Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Haenggung-dong, named after the Temporary Palace (행궁) located within the fortress in Suwon, is considered to be the whole area within the fortress and extends south beyond Paldalmun to Maegyo bridge. Even though, this area consist of over nine different districts (dong), this area is still called Haenggung-dong, by many.
During the Joseon Dynasty till more recent times as well, Haenggung-dong was the city centre of Suwon. When Suwon Station was built along the Gyeonbu line, the city centre was moved to Suwon Station in 1905. The city centre once again changed when Suwon City Hall moved to Ingye-dong, which is the the current location. Despite all these changes though, Haenggung-dong remains to this day, the cultural and historical centre of Suwon city. Now, it is of course known for being the home of Hwaseong Fortress, along with Suwon galbi chicken, but it is also known for its cafe.
What makes Haenggung-dong unique from other cafe-filled neighbourhoods is it appears almost to be a secret. But obviously, because of social media, the secret is now out. Almost like a treasure hunt, cafe hunters must either search on their phones or walk through the various alleyways to find the cafes. Many of the cafes do not have loud and obvious signs announcing their locations and instead opt for modest wooden signs or signposts. It is no surprise that Koreans have affectionately called this area Haengridan-gil (행리당길) which is a combination of 행궁동 and 경리단길 (a ‘secret’ neighbourhood near Itaewon knowns for its bakeries, cafes, and restaurants). To me, Haenggung-dong, is Gyeongridan-gil with Bukchon mixed together, and then adding a splash of its own flair on top of it.
This area now holds various traditional markets, workshops, boutiques, galleries, a museum, an extensive mural village, eight schools, and of course Hwaseong fortress. Due to the fact this area is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, there is development restrictions, which has helped this neighborhood keep a lot of its old character, and distinguishes it from many other surrounding neighbourhoods. There is newer buildings in this region, but a balance of older and newer buildings is maintained. The development restrictions is also one of the main reasons that murals have flourished within Suwon Hwaseong fortress. Mural villages in Korea usually spring up in areas that need revitalization and life, but still need to keep many of the current (and usually older) buildings.
In the last several years, a surprising change has happened. A renewal has sprung up within the fortress walls. One way this has become evident is the thriving and expanding coffee culture that has arisen amongst the quiet roads of Haenggung-dong, bringing in many tourists to the area. I can honestly say in the two years I have lived in the area, I have seen new cafes, boutiques, and restaurants appear almost monthly. Sometimes, they seem to just pop up overnight!
A majority of these new cafes and restaurants are concentrated in the area called the Ecomobility Village, which lies between north of Temporary Palace and the fortress walls of Hwaseomun and Janganmun. In 2013, the neighbourhood hosted the Ecomobility Festival (hence its' current name). Before 2013, this area was home to many Buddhist temples and fortune tellers due to how cheap the area was. 2013 though brought new life and many areas were restored and renovated, which also made room for restaurants and cafes to move in. Temples and fortune tellers still reside in the area, but many have moved on due to the changing atmosphere. In commemoration of the 2013 Ecomobility Festival, once a year when the neighborhood is car-free for a day. This would be a perfect day to explore this section of the city!
The Ecomobility Village is a personal favourite area of mine that I like to visit often. It hosts a majority of the new cafes in the area. It’s very pedestrian-friendly with wide sidewalks on the main roads and refurbished alleyways that are ready to be explored. Many of the main roads are cobble-stoned as well and at night it is pretty quiet. Things like this make it easy to want to stroll around the area. I always find it to be an adventure walking through the Ecomobility Village as I seem to find a new cafe or restaurant every time I wander the streets. The neighbourhood also possesses around a third of the murals in Haenggung-dong. So don't be afraid to wander around and find new places, especially in the back alleys! I do advise though to be mindful of the residents on the area as many still consider this neighborhood home. We don't want this to become another Bukchon village. Of course it is common courtesy, but do not wander onto private property and be mindful of your noise level when walking along the streets.
This is just an introductory post about the Haenggung-dong, but I plan in the future to write about specific places and different things to do in the fortress area. Just a quick note, due to how things and stores can change rapidly in Korea, please check when each post was last updated as some places may no longer be there. Until then, please wait patiently!