Apparently I’ve been starved for beautiful natural scenery within the last few months; hence my sudden obsession with visiting beaches, gardens, and parks! I’m not wasting a moment of my summer free time, so when my co-teacher Jiny wanted to sightsee last weekend I was quick to say yes, please! We ended up choosing a place she’d wanted to go for a while: the BCJ Botanical Garden in Paju, a town up north of Seoul.
The garden itself is pretty nice. Although not as large as the massive Garden of Morning Calm, it makes up for its size with incredibly scenic views and a variety of things to enjoy. It’s famous because several Korean TV dramas have been filmed there (which is why Jiny wanted to go in the first place).
In addition to a bunch of smaller gardens, BCJ includes a European Garden complete with manicured hedges and tons of statues, a large lily pond, and many scenic paths and walkways. The European Garden was incredibly fun to walk around in and of course we couldn’t resist taking funny pictures with the statues! We also enjoyed the tunnel of trees that goes along the lily pond.
I loved the ceramics area, housed in two large greenhouse structures next to the European Garden. On some days you can actually use the wheel and make your own ceramics, but sadly not on the day we were there. You can also paint on mugs/plates, etc. that have already been made.
There are tables and tables of gorgeous ceramic dishes and décor that were actually all made at BCJ (I asked, just to be sure). I couldn’t resist buying two little pots to bring home with me and I might just go back before we ship our stuff back to the US and get actual dishes.
Between walking around and taking pictures, shopping for gorgeous ceramics, and eating lunch at the Italian restaurant in the European Garden, we were able to while away four hours there. I’d recommend going close to when it opens; as soon as it starts to get hot in the early afternoon the surprising lack of shade as well as the crowds of people make it pretty miserable. There were large groups of Cub Scouts there as well as many other tourists, so don’t expect peace and quiet when you go!
Getting There: Train, Buses, and… Hitchhiking?
Although it looks close to Dongducheon on the map, there aren’t any subway routes directly there (we’d have to go all the way down to Seoul and then all the way back up toward where we started, only on the other side of the mountains) so getting there was quite the adventure. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to figure it out without my Korean co-teacher with me to ask for directions. We knew we’d have to start from the Yangju train station (line 1) and then take a bus from there.
After getting off the train at Yangju and fruitlessly examining the bus stop signs, we were told that the bus that goes directly to the garden was discontinued. Instead we’d have to transfer to a different regional bus at a stop way out in the country. Undaunted we boarded the correct bus and took it to the last stop that certainly was way out in the country. There was literally one building with a tiny store, which conveniently had a bus time schedule and ice cream to eat while we waited for 45 minutes. Finally the bus came around and we got on, only to find that the garden is five minutes away but the bus driver needed to stop and eat lunch. I wish I were joking. A half an hour later, the bus dropped us in front of the garden.
After enjoying the garden, we walked out to the bus stop at 5:15 to catch the 5:30 bus back to our transfer stop. We waited, and waited, and waited… no bus (this seems to be a trend whenever I take buses anywhere!). A half an hour later one passed us and the driver actually waved at us before continuing on his merry way! Frustrated, we started walking back along the road, cars whizzing by as we clung to the edge.
Two miles later we came to the place where the driver had eaten lunch. By this time Jiny, who was wearing high-heeled wedges, was fed up with walking and to my shock suggested hitchhiking! I don’t know about you, but I was raised hearing horror stories of what happened to girls who did such things. Despite my reservations, Jiny stuck her thumb out for 20 minutes before a super nice couple stopped and ended up driving us not only back to our next stop, but all the way to the train station! Faith in humanity restored, I guess.
A decent day trip from Seoul or anywhere north of that, BCJ is a fun escape with plenty to do for the whole family. Although most easily accessible by car, you can get there by public transportation. From Dongducheon/Uijeongbu area: take line 1 to Yangju. Go to the bus stop outside the station (on the opposite side of the street) and wait for bus 51. Get off the bus at the last stop where the bus turns around. You’ll be in the middle of the countryside with one small building by the side of the road that says “Farm Stay.” Wait there and transfer to bus 067 or 15. They both go the five minutes to the garden. Warning: be flexible, because you might end up waiting at the stop for a while. We waited for 45 minutes. Retrace your steps on the way back. Or, if you’re feeling risky, hitchhike!