Before Erin and I arrived in Chungju, we tried to do a little research on our new home away from home. To our surprise, the internet didn't have much to say about it. We learned that it was the birthplace of Ban Ki Moon, and that it hosted the World Rowing Competition in 2013. Oh, and it had a really big dam. That was it. Not much about things to see, or what to do at night, or even how to get there. It was like a blank page, a big unknown. To a pair of newly-arrived waygook, this lack of information was intimidating. Now, two years later and more than a hundred posts on, I realized we haven't done much to fill that blank. We've talked about Chungju a lot, and about the things that have happened to us here, but we haven't illuminated the city itself.
It's time to change that. Over the next few weeks, I'll be doing a series of posts about Chungju, everything from restaurants, to shopping, to places to go for a little fun. Chungju is a quiet town, but it has more to offer than you might think.
Anyway, let's start with a little overview, and a few of the basics you'll need to do some shopping. Here's a map of Chungju proper.
It looks like a mitten with its fingers pointed south. It's about two miles (3.2 km) across at the widest point, and just a little more than that tall, so it's easy to get anywhere on foot.
If you're new to the city, the first thing to find is a grocery store. If you're with EPIK, your co-teacher probably pointed out a couple of markets. If they didn't, just head for the nearest block of apartments. Every cluster of residential high-rises has a little mini-mall of attached shops, including a grocery, dry cleaner, hairstylist, and maybe a stationary store.
These places are great for basics, but what if you need something less everyday? Furniture? Peanut butter? Bunny slippers? Maybe all of the above under one roof? For that, there's E-Mart and Lotte Mart.
Both are big-box stores, like Walmart back in the U.S. Both offer a full range of groceries, from western fare like fresh pizza and frozen hamburgers, to traditional Korean foods like kimchi and rice. They also have sections for clothing, furniture, and pretty much any other home-good you could need. Everything will be sized for Koreans, and the stuff may not always be top quality, but it is serviceable and generally cheap.
As a bonus, Lotte Mart shares a roof with the Chungju Intercity Bus Terminal. Which makes it really easy to get a cab there if you don't know Korean. Just say to the driver "Lotte Mart-uh" or, if you're feeling jaunty, "Lotte Mart-uh gah ju say yo." The cab will drop you right at the terminal.
If you need electronics, however, the big-box stores won't be much help. In the case of E-Mart, they just don't have much selection, while Lotte Mart is actively phasing theirs out. So for headphones, HD cables, or a new printer, you'll have to head to a different store; Hi-Mart.
Chungju has two locations (though Googlemaps will only tell you about one). Hi-Marts are overpriced, and have a surprisingly limited selection given their size, but they're better than nothing. If you don't have time to go up to Seoul and check out the large electronics markets, Hi-Mart is your best bet.
Now, you've gotten some basic shopping out of the way, time to look around. Chungju's downtown is located here:
It includes a large pedestrian mall (where cabs and delivery vans will STILL do their best to run you down), tons of restaurants and bars, a pair of movie theaters, and lots of clothing stores.
If you're in the mood for something a little more old-fashioned, the big Traditional Market is just north of downtown, along the riverbank.
It's held roughly every five days, on dates ending in five or zero (so the fifth, the tenth, the fifteenth, etc.). It's a good place to ramble, if you don't mind crowds, and you can pick up fresh fruits and vegetables at good prices.
If, instead, you're looking for something more stylish, head over to the 'new downtown,' aka Yeonsu-dong.
Yeonsu-dong is home to a lot more restaurants, fashionable bars, and approximately five zillion coffee shops. Also, a surprising number of Vietnamese restaurants. It's a popular place to go for dinner, or chicken and beer, or just a meet and greet with some coworkers at a coffee shop.
Anyway, that was some of the basics. On my next post, I'll get into the great outdoors, and a few of the outdoor activities you can do in Chungju.