Dongtan, South Korea

Where: Dongtan, Gyeonggi-do province, South Korea. Dongtan is about an hour south of central Seoul, located between the cities of Suwon and Osan. The conurbation of Suwon, Osan and Dongtan is called Hwaseong-City.

When: Jeff moved to Dongtan in 2011 and I went to visit him there twice before moving there myself in 2012. I lived there for a year and then after that year we moved on to Geoje-do – but we popped back to see friends and to say hi.

I first wrote this page in February 2012 but, as this is Korea, most of the information was out of date within six months. This version of the page was written in June 2013 and then updated in August 2015. Although I will do my best to keep this page as up to date as possible, if you do want current information about the town then the best thing to do is to contact Dongtan Clan group or the BADASS (Byeongjeon and Dongtan Area Social Society) group on Facebook.

Why: Jeff and I were both English teachers in Dongtan. He lived there for 18 months and I was there for a year.

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Intro

Dongtan is a new, purpose built city about an hour south of Seoul. Jeff and I lived there for a year in 2012.

To be honest, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Dongtan. We had a great time here and we made a brilliant bunch of mates; being so close to Seoul was great and we did a lot of travelling around Korea. Dongtan itself is a nice city with all the facilities you could need, but it’s a ‘designed’ city, and so in many ways lacks natural spontaneity, and it’s a city of tower blocks, with little nature nearby (apart from the ‘designed’ nature areas). The river in Central Park is a fake river that is turned off in bad weather and they play fake frog noises to make it seem natural, which is a little strange. Also, Dongtan to me is the epitome of Korean ‘bale-bale’, work every hour then go drink all night culture. I much preferred more relaxed Geoje-do, where people were more chill.

Dongtan is famous for the Metapolis sky-scrapers: the tallest apartment buildings in Korea. These are huge, distinctive tower blocks that you can see from Suwon, or which you would pass on the motorway if travelling to the south of the country from Seoul.

Dongtan is dominated by the huge Samsung factory, which is the main employer in the town. The Samsung Factory is huge, and I swear that sometimes it would grow overnight, like a great looming monster that was slowly absorbing everything around it. Apparently, they are going to build a second Samsung factory and a second Dongtan (Dongtan 2) to accommodate all of the new workers. If you travel down the motorway from Seoul to the south you can see this new city rising up. It’s going to be a huge city, with its own KTX link.

Personality wise, we found Dongtan to be a lot like Seoul, and so perhaps not so relaxed as the south of the country. In the Seoul conurbation, people seem to work hard and they play hard. However, we did make some great friends here and we had a good life in Dongtan. There were lots of great bars and restaurants, a huge expat community, and great transport links.

If you’re looking for specific advice and want to make some Dongtan friends, then it’s well worth joining the Dongtan Clan group or the BADASS (Byeongjeon and Dongtan Area Social Society) groupon Facebook.

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Map and geography

The people on the BADASS Facebook group created an excellent Google map for Dongtan with pointers to all of the main services and amenities in the city.  

Dongtan in many ways is quite easy to navigate as it is built to a pattern. The city is built in a semi-circle, with the centre of the circle being the main park/hiking area and the river.

Pooping man 2.pngIn the first layer of the semi-circle there are two squares. The one by the Ramada hotel we call pooping man square (as there is a statue of what looks like a man pooping – see right).

The other square we call Daiso Square, as this is where Daiso is (the pound shop/dollar store which we loved).

In the middle of the semi-circle is the Metapolis area which is the centre of town. Metapolis is made up of four huge tower blocks, which are the highest accommodation/apartment tower blocks in South Korea. These are a really good landmark to navigate with, even from as far away as Suwon.

Under the Metapolis tower blocks is Enter 6: a plaza/mall area which contains shops, a cinema, restaurants, a skating rink, a little, fake river which you can paddle in and the dancing fountains.

The semi-circular road which runs along the outer side of Metapolis is the main road for buses. The main bus stop is in the middle of this road by Metapolis.

On the other side of the main road is Central Park. Central Park is a packed park which contains a (fake) river and pagoda, fountains, a mountain walk, climbing wall, bike hire, skating park, tennis courts, running track, croquet golf, football pitches etc etc. This is a nice place for a stroll in the evening and is usually full of people being sporty and healthy and having fun.

