go south, go through Cheonan, around South Cheonan get onto a provinical highway heading for Gongju. Drive until chickens start running across the road. You're in Gongju.
Gongju's civic fathers, I am told, actually voted to keep themselves off the Korean rail line in the 1960's. They feared encroachment on their dog farms and future LPGA proteges from the liberal, ha, elites in Seoul and, despite, having been the capital of Chungchongnam-do for hundreds of years until Daejeon usurped Gongju in the province they gave the train station to the much smaller town of Jochiwon. Ooops. Now they want the investment dollars, but the railroad's been built. Take the bus.
Buses probably go up and down Gongju's one main street, over to the university area in the new area of Sinkwang-dong (not really Gongju's civic core such as it is) and probably out to the baseball stadium and the Baekje tombs. I wouldn't know, I never took them. Slow buses go from Gongju to points throughout Chungnam-do, most notably Magoksa Temple, Daecheon Beach and Gyeryongsan National Park.
Buy it in Seoul.
Ha. Go to DC King Mart for over-priced Chinese cookware and Hi-Mart for Samsung electronics. There's a pretty good furniture shop by the Express Bus Station. All of these places are in Sinkwang-dong, not downtown.
One of the better public markets in Korea for a town this size - it's located a couple blocks west of the main north-south street, and a couple blocks south of the local bus terminal. Get all the things here you can't identify.
GS Supermarket in Okryong-dong is the biggest and best in town. In Sinkwan-dong there is Cuzco.
Um, Buy the Way by the batting cages at KNU back gate is the best place for drinking beer and watching drunk students (and ESL teachers) fight, drink and practice English. Close second goes to the Family Mart by the movie theater in Sinkwang-dong.
You said that already.
Home and Garden StoresEdit
Hmmm, DC King Mart had shampoo, towels and soap.
In English? Ha. Try the university area for comic books, seemingly challenging reading for KNU students.
Ahh, the calico and sasparilla ain't come down from Tulsa yet, Pa.
Dining and EntertainmentEdit
As I said, I grew so tired of restaurants in Gongju I ended up drinking outside most of the time. You may, too.
Kongju's Korean RestaurantsEdit
Sinkwan-dong has A4, Dosirak and my favourite, Myeong-dong restaurants for mandu, donkass, et al. Try the Yukaejang at Myeong-dong. My fave.
The truly tacky Hi OB will serve you awful draft in a brightly lit college bar atmosphere that seems to have about 20 birthday parties a night complete with blaring music and creepy businessmen that will insist you sing old Beatles' songs and rub your leg. If this is what you want, wait no longer. I like the place to the left of HI OB with a pencil and paper on the window. They serve soju like it's going out of style.
Fast Food and NoodlesEdit
McDonald's and KFC.....closed. Yes, that's the kind of town Gongju is. Hope you like Lotteria. Go to Myeongdong or A4, or the weird Chinese place in the shijang behind the gudu shop.
Well, Gongju and service aren't exactly synonymous. But that's not to say the people are unfriendly. Just isolated and a tad drunk, sometimes. Like me.
Scratch that, car mechanics in Gongju are rude jerks. Go, of course, to see Kyung-Jung at Gongju Daelim by GS Mart for all your motorcycle needs. Great, great guy.
Er..., nothing to write home about.
Tailoring and Dry CleaningEdit
Well, if you need anything over a 42 jacket you are out of luck in Gongju. Try Daejeon.
The dog farm by the new police station has an enormous outdoor meat-grinder.
In Gongju? Why would you leave? I always booked online or over the phone with people in Seoul and picked up tickets on weekends. It would be that or Daejeon.
Having successfully recovered from the Korean War, Gongju is a happy, well-lit town with large and small apartment buildings and reasonably steady electrical service.
Seemed to be there when I needed it.
Communication breakdown, it's always the same.
Poor on campus at KNU, although free and fast when it worked. The rest of town, I dunno. Call Hanaro Telecom or KT.
Mobile Phone CoverageEdit
Seemed reasonably comprehensive within city limits. Dodgier in the parks and areas outside of town.
Natural Gas ServiceEdit
Fuel Oil ServiceEdit
Liquid Propane ServiceEdit
Ask Hank Hill.
Optional, especially the bathroom at Club O and X. Yikes!
Waste Separation RulesEdit
Yup, recycling in the blue bag. Garbage in the white.
Waste Pickup ScheduleEdit
Probably a couple times a week. In summer, I sure hope so.
Gongsansong, the fortress on the Gumgang was my stomping grounds for one crazy winter. Wonderful views over the river and mysterious temples. The tombs of the Baekje King Muryong are spectacular and are the highest point in town. Similar to the tumuli in Gyeongju that Koreans flock to, but without the crowds.
Specialty Products and FestivalsEdit
Gongju is famous for chestnuts. Be sure to try the chestnut makeolli!
The biggest festival in Gongju is the Great Baekje World Festival which is a month long from mid-September to mid-October.
The museum at the Baekje tombs is okay, but its collection is limited. The National Museum downtown is larger and cotnains many of the original finds from the tombs. The archaeological museum is airy and fairly large. It is mostly arranged chronologically, beginning with a series of dioramas depicting pre-sapiens. All the early stuff is NOT from Korea, so if you know your paleo-anthropology move right on to the Upper Paleolithic section.
Paintings and sculptures from local and international artists are displayed at a gallery a ways out of town. It is worth the trip just to see Feng's two paintings.
The best thing about Gongju. Gyeryongsan National Park contains three fantastic temples, the sleepy hermitage of Sinwon-sa, the wonderful Kapsa at the base of the main hiking trail and the enormous Donghaksa, actually a nunneray and a collection of some of the most impressive temple buildings in Korea.
Err, chasing chickens, dodging road-blocks and drinking by the river did it for me.
Well, KNU has a beautiful new gym and pool right by the river. Great facility.
Hiking, drinking, smoking, swearing and spitting.
Gongsansong, Gyeryongsan and the Baekje tombs are high on my list. Have fun in Wrongju!
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