Daejeon is the capital of Chungcheongnam-do province and is the fifth largest city of South Korea, with a population of 1,442,856 at the end of 2005.
‘It’s Daejeon’ is the slogan of the city and the honest folks of Daejeon haven’t tried to mislead the public by claiming anything outlandish in their slogan. They didn’t try, for example to call it ‘Dynamic Daejeon’, ‘It’s Daejeon, great isn’t it?’ or even ‘It’s Daejeon and we like it, we hope you will too’ (maybe they should use ‘It’s Daejeon and its just ok, nothing special but we like it’).
Daejeon barely gets a mention in the lonely planet guide to Korea but a few things are missing from the guide. The main thing that seems to be missing is Daejeon Zooland, it’s not actually the kind of thing that a traveller who buys lonely planet guides would probably want to see but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get a mention. The fact that I live in Korea and have bought the guide suggests it also appeals to a different audience than the regular traveller who spend a month or less in one place and then move on. As a resident I want to know what’s here and what’s worth giving a look and, importantly what’s not worth my time. There is also a stadium built for the 2002 football world cup and if you’re a football fan like me you may want to give it a look.
Zooland will pop up on various websites if you’re looking for the sites of Daejeon and should really be avoided. It’s a theme park with a few rides that has a “Zoo” attached. In reality the zoo has the de rigueur reptiles, birds and other traditional animals. At its centre is an African safari. This costs extra (you can buy a combined ticket on entrance) and takes a round 10 minutes to go through a faux African safari park, the animals look malnourished and generally are in a bad state, they have lions and black bears that roam free but the tigers are in a cage and the other animals you can see at any domestic farm in the UK, in short, its not pretty.
Im sure for kids it’s great but Im not a kid and I wont be going back to Zooland.
Daejeon does have a few more things listed in the lonely planet but at the time of writing I hadn’t experienced them, the main ones are the Expo park, Kumdoriland theme park, the national science museum, an observatory (all of which are housed together) and 2 market/eating/shopping areas in Dunsadong and around Daejeon station ( not to be confused with Seodaejeon station which is further to the east) although a worker at a information centre told me to avoid the expo park and the associated attractions, she did mention that the observatory was worth a look.
Daejeon is given three pages in the lonely planet and half of one of them is with a map that is poor at best, it doesn’t have the expo park and associated delights, Murphy’s bar (a recommended food/drink place) or Zooland.
The directions to Murphy’s bar are so bad that the info centre worker said it would be difficult to find as the Dunsadong area of Daejeon is large and this is the only direction the book gives. We didn’t try to find it but I will find it next time for the sole reason that my girlfriends surname is Murphy and it might provide a cheap laugh and a cheesy photo opportunity.
The 2 other places to go and see are the areas surrounding Daejeon station and Dunsadong. The former has sprawling markets where you can see pig’s heads and various types of Korean cuisine being consumed by the locals on the streets and men playing Korean games, sometimes in their hundreds. I found Dunsadong after a while of searching but wasn’t impressed as the place seemed to be distinctly lacking in life, I will try it again on a Saturday night. The station area has plenty of bars and restaurants including a Turkish kebab shop complete with western owner, not sure if he was Turkish though. There is also an Italian restaurant called ‘Cin Cin’ around the corner from the kebab shop that is very nice indeed.
The local specialty of Daejeon, which I have yet to try, is acorn jelly!
The lonely planet guides highlights a website to look at but is no longer working, I did however find another more current website maintained by foreigners in Daejeon and it can be found at http://www.socius.or.kr/.
Daejeon doesn’t seem to have anything special to make it stick out from the other cities in Korea, the fact that everywhere else does seem to have a hook means (Jeonju with the food, Seoul is the capital – which seems to be enough, Busan has the coast and with it seafood and the ports and everywhere has temples and parks) the other cities seem to be leaving Daejeon in their collective wakes.
If you have been to several cities in Korea and have a limited time scale then you won’t be missing anything by bypassing Daejeon, if you live here you really should pay it a visit just so you can say you’ve done it. Incidentally, a lot of westerners/non-natives will have some experience and may have been to Daejeon several times as it has a branch of Costco, the American wholesale supermarket that stocks western food items. It really is a sin to travel to another city for the sole purpose of shopping, make a day of it and see the few sites Daejeon does have to offer.
Daejeon isn’t really worth an extended visit as the maxim ‘first impressions count’ applies well here, I wasn’t impressed on first glance and as there are plenty of other cities to explore I may not go back.
If you do plan on going to Daejeon then the info centre at Seodaejeon rail station is a good place to start, but be aware, there is precious little to do in Daejeon. Residents of the city may disagree but they live there, you have been warned.
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