Most of the Dongtan English teachers lived in the area around Central Park. We lived off a small offshoot park, between Central Park and the Samsung Factory. Baby Guinness is in a posh estate on the far side of Central Park.

You can get a great map of Dongtan from the Ramada Hotel, and the staff at the hotel are very knowledgeable if you have any questions about the town.

Cash points

If you are not using a Korean bank account then you need to find a global ATM which will accept foreign cards. Both the NH bank and the KB bank near to Daiso Square take foreign cards.

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Getting there and getting around

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Subway

There are two subway stations for Dongtan: Seodongtan and Byeongjeon, both of which are on Subway line 1. Byeongjeon is the station that we usually used, because trains to Seodongtan were more limited. Seodongtan, though closer to town, is on a weird little offshoot off the main line, so we tended not to use it.

To get to Byeongjeon you can get bus 17, 27 and 708, all of which drop you off on the main road which runs parallel to the station. To get to the bus stop from the station, when you exit the station take the road which is in front of you but slightly to your left, and then when you get to the main road turn right. The bus stops are about 200 meters up the road.

I suspect that a lot more of the buses run close to Byeongjeon station but these seemed to be the most direct.

It’s two stops north to Suwon and 25 stops to Seoul Station. There’s an express train every hour.

You can get bus 64 to central Suwon but sometimes the subway is quicker and easier. However, for central Seoul, you’re much better off getting the bus which is much faster (see below).

If you go south on the subway you can go to Osan, Cheonan and Asan. Cheonan and Asan are major stations and you can connect here to go to the south of the country. Asan station has a KTX link.

For more information on travelling by Seoul Metro, visit www.seoulmetro.co.kr. For more information on travelling by train in South Korea, visit the Ko Rail (English) website.

Buses

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Local buses

The main bus stop for Dongtan is between Metapolis and Central Park, though there are many additional stops which may be more convenient for you.

Below is a list of the major bus routes which you may need:

  • 4108 – Central Seoul – Myeongdong, Eljiro-3 subway, City Hall and Seoul Station. Takes about 1 hour to get to Seoul Central Station if the traffic is OK. You catch this on the Metapolis side of the road at the Metapolis bus stop.
  • 4403 – Gangnam – Sinnonhyeon station (gold line 9) and Gangnam station (green line 2). Gangnam (downtown Seoul)  is great for shopping and there is a Dos Tacos just by the bus stop. This bus takes about 45 minutes. You catch this on the Metapolis side of the road at Metapolis bus stop.

Just a quick note about travelling into Seoul: the buses get extremely busy in the morning rush hour and on a Saturday morning (I mean, like, two hour wait busy). If there are huge queues at the bus stop then sometimes it is worth getting a local bus to the end of the line (about four stops up from Metapolis) and then catching a bus from there.

  • Suwon Station and Suwon bus terminal: 311 and 7-1 (Metapolis side of the road), 303 and 5-1 (Central Park side of the road). I caught the 5-1 to Suwon and it seemed to take forever. It did go past Byeongjeon station though.
  • 64 – Fast bus to Suwon central. Goes through the old city, stops by the main gate, Paldalmun and the Toilet Park. Finishes at Anyang Station.
  • 63 – Pujan Dong via east and central Suwon. Goes past the Paldalmun but takes forever to get there. If you need to go to Suwon immigration office, this is the bus to take.
  • 116-1 – Osan one way or the Korean Folk Village the other. Metopolis side of the road for the Korean Folk Village; Central Park side for Osan.
  • 708 – Byeongjeon station. Central Park side of the Metapolis stop.
  • 17 and 27 run along the right hand side of Central Park and these go to Byeongjeon station.
  • 17-1 runs from the Cultural Centre to Byeongjeon Station.
  • 27-1 goes to Seodongtan Station.

You can pay on the bus but it’s better to get a T-Money card, which is like a London style Oyster card, and which you can use on most public transport in Korea. You can buy these and put credit on them at most Family Marts. The cards cost ₩2,000 (in 2012).

There is a bus which runs directly to Incheon airport. This arrives and departs from the Ramada and costs ₩14,000. It takes about an hour and a half to two hours to get to the airport.

