(The MICE=Crystal Hagen) Most folks who have been to Korea can say they have been to Incheon since they arrive at the fabulous Incheon International Airport that serves Seoul and Korea in general.
However, this is similar to my travel experiences where I’ve been to O’Hare and Midway Airports in Chicago dozens of times, but have never been to downtown Chicago. When you arrive at Incheon International Airport (especially at night) you can normally see the lights of the port city of Incheon out the window of your aircraft.
The airport is actually located on Yong-yudo Island just to the northeast of Incheon. A lot of what you see is the large port facilities and industrial complex; however, Incheon also has a long and interesting history as a seaport servicing Seoul.
Incheon is located on the western coast (Yellow Sea) of Korea just south of the Han River estuary. It is actually located off Kyonggiman (man is a bay or harbor) that leads to the Yellow Sea. While it is a major port it is subject to large tidal variations (In excess of 20 feet twice a day).
These tidal variations can be seen as your travel to the airport using the airport expressway. Some times of day you can see ocean, other times mud flats. These tidal variations make Incheon a challenging port to enter by sea. During the Korean War, the United States Far East Command under the auspices of the United Nations made a surprise landing here on 15 September 1950 to outflank the communist North Koreans who couldn’t imagine a landing here was possible due to the tides.
Incheon is not far from Seoul. It is just up the Kimpo peninsula and can be reached if you take the Seoul subway Line 1 (dark blue line) to its end station at Incheon. You can also get there by automobile using either the Kyoung-in Expressway (Route 2) or the Sohaean Expressway (Route 11). From downtown Seoul this can be a long ride; however, you can easily make a day trip of it. Buses are also available to take you to Incheon, but I’ve always favored the subway. The subway has numerous stops in the city of Incheon besides the final station; however, the actual end station on the line (called Incheon) is the one I recommend to see most of the sites downtown. Incheon station puts you in the center of Dong-Gu or East District.
Near by the Incheon station is Walmido. This is the island that separates Incheon harbor from the Kanghwa Island Straits (also called the Yeomha Gang (gang means river in Korean) or Salee river in the old days). This is where the first of three landing beaches where the Incheon landings took place during the Korean War were located. Wolmido (do is and island) was an island back in 1950, however; now the island is attached to the city and is within easy walking distance of Incheon station. It is now pretty much a resort island with attractions, arcades, restaurants and a waterfront. The seafood restaurants in Incheon are especially good largely due to the city being a seafaring one and its proximity to the sea. It is a nice place to go on a day outing.
Also near the Incheon station is Chayu Park. This is also referred to as MacArthur park due to the statue of General of the Army Douglas A. MacArthur who devised and executed the Incheon landings that turned the tide of the Korean War. The park also has lovely vistas, landscaping and numerous monuments and pavilions. One of these monuments commemorated one of the many Chemulp’o Treaties (Chemulp’o is the old Joseon name for Incheon).
Korea (Joseon or Chosen dynasty Korea) had for centuries maintained a policy of isolation from the rest of the world. However, after the Japanese incursions of 1875 and the resulting 1876 Treaty of Friendship or Treaty of Kanghwa the Joseon policy began to change. At the behest of the Chinese, Joseon decided to change the policy of excluding trade with foreigners. In a belated and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to counter balance Japanese inroads into Joseon the Joseon government decided to engage in treaties of trade and friendship with the west. The negotiation site for most of these treaties was Chemulp’o (Incheon)
On 19 May 1882, Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt of the United States Navy, in command of the screw sloop Swatara, arrived at Incheon. After three days of talks in the vicinity of the park, a treaty of commerce and friendship had been concluded. This treaty was the start of a long and friendly relationship between Korea and the United States of America. Other similar treaties were subsequently concluded with Great Britain, Germany, and other western countries. Unfortunately, these treaties were too little too late to stop Japanese designs on Korea. Still, the Chemulp’o treaties are commemorated in Chayu Park where they were negotiated. Chayu Park is on a small hill in the center of Incheon’s East District (Dong-gu) and is a very pleasant location.
In an around the park are streets full of shops and restaurants. I spent an hour or so in a tea shop that was also a green house and aviary. There are numerous options for dining, shopping, or just spending a pleasant afternoon. After spending many hours enjoying the sights of Incheon, it was time to get back on the subway for the trip back to Seoul. It was nice to know that Incheon was so much more than just the city near the airport. I had a wonderful time.
Written by Crystal Hagen/ The MICE
Photos by Incheon City Tourism Department