Incheon: My Gateway to Amazing South Korea
For visitors flying to South Korea’s capital, Seoul, you’ll most likely land at Incheon International Airport. Home to South Korea’s busiest port, Incheon city is so much more than just an airport. For me, it was my first taste of South Korea.
I had heard so much about South Korea through the Hallyu wave, Korean food, global brands like Samsung and Lotte, cosmetics and its beautiful coastline. When I had the chance to visit the country as part of Korea University’s Model United Nations Conference in 2018, I was ecstatic. I was all set to fly to Seoul on New Year’s Day, and I was planning my itinerary when I came across an unfamiliar name — Incheon.
I remember stepping out of Incheon Station on Line 1 of Seoul’s subway. It was a sunny winter morning with clear blue skies, and I was full of excitement to explore this cosy city. I had read up about what to do in Incheon and was delighted to know that it is full of culture and history. Brought to life by migrant Chinese workers during the Qing dynasty, Incheon Chinatown is still as lively as over a hundred years ago. Being an avid fan of museums, Incheon Chinatown is the perfect open-air museum to explore!
The entrance is guarded by a majestic dragon-clad gate that overlooks passerbys, and I was already in love with the bright red and yellow architecture. Allowing myself to get lost in the streets of Chinatown led me to various murals and relief sculptures displaying the city’s proud heritage. The meandering streets were lined with restaurants, cafés and stores selling street food.
My favorite part of the trip was the tour of the jajjangmyeon Museum in the center of Incheon Chinatown. Jajjangmyeon (炸酱面) is a traditional Chinese noodle dish that is simple to make yet satisfying. What makes it special is the thick black bean sauce made from meat, vegetables and sometimes seafood that is poured over a bowl of hand-pulled wheat noodles. While the gooey black sauce may not seem appetizing, jajjangmyeon is definitely worth trying, and a comfort food for me.
With exhibitions covering two floors, I was undoubtedly impressed by how detailed this museum presents the history of jajjangmyeon. From the history of Chinese merchants who brought the noodles to South Korea to the evolution of Korean instant noodles packaging and interactive displays, I spent hours in the museum. By noon, I was satisfied with knowledge but hungry for a taste of the famous noodles.
After lunch, I continued my exploration on foot and came across the colorful Songwoldong Fairy Tale Village. I felt that the colorful atmosphere instantly transported me to another world. Grabbing my camera, I conquered the hilly stairs of the small art village, inspired by the colorful installations, interactive 3D murals and quirky café decorations around every corner.
One thing that surprises me about the country is how friendly people are. While waiting in line for hotteok, I started up a conversation with an ajumma using my barely existent Korean. The lovely ajumma kept repeating ‘some’ until it struck me that she was referring to Wolmido Island which was a short bus ride away. Stepping off the community bus, I followed the island’s seafront trail and took in the tranquilness of the sea. Beneath this serenity, this little island played a critical role in the Korean War — it was the landing site of the US army in the historic Battle of Incheon.
Unwilling to leave after a long and satisfying day in Incheon city, I made my way back to Incheon subway station for an hour long ride back to Seoul. Bidding farewell to the sun, I was overcome with awe. I was a stranger yet everything felt so familiar in this foreign country. There is no doubt that South Korea has managed to captivate me even more with its careful concoction of culture, history, art and modernity, and I promised that I’ll return to the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’.