Compared to the U.S., South Korea is a relatively small country, geographically speaking. When it comes to land mass, South Korea is only about 7% bigger than the state of Indiana. But where Indiana has roughly 6.5 million people, the population of South Korea clocks in somewhere over 51 million people.
Which means there is a city or village to visit almost every way you look.
Changwon is one of these cities.
Changwon has been called “the Seoul of the South,” not because it’s so big, like Busan, but because it’s a rich city. Changwon has the highest per capita income, after Seoul. This is not surprising, given the number of CEOs, plant owners, and high-up workers and engineers who work in one of the many factories here. Changwon is home to some of Korea’s biggest industrial giants, like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, GM-Daewoo, KIA, WIA, Doosan Heavy Industries and Engines, STX, and others. They have everything from car manufacturing to ship-building to engine production to technology.
I visited Changwon a few weeks ago on a rainy Saturday morning. The streets were pretty deserted when we first arrived, but as the day progressed the rain slowed down and the town started to come to life.
It only takes about an hour and a half to get from Daegu to Changwon since there is a KTX (high speed) train that runs directly between the two cities. This was my first time on the KTX post quarantine (aka this time I wasn't delirious from being awake for almost 24 hours), and I found out that the number one unspoken rule of the KTX is "Do Not Disturb The Quiet." Perhaps there is an actual sign in Korean that says no talking, moving, or breathing, but I have NEVER been on a such a quiet train before. I was legitimately concerned about getting dirty looks if I tried to clear my throat.
The flip side is that between the quiet and the rocking motion of the train, I took a SOLID nap for most of the ride...like full sleep cycle...dreams included.
Once we arrived, we made a quick stop for breakfast and coffee (I was a little groggy from that amazing nap), and decided our first stop would be...
*Cue awesome drumroll noise*
The Changdong Art Village
This was my favorite place in Changwon BY FAR. Hidden away in the heart of the city was this beautiful celebration of color and expression. This art village is full of narrow alleys overflowing with street art, studios, cafes, boutique art shops, and even an arcade. Scattered throughout the neighborhood are murals and tributes to some of the country's most prolific artists.
The Changdong Art Village was developed in an effort to rekindle commercial businesses in the declining downtown area. The main concept of the art village is to unify the city's strengths in art with urban renewal.
Since it was raining, we were able to walk around and take some amazing photos and videos without anyone else around. However, it was a little too early for some of the shops to be open, so I am definitely planning to visit again on a sunny day for the full experience!
Our next stop we discovered TOTALLY by accident.
The Historic Site of Masan Buddhist Missionary Temple
We were taking what we thought was a shortcut to another location when we turned a corner and THIS smacked us in the face.
Yeah. We had no idea what this was when we stumbled across it.
Turns out, the only information I could find on it ANYWHERE - including Google - was on a small plaque out front that read:
This temple was established for the purpose of preventing Japanese Buddism and performing Korean Buddism missionary work. This temple is the first Buddism temple in [the city] and has nationalistic character. Furthermore this temple took part in improving the cultivation and education of people and developing the regional culture of [the city].
The thing I liked the most about this temple was that the entrance was filled with dozens of individually planted water lilies (one of my favorite flowers!). When you walked up and down the rows, it felt like the temple was surrounded by a pond full of flowers. The design concept was pure genius.
So, now you know as much as I do about this surprising but beautiful discovery in Changwon.
The last stop we had planned in Changwon was the most, um, culturally eye-opening.
So, without any further ado
I give you...
The Masan Fish Market
It is exactly what it sounds like...a market devoted to fish. And not just fish, but all manner of aquatic creatures. When we arrived to the market that Saturday afternoon, it was PACKED, and the sheer scale of it was pretty mind blowing.
The entrance is fairly non-descript as you can see from the photo below, but it opens up on the inside to cover an area at least the size of two professional football fields.
I know next to nothing about edible sea life, so it's almost impossible for me to list everything I saw in there, but what I DID recognize was the smell. If you do not like the way that fish smells in general, this might be a place you should leave off your travel bucket list. Usually I have no problem with a strong fishy smell, but even I have to admit that I was occasionally overpowered by the smell as we walked around inside the market.
Unfortunately, I was not brave enough to try any of the food they were selling. I will have to work up my courage a little more before my next visit!
After we left the fish market, we simply walked around Changwon for a little to get a better feel for the city. We found a large indoor market full of shops and street food vendors, as well as a smaller art district in another part of the city.
Despite the rain, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Changwon, and I can't wait for the chance to visit again!