20130920_194713On the south coast of Korea, as far away from Seoul as you can get (without getting wet) is Suncheon. Suncheon-si is one of the bigger three places in Jeollanam-do, the others being Mokpo and Yeosu. Gwangju became so big that it became its own special metropolitan city. Jeollanam-do is perhaps the most scenic of all the provinces of Korea. It has an incredible range of scenery and vegetation. There are the heights of Jirisan, the rolling green fields of the Boseong tea plantations, the craggy islands off the coast of Mokpo, and the wetlands of Suncheon Bay.

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Wetlands and tidal mudflats are often overlooked in favour of more glamorous mountains, glaciers, and rainforests. Even for myself, when someone talks about escaping to nature, I have in my head a North American rocky mountain with log cabins and bears. I imagine catching trout in a fast flowing river then having a fire later on. There is of course the extreme exotic element; the jungles of maddening noises and dangerous snakes. This version of nature comes complete with a soundtrack of those frog noises and small monkeys screeching, natives squat behind large trees ready to shoot their darts from a blowpipe, or panpipes. Wetlands never really enter my mind when thinking about escaping into nature. I have no clear image based on the countless movies I have watched, perhaps only those Florida type reeds and grasses with the alligators and those fun looking boats. Actually, I think they are just swamps.

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Coastal wetlands and tidal mudflats are hugely important to the World’s ecosystems. The reeds which grow in such places naturally filter out the various types of pollution which find their way into water. The roots of the reeds also hold together soil and prevent erosion and the more serious effects of floods. There are five major coastal wetlands in the World: Georgia in the USA, the Amazonian Delta, the North Sea in the UK and Netherlands, the Great Lakes in Canada, and Suncheon Bay in South Korea. These places are so important because they serve as a rest area for migrating birds. Korea is something of a major crossroads for birds in Asia. Many species stop here on their way from Siberia to Australia and New Zealand. There are also crabs, otters, worms, and countless other fauna which call these places home. I don’t think most wetlands are high on the list of tourists. They are simply too inaccessible, and without any interest in ornithology or photography, there is little to see.

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Suncheon Bay is a recent development (completed 2009) and with the careful use of raised board walks and birdwatching huts, the place is definitely worth a visit. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed walking among the three metre reeds and grasses. If this wasn’t enough then you can glimpse many birds flying over your head from time to time. The crowning glory of the reed park is the Yongsan Observatory. To get to this amazing viewpoint you have to cut back on yourself and climb a fairly steep hill. Once you have ascended through the pine forest you are awarded a spectacular view of the reed fields spreading out into the ocean. It’s not a windswept salty ocean, but a gentle breezy ocean dotted with interesting islands all the way up to the horizon. The observatory offers a panoramic view and unlike many places in Korea, there is nothing much there, just a wooden structure with some shelters and a large pair of mounted binoculars. You can do the walking course within a couple of hours, but if you have a reasonable camera or an interest in birds, you could fill the better part of a day here. If you tire easily of walking, or you have a short attention span, there is a small train and a boat ride. The entrance to the park has a building with an observatory and some displays on the flora and fauna of the area. You can also buy local agricultural products in a surprisingly tasteful shop.

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Suncheon will host a Garden Expo in April so I expect many of the facilities to be upgraded. They are working on a small personal rapid transit to reduce traffic impact. Also, some of the ticket offices are being upgraded from their current hut styles. Even without the forthcoming Expo, I recommend  visiting the park, the entrance fee is only 2000 won and it’s an easy enough places to reach. From Jeonju it’s an easy half day trip and from Seoul you could make it if you get an early train, but I would stay overnight to make it more relaxing.

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Getting there: Suncheon is on the KTX route between Seoul Yongsan and Yeosu Expo. If you travel from other cities like Daejeon or Jeonju look at the slower trains before booking KTX, the time difference is minimal.

From the train station turn right and you can see the tourist information in a small log cabin. If you pass this walk about 150m to a crossing near a convenience store, immediately in front is the bus stop for  Suncheon Bay. The bus is number 67 and it costs 1100 won and takes 20 minutes to the park. This bus also runs past the Bus Terminal.

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