The bus to the airport departs from the Ramada (see photo at top of bus section). The buses go about once every 40 minutes. You can get an up to date timetable from the Ramada hotel website.

Intercity buses

The intercity bus station is on the edge of Suwon. You can catch bus 64 to the intercity bus station (it’s next to the huge E-Mart).

Intercity buses can be a cheap way to get around South Korea and the only way to get to cities not connected to the train lines.

Trains

Dongtan doesn’t have a train station itself, so if we wanted to catch a train we tended to travel from Suwon or head south to Cheonan-Asan.

For more information on travelling by train in Korea, and to book tickets, visit the Ko Rail (English) website.

Taxis

A taxi to Dongtan from Seoul costs about ₩40,000, even at 4a.m. It takes about an hour to get from Seoul, though I have heard of taxis that have made the journey in 30 minutes. You have to pay the motorway toll too, though often they’ll include this in the price.

A taxi from Suwon should be under ₩10,000. Many of the drivers will try to scam you by refusing to put on the meter and asking a pre-agreed price of ₩15 to ₩20,000. This is illegal so don’t let them get away with it. I’ve had a few fights with taxi drivers at Suwon intercity bus station trying to scam me. Grrrrrrrr.

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Restaurants

Dongtan is full of restaurants and you can find pretty much every type of food, from BBQ pork belly to roast chicken, to burgers and chips, to pizza, to Italian, to Indian to Chinese.

I don’t want to write about too many restaurants, as these tend to go out of business quite quickly and become mobile phone shops, but I do just want to mention one or two of our favourites that I presume are still open ‘cos they are so good:

mapoMapo-Galmeigi

Mapo Galmeigi (also known as circular eggs) is our favourite restaurant in Korea. We loved it so much that sometimes we would go twice or even three times in a week. Mapo Galmeigi serve unpretentious Korean BBQ with great side dishes. We loved the galbi. We call the restaurant circular eggs as they pour the eggs on to a circular ring around the BBQ. Mapo Galmeigi also had some of the best kimchi in Korea: we could get through two or three bowls of that stuff each.

I took my vegetarian dad and brother to Mapo, and they both had enough to eat and loved the free, vegetarian side dishes and the circular eggs.

There are three or four Mapo Galmeigis in Dongtan, but our favourites were the Mapo in the park between Central Park and Samsung (this was our local) and the one in Daiso Square.

Other good places for galbi include Mammoth (which is an all you can eat meat chain) and Meat Shovel, which served your meat on a shovel. Meat shovel is down by Koomars.

Hakoya and Misoya

Also in Daiso Square is Hakoya, which is a Japanese restaurant serving bento box style food. They do great fried beef, pork and chicken with rice.

Misoya is a chain of Japanese style restaurants who again serve bento box style food. They serve good portions and they are a good, solid lunch option. There is a Misoya in Enter 6, one by the KB bank next to Daiso Square and one on the edge of town, just past Central Park.

Kimbapanara

For great Korean staples, such as Kimbap or sundubu-jiggy, we would head to one of the Kimbapanaras. There was a Kimbapanara on the corner past the KB bank near Daiso Square.

Il Blue

Il Blue is a wine bar, European restaurant that serves delish deli-style pizzas and burgers. It’s a little expensive and the portions aren’t huge, but they are really friendly and it has a nice atmosphere. It’s the sort of place ladies-who-lunch go to.

Ashley’s and VIPs

Ashley’s and VIPs are all you can eat buffet restaurants located in Enter 6 (the cinema building). Ashley’s has all you can drink wine (including Prosecco), so can get a little messy and it often has huge queues. 

Mondoo

I love mondoo (Korean steamed dumplings) and in particular I loved the huge mondoos from the stall opposite Daiso. A hot mondoo not only makes a great snack or lunch but they can also be used as hand warmers in the really cold weather. This particular mondoo stall is run by our friend Crystal’s mom and dad and they are lovely and friendly.

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Bars

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Just a quick note about this section: I know that this section is already out of date and that a few new cool places have opened up since we were last there, but I’m not sure of the names of the new cool hang outs – so if you want to find out where the latest place to be is, then ask the guys on the Dongtan Clan group or the BADASS (Byeongjeon and Dongtan Area Social Society) group on Facebook.

