Why Gongju? Apart from the slight personal preoccupation with anything Baekje (read up on your Korean history) due to archaeological sites close to where I live, not much more. It is close enough to Seoul to do a day trip, and small enough to be a walking town. It is also 20th July 2017, one of the hottest day of the year, so I was expecting a bit of walk in the sun.
Packed with two cameras, one digital rangefinder and one film panorama camera, something sorely lacking in the digital world, I'm off on a bus from East Seoul bus terminal. There's a bus every hour. Perhaps more frequency at Nambu bus terminal but I prefer East Seoul. Ticket cost 9,000₩ in 2017 and it takes two hours one way. Left East Seoul at 10:10am and arrived in Gongju at 12:10pm and the bus will not make a rest stop. Don't think it needs to. I don't know if Gongju ever gets packed with tourists, at least on this day I could just walk up to the bus station, pick any seat I want in the bus and buy the return ticket when I feel like going back. Like a private chauffeur, although next time an electric scooter to get around town may make a bit of sense.
Gongju bus station is right in the middle of town. Now there are two bus stations, I got dropped off at Singwan (신관), but there's another station closer to the museums and the city walls (where I wanted to go) at Sanseong (산성). Now I know.
First stop after the bus terminal, a walk along the river on the way to cross Geumgang river. Gongju is one of typical towns built along the banks of an important river back when cars don't exist. North part of the city is the newer bits (very typical Korean small town), and southern banks (the rive gauche of Gongju!) is where the historical parts are. I can't comment on the lack of activities, it is after all Tuesday afternoon and in the middle of summer. It could be normal that you could take a nap in the middle of the main road and not get run over.
Crossing the river at Geumgang Bridge (금강교) is probably a good idea. Half of the bridge is one of those old style iron trussed bridge with one lane for cars to cross in one direction and two smaller lanes for pedestrians and bicycles, and the occasional delivery motorcycles. Bring a wide angle 35mm or wider.
Right when you get to the southern side of the river, the fortress wall is unmistakable. It's a hot day, and I've had my share of fortress walls this week so I will give this one a miss. But it's there. And I think it can be covered in an hour.
For lunch, I walked into a shop and they asked if I wanted Gongju gukbab. Why not. I was thinking of cold noodles, but fine. Preserved vegetables, slices of beef and leek in a broth that you usually get as side soup in a beef place. Slightly spicy but not too much, more salty than spicy. Good kimchi too, but I can't say it's artisanal. I'd say average. 7 years in Korea has made me into a kimchi expert. I promise no food pictures here.
The walk from town to King Munryeong's tomb is a bit of a hike. Ok for those that regularly do 5-10km runs in the morning. Other mortals I recommend the bus. 101 seems to go there and they all seem to take Cashbee, a system of NFC payment that is used outside Seoul, but T-money that you have from Seoul should work on it too. Tap on, tap off - no need for conversation.
Anyway I'm on foot. So I can't comment on the bus. Took time to go into any small roads to look at the village accommodations. There are b&b minbaks almost everywhere. No fear of not finding place to sleep.
First museum I encounter is King Muryeong's tomb fronted by a museum with a small exhibit and most importantly air conditioning. And elevator brings visitors up to the large hilly park where the tombs are. It appears to be free.
There are two ways to the Gongju National Museum, about 500m away. I know because I went using the main road and back through the mountains that involves steep roads and emerging at the higher end of King Muryeong's tomb where you can go back down to the tomb entrance and more air conditioning.
Just outside the National Museum is a Hanok Village. There's a reception so I'm guessing you rent small apartments and stay there with traditional under floor ondol heating (one could see piles of firewood outside behind the apartments and a small hole to chuck the wood into). The Hanok village is for future research.
I must be the only tourist on this hot day. Temperature is 34°C outdoors and walking will just make you sweat yourself silly. Bring plenty of water. I recommend cargo pants like 5.11 Tactical's shorts that pack easily 4 bottles of 750ml water with space left for phone and other stuff.
The museum (air conditioned no less, and free entry) is partly closed when I was there. Only the bottom floor where the King's history and artifact, including reconstructed coffin and stuff from the tombs are exhibited. Let's say it's a combination of Chinese and Japanese style items. What? You want to give it a miss? Come on, at least pretend to feel more in touch with history when you see it.
I didn't spend much time at the tombs. Asian royal tombs are generally just a mound. Bigger the fella, the bigger the mound. Largest one I've seen belongs to Chinese emperors. Anyway the walk is in the open, obviously, and can't blame me for preferring air conditioning. I've gone through 4 bottles of water by now. Even my Leica feels hot as hell. Case for plastic cameras in the future.
What I like about Korea? The UNESCO sites are dirt cheap or free to enter. In China it would be the most expensive spots to visit.
Going back to the idea of having an electric scooter next time I travel, it took more than one hour to walk to the museum. Don't really regret it too much, but that means half a day is gone by the time I took my time with the exhibits. There is no time left for the fort and it is time to go back to Seoul. But I've seen enough walls. And so that's it... Day trip it is.