Reaching for the Skies at Seoul's Stunning Haneul Park
It’s hard to match the beauty of Haneul Park of Seoul - its well-manicured Eulalia (not lalang) fields seems like something out of a dreamy tourist brochure. And while most people laud its beautiful lawns when its autumn in Korea, I think that it is pretty beautiful all year round. And no, it's not that kind of Seoul garden. Haneul is an excellent place for locals and tourists looking for an afternoon of laid-back strolling or sightseeing; photographers will also be enamoured by the views that will undoubtedly stir up their creative inclinations.
The park is most striking (and photographed) during South Korea's beautiful autumn when the Eulalia fields turn a shimmering brown. During the summer months, the Eulalia are resolutely green (as pictured) which although looks less enchanting, it still makes for a great place to be.
Visiting Haneul is bound to arouse some degree of whimsicality in its visitors as its landscape offers a refreshing break from the hectic and dense streets of Seoul. Additionally, the attention to detail and dedication displayed by the park's management is undeniably impressive. The fields are well taken care of, and its supporting structures are properly maintained.
The park does not prescribe any set route or path to take; feel free to stroll around and take your time.
The design of the park is an exercise in expert planning, which skilfully balances the practical needs of maintaining the ecological balance of the park with the inclusion of structures that make it more attractive for tourists.The few windmills located in the park aim to (subconsciously) promote sustainability to its visitors, and power the park’s lights and maintenance office. There is also an observation dome that provides an elevated view of the park’s sprawling vistas. This is a good site for photos if you’re able to convince the other tourists to get out of the way. If you’re in Haneul on a clear day, the N Seoul Tower and Bukhansan Mountain will make an appearance in the distance. The Hangang River will come into view too if you’re observant enough.
There is also a small store selling snacks and drinks within the park grounds, a godsend for anyone that's winded by the trek up or has found their energy sapped by the blazing heat of the summer sun. Be sure to dispose your PET bottles properly.
Haneul used to be a landfill site that eventually reached its capacity in 1993. The city government then decided to turn the area into a series of parks in an effort to reclaim and create recreational spaces for the community. This is a laudable effort by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and demonstrates how cities can make spaces liveable and enjoyable again even though this was a result of the huge South Korean World Cup effort. After construction, Haneul was the area's centrepiece but was later repurposed and branded as part of a series of parks that jointly form the ‘World Cup Park’ complex at Seongsan.
People think of Brazil, Argentina or Germany when the sport of soccer is being discussed, but South Korea’s soccer culture has been deeply ingrained in society especially after it hosted the 2002 World Cup. Interestingly, the 2002 session was held jointly between Japan and South Korea - a nod to the warming relations between the two countries. This is the first (and so far, only) World Cup to be hosted by two countries. Plus we got the Seoul World Cup Stadium - what's not to love?
The momentous decision to hold a World Cup outside the ancien régimes of the hitherto ‘traditional’ soccer world did cause some degree of controversy - European fans loathed to wake up at odd hours just to watch soccer matches held in Seoul or Tokyo. Other controversies were also stirred up surrounding South Korea's meteoric rise to the semi-finals during the World Cup, especially regarding their matches (Korea won) against Spain and Italy.
The controversies of 2002 are interestingly part of a series of events that caused rising dissatisfaction with soccer bodies like FIFA who have been accused of prioritising politics (after their habits of bribes and corruption of course) over the game itself.
Take the metro to the World Cup Stadium (Seongsan) station and leave through Exit 1. From there, either walk up to the stadium-proper and find your way via the elevated platform, or make your way to the foot of the park via the ground-level roads and intersections. Either way, expect to trek up stairs or winding roads to reach the peak of the hill where the park is situated. I did this in summer whilst being chased by bees, so perhaps this isn’t the best option.
Alternatively, a round-trip ticket on a buggy from the base of the hill to the top will run you (your wallet, not your legs) 3,000 KRW.
A side-trip to explore the World Cup Stadium is also in order for those inclined to do so - it currently houses a cinema and a huge supermarket. The World Cup Stadium, despite being built for the 2002 World Cup, is currently the #1 venue for the city's soccer related activities and campaigns, alongside some other cultural ones as well.
It is comforting to know that an oasis of greenery can still be found in a city that is locked in a headlong rush towards concrete urbanism. In downtown Seoul, opportunities to sample a taste of the city’s greenery is relegated to the heavily touristed Namsan Hill or the small Tapgol Park. For nature lovers, there are other options further out from the city which include the veritable trekking monstrosity of Bukhansan Mountain or the expansive Nami Island.
If you’re visiting the city in autumn, Haneul is a must see. However, if you find yourself in Seoul during any of the other seasons (especially in Summer), We'd recommend Haneul Park (more affectionately known as the Sky Park) mainly to nature lovers or photographers as the journey up and around the area can get quite tiring. You could also scour the web for photos of what the Sky Park looks like in winter.
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