Baby Guinness

If you’re looking for ex-pats, fancy a taste of home or just want some fun, then head to Baby Guinness on any night of the week and you’ll find friends and a good beer.

Baby Guinness is an Irish pub which opened towards the end of our stay in Korea and it immediately became the local for all of the expats in Dongtan – many of whom we hadn’t met before.

It’s a good friendly pub which serves western food and drink. It’s a little bit expensive, but you’re paying to have stuff which you can normally only get back home.

You can find out more on the Baby Guinness Facebook page.

Koomars

Koomars is a bar which we all used to hang out at and which some people still go to to watch the footie etc. Koomars is a local Hof bar located near to Il Blue. They serve beer and Soju cocktails, and they have a darts machine and movies on the tele. Koomars is in the teacher’s commune, just off the park between Central Park and Samsung. We used to go here cos we got on really well with Gil the owner, but sadly he left half way through our stay, so after this we tended to go to Baby Guinness.

Alley Bar

Jeff and I found this great bar which overlooks Central Park. It serves huge pitchers of beer (they have those personal beer taps that you can put on the table), good food, it has a nice atmosphere, huge velvet sofas to sit on, great snacks and best of all, a great view over Central Park. It’s on the third floor, above Irish Potato, in the far right hand corner of Central Park. There’s a great noribang in this building too.

Kalkal and Blues Brothers Bar

Two ‘Western’ style bars near to Daiso square, which have a large selection of international bottled beers and which serve San Miguel on tap.

Bottle Bars

There are a couple of bottle bars around town. In a bottle bar they have fridges of different beers and you just go and help yourself and then pay at the end. Our favourite was Beers-Day in Daiso Square.

I’m just going to mention two more places we loved to go out to play in, although these were quite small and so I wouldn’t be surprised if they closed and became phone shops at some point. Both are by Daiso Square. The first bar I want to recommend is the dong-dong-ju and pajeon bar which is downstairs from Beers-Day. This is one of the most atmospheric bars in Dongtan, which sadly I didn’t find out about until my last night. They serve dong-dong ju from huge metal kettles and you drink it from a bowl. The pajeon is huge and good. The bar is smoky and tiny and lots of fun to visit.

The other place  I want to highly recommend is the sushi bar at the base of Asia Plaza, a building just behind the KB bank building, near to Daiso Square (our school, Leaders Prep, was in Asia Plaza). This great place serves huge refreshing pints of Asahi and some of the best sushi in Korea. The guy who runs it is a star and the bar is really friendly and cosy, especially in mid-winter.

Mart drinking

Pubs and bars aren’t that expensive in Dongtan, but if we fancied a low-key, chilled out, cheap night we would go and drink at one of the Marts. Most of the Marts (what we would call corner shops in the UK) put a few plastic tables and chairs out, so that people can sit outside and drink beers or what have you from their shop.

Some of the Marts even have TV screens outside and they are often quite relaxed about you bringing food along.

Our regular mart was CPFM (Central Park Family Mart, which is now Central Park CU). Most nights we would find someone there, sat outside having a chilled out beer. We also watched the London Olympics here and we have had one or two events here with up to 40 people.

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Shopping and stuff

The two huge supermarkets in Dongtan are Homeplus and E-Mart.

E-Mart is located on the edge of town, towards Seoul and the main road. It is a little bit out of the way but it has a large house hold section.

Homeplus is in the Metapolis Mall (building A) and is great for grocery shopping, clothes, household goods and cheap electronics. Homeplus used to be owned by Tescos, so we used to get lots of Tesco western products in there, including Tesco pickle. They had a beer library on the back wall (the best selections of beers we’ve seen in Korea) and some good wine choices. Both supermarkets sell all the household, clothing, camping, stationary, toy, electronic items you could need too.

The Metapolis Mall contains lots of clothing stalls and cosmetic shops etc.

Post office

The post office is near to the Ramada hotel. It’s kind of diagonally opposite. To get to the post office turn left out of the Ramada hotel and at the crossroads make your way to the opposite corner. Keep walking down the road and you will pass the police station on your right hand side and the post office is just after this.

Concert hall, gallery, library and swimming pool

Just by the park/hiking area, to the right of the inner semi-circle road, there is the cultural centre, library and swimming pool.

