Wonju is one of the quieter cities in modern day South Korea. In a lot of ways, Wonju is everything that Seoul is not. Seoul is expensive, crowded, and noisy, but Wonju is cheap, has a mid-size population, and quiet. Wonju is so undeveloped, it has just a few international food franchises. There are just two Starbucks in town. Seoul, in comparison, has 284 Starbucks. Despite Wonju being quiet and undeveloped, there are things to do in Wonju.
#1. Visit cafes, movies, restaurants, and a department store near the Wonju Express Bus Terminal in Musil-dong
The area near the Wonju Express Bus Terminal and the Intercity Bus Terminal is the most happening spot in town. The bus terminals are located in two buildings that are across from each other. Besides the terminal and it’s various shops and movie theater, there are many restaurants, bars, and clubs in the immediate vicinity. Additionally, there is an AK Plaza department store a few minutes on foot from the bus terminal buildings. The AK Plaza Wonju Store has designer clothes and expensive name brands like Calvin Klein and more generic domestic brands. There is a big Lotte Mart and a Daiso nearby as well, for home shopping. The area near the bus terminals is one of the most happening parts of Wonju, as there are people at bus terminals and some of the cafes on almost any day of the week. Evenings can have some foot traffic for the restaurants and bars in the area. Though it might not seem like much, the shopping and eating options in Musil-dong resemble similar areas in most Korean cities and are a good place to hang out, relax, shop, or meet friends.
#2. Enjoy the nightlife in Musil-dong
The Musil-dong area has bars and nightlife establishments. One can have dinner by going to a Korean barbecue restaurant, fried chicken, or another Korean style restaurant. Afterwards, they can get drinks at one of the area’s local bars. Some bars are Coda, BeerDoor, and CM Bar. Coda has live performances of blues and jazz. CM Bar and BeerDoor serve hard liquor and beer. Coda is the better bet if visitors want to have excitement and to interact with people in a relatively crowded venue for quiet Wonju. Otherwise, CM Bar, BeerDoor, or other venues might be better.
#3. Take walks along the Wonju Stream
The Wonju Stream winds down from the north and cuts through the eastern part of the city. Parts of Bongsan-dong, Taejang-dong, and Bangok-dong are to the east of the waterway, while the rest of Wonju lies to its west. The Wonju Stream is a good place to jog, ride a bicycle, or walk. It has exercise equipment and benches and trees and grass line the walkways along the stream. Particularly in the hot summer, the Wonju Stream is a nice place to exercise or get some fresh air, with its cool breeze.
#4. Take advantage of the small population by becoming more intimate with locals
While walking around town or visiting Wonju establishments, there should be many opportunities to meet locals. The population of the town is sparse and foreigners especially will stand out like a sore thumb. Foreigners have often reported how they are more likely to be approached while moving around or going out in Wonju. So, take advantage of the population density by being more intimate and friendly. It can lead to friendships and cultural exchange.
#5. Hike in the Chiaksan National Park
Hiking is another thing that visitors or new residents in Wonju can do. Chiaksan is located to the east of the city. The mountain is designated as a national park and has a number of peaks. It’s actual size is about 181.6 kilometers, and it rivals Wonju itself in size. Visitors can take buses to reach the trails and park facilities. Chiseok Falls and Seryeom Falls are two of the waterfalls that can be found in the national park. “It’s a breezy hike for those who are able,” says Lucy Santiago, an educator who lived in Wonju and often hiked the mountain. Santiago suggests starting near the Hwanggol Exploration Information Booth. She describes the scene once starting upon the hike as lush. “The scene is very green, with chirping birds and buzzing insects. As one reaches the half-way mark on the course, at Ipseoksa Temple, the sound of the monks and bells ringing in the temple makes one stop and pause to listen.” Santiago recommends stopping at the temple to take in the sights or rest. “One may take a short break inside the temple to pray or stare in wonder at the beautiful and colorful paintings. Or one may sip on a cup of tea or coffee at a small shop next to the temple.” Continuing on the journey, the destination awaits, a waterfall. “Once one is ready to continue the hike, it’s uphill to the waterfall. Lush trees and rocks are all around.” She recommends hiking in the Chiaksan National Park if time permits. “It is a great way to spend the day in nature for anyone in Wonju,” Santiago says.
#5. Eat Smoked Meat at Sweet Oak
If you like American barbecue, Wonju has a restaurant that serves authentic American style barbecue. Sweet Oak, located in Musil-dong, is so famous for its wood-fired kitchen that expats from Seoul take the hour and a half bus out to Wonju just to eat their craft-barbecue meats. American barbecue comes from a long tradition, and many attest to Sweet Oak being one of the best American barbecue restaurants that can be found in South Korea. Their menu includes smoked spare ribs, smoked pulled pork, smoked sausage, and smoked beef. Sides include various types of coleslaw, chorizo beans, classic potato salad, tortillas and smoked salsa. Craft beers are available as well. Sweet Oak is one of the better spots to eat in Wonju, well worth a visit.
Addresses and Contact Information
42 Wonju, Gangwon-do, South Korea 단계동 1115-3
Address: 원주시 일산동 52-19 Wonju, Gangwon-do, South Korea 220-956
Address: 원주시 장미공원길 71-7 2층 Wonju, Gangwon-do, South Korea
Address: Gangwon-do, Wonju-si, Musil-dong, 봉바위길 76-2
David Kute has an appreciation for Seoul’s distinct neighborhoods. From Dongdaemun’s market stalls to Hongdae’s rock music venues, the city continues to fascinate him. After spending many years living and working in Seoul and South Korea, he started the blog Rooftop on the Hanok. The blog is a place to share information as well as explore facets of life on the Korean peninsula. He enjoys writing fiction and playing basketball when he’s not researching or writing Rooftop on the Hanok posts.