The swimming pool costs ₩3,000 per visit and it has public swimming from 9.00 – 9.40, 12.00 -12.40 and 18.00 – 18.40 each day, and also on Saturday afternoons (information is from 2012) . If you go swimming, you must wear a swimming cap and be prepared to get annoyed at the anjumas bossing you around (I got told off for getting the swimming pool changing room wet!).

There are also indoor and outdoor concert halls at the cultural centre, and an art gallery.

Hairdressers

I always used to go to Black Dia hair, which had shops in Pooping Man Square and the Winner Star Building (north of pooping man square).  They did great cuts and were good value (₩15 – ₩20,000). Other than that, just ask people on the Dongtan Clan who they recommend.

Hospital

There’s a couple of hospitals in Dongtan, but the main one is just by Daiso. You’ll know it’s the hospital as there’s usually a couple of people on drips smoking outside. Apparently there is also a hospital in the Winner Star Building (north of pooping man square) and they are cheaper.

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Leisure time

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There’s a CGV cinema in Enter 6 (building B, the non-Home Plus Metapolis building). They often show western films in English with Korean subtitles. There’s another CGV cinema on the road between Enter  (building B) and the park in the middle of the semi-circle. This second cinema is a lot quieter. You can get cinema times (in English) for both cinemas on the CGV website.

There’s also an ice rink in Enter 6 (building B).

In Central Park there are lots of sporty things to do such as tennis, bowling, football, skating. There’s a climbing wall, a skate park, a walking path, a running track and croquet/golf (crolf). There are also a number of gyms in Dongtan.

The river is really nice to walk along on a Sunday and the park in the middle of the semi-circle has a great pagoda at the top of the hill (see above). There’s an outdoor gym by the pagoda and you’ll find these outdoor gym machines in most of the parks.

There’s also bowling in the Winner Star building, lots of noribangs (private singing rooms) and PC bangs.

The dancing fountains are by the Metapolis area and in Central Park, and in the warmer months these perform on the hour in the evenings. They’re great to play with when it is hot.

If you want to go to a Jimjilbang (a Korean spa), there is a great one in the Winner Star Building and one in a gym just off Daiso Square.

Days out

Great days out from Dongtan include Seoul, the old walls and historic centre of Suwon (UNESCO), Anyang Art Park, the hot springs and spas of Icheon, Mr Toilet House and the Toilet Park, Everland (a huge theme park), Seoul Great Park and Zoo, and the Korean Folk Village. The Korean Folk Village is about ten minutes south of Dongtan and is a great place to visit. The village has replicas of many Korean traditional houses and people in traditional dress etc. We took my parents here and we had a great time.

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Top tips and useful links

Top Tips

To meet people, to find out about events and to find up to date information about the town visit either Dongtan Clan group or the BADASS (Byeongjeon and Dongtan Area Social Society) group on Facebook. There’s a great expat community in Dongtan and whilst we were there there were regular get togethers.

If you’ve just moved to Dongtan and are looking for household basics then the best places to visit are Daiso and Homeplus. Homeplus has cheap electronics and big stuff, Daiso is great for kitchen, bathroom and stationary essentials.

Get a T-Money card for public transport, as these are invaluable. You can buy them and top them up from the Family Marts.

For up to date information on what is happening in Korea, including concerts, festivals and events, then you can follow Sunny Smart Shopping on Facebook, or grab yourself a copy of Groove Magazine or 10 Magazine (you can usually find these in the ex-pat bars of Seoul and Busan). If you want Korean News in English you can either pick up a copy of Korean Times from Byeonjeom Station or read it online.

Dongtan is a pretty flat, compact city, so many people get themselves bikes to get around. There’s a great bike shop near Central Park CU, at the far corner of Central Park.

If you’re moving to Korea, the best thing to bring with you is sheets, because for some reason they are preposterously expensive in Korea.

Useful links

Wiki page about Hwaseong City: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwaseong,_Gyeonggi.

Hwaseong City government website – in English: www.hscity.net/english.

You can also check out the vlogs made by QI Ranger. Steve Miller is a Dongtan ex-pat who has made loads of vlogs about living and working in Korea.

 

Disclaimer

Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.

All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.

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