MARKING THE end of autumn and the beginning of winter, December has finally arrived. The piercing chill works its way through our thick jackets, and not even a cup of hot tea is enough to keep ourselves warm. As trees are stripped of their leaves and our breaths puff white clouds, a visit to Onyang Hot Spring offers a great means of melting away the cold. Onyang-dong has already been a popular winter travel destination for the elderly, as it is easily accessible through public transportation and it provides them a chance to relieve their nerves in public baths. Although enjoying hot springs has long been regarded as a leisurely activity for the older generation, the trend has been changing to increasingly target the youth. One such way is the diversification of the forms of hot springs. In the Onyang Hot Spring district, for example, there are now spa-themed parks that incorporate elements of a water park into traditional outdoor spas. Here, people from all age groups can enjoy the unique experience of steaming in the hot springs while relishing fresh, cold air.
The trip to the Onyang Hot Spring district begins with the departure from the Seoul Station to the Onyangoncheon Station. You can take subway line 1 and get off one station before the southernmost point of the route. For a shortcut, you may also take a KTX train and transfer to subway line 1 in the Cheonan-Asan Station, which marks the boundary between the cities of Cheonan and Asan. When you arrive in the Onyangoncheon Station, you can immediately feel the atmosphere of the hot spring district. There is a free public footbath in front of the station, which gives visitors a welcoming glimpse into the hot spring culture as soon as they arrive.
The Onyang Hot Spring flaunts the most extensive history among the hot springs in Korea, with its beginning dating back to the Baek-je Period (18 BC-660AD)*. It became one of the most famous hot springs after King Se-jong visited it in 1442 to cure his eye disease and recuperate from the stress arising from mediating national affairs*.
Adapting to the youth’s desire for extraordinary winter activities, many spa-themed parks have appeared, and Asan Spavis is one of them. Unlike typical waterparks, it has pools filled with thermal water and includes both indoor and outdoor spas. Visiting the waterpark in the winter offers perks of its own, as you must endure the cold while wearing nothing but a swimsuit. Although the biting cold air winds up the body as you stand at the edge of the spring, it is thrilling to finally soak yourself in the steaming thermal water: the experience itself offers a newfound appreciation for the warmth it provides.
Onyang Detached Palace
After relieving your nerves and de-stressing at the hot spring resort, visit the Onyang Detached Palace near the Onyangoncheon Station. Now, the site of the Onyang Detached Palace has been replaced by the Onyang Hot Spring Hotel, and few heritage sites remain within the palace. The dual structure was constructed to accommodate the king and royal families upon their visit to the countryside. The sparsely located traditional monuments in the area provide an opportunity for the visitors to recall the atmosphere of the Joseon Dynasty when it was first built.
The Yeong-goe-dae, located in the center of the current Onyang Hot Spring Hotel, is especially memorable as it commemorates the visit of the Crown Prince Sa-do. It is where the Crown Prince had practiced martial arts with his father King Yeong-jo*. Although the Detached Palace itself is a symbol of the royal families’ leisure time in the hot springs, it also connotes the unfulfilled paternal love of King Yeong-jo.
The Yeong Jo Sil Lok, a historical record of King Yeong-jo, recounts the tragic story of how Crown Prince Sa-do faced his death upon the order of his father due to his involvement in political conflicts. Although King Yeong-jo cherished the Prince as a child, slanderous claims from treacherous officials caused a rift in their relationship. King Yeong-jo’s decision to sacrifice his son inevitably led him to transgress moral laws rooted in Confucian family values. Yeong-goe-dae is where visitors can experience the history of how an unsuspecting family met a tragic fate.
Gongse-ri Shrine Catholic Church
If the Onyang Hot Springs is where you can warm your body, Gongse-ri Catholic Church is where you can warm you heart. Located in northern Asan, it is one of the most beautiful Gothic-style Catholic churches. Built with red bricks and arched ceilings, this church is a famous filming location, having hosted such films as Tae-Guk-Gi: Brotherhood of War, Iris II: New Generation and numerous other productions.
In addition to the fame it receives from its aesthetic value, Gongse-ri Catholic Church has even more significance as a historic landmark of martyrdom. From the mid-Joseon Dynasty, the church served as a storehouse of grain tax for over 200 years**. After Catholicism was introduced, it became the strategic center for believers and a site of their frequent gatherings. With the onset of the religious persecution in 1866, it also became the center of consecutive bloody massacres**. The sacrifices of numerous Catholic martyrs make the Gongse-ri Catholic Church an even more sacred location. Although the solemn atmosphere might bring the mood down, it is definitely worth a visit to pay your commemoration to the noble souls and keep your heart warm.
After the long journey, you can invigorate yourself with a steaming bowl of sun dae guk bap**** before returning to the bustle of Seoul. Sun-dae is a sausage-like Korean cuisine that is made with pig intestines, which is a specialty of the town of Byeongcheon-myeon in the city of Cheonan. As it has become a regular dish in snack bars along with tteok-bok-ki*****, sun-dae has been diversified to include cow intestines, squid, and other ingredients that are unique to the region.
Near Onyang-dong is Aunae Jang-Teo, where a number of sun dae guk bap restaurants lie in a row. Aunae Jang-Teo is renowned as the epicenter of the March First Independence Movement****** and also as the origin of Byeongcheon sun-dae. Among numerous sun dae guk bap restaurants, the two of the most popular places are Park Sun-ja Aunae sun-dae and Chung-nam-jip. If you visit these highly sought-after spots during the peak hours on the weekend, you will have to wait for more than an hour. In both restaurants, the cheapest menu is the sun dae guk bap, which costs \8,000. If you want to enjoy the genuine taste of sun-dae, you can also order an assorted sun-dae platter for \13,000 to share with your family or friends. With the warm satiety, these dishes will mark a great finale to a revitalizing trip to the Onyang Hot Spring district. On the way back to Seoul, you can harbor fuzzy feelings and reminisce upon your journey to Onyang, where you warmed up both your body and soul.
*The official website of Asan-si
**The official website of Gongse-ri Shrine Catholic Church
***Jang-teo: A Korean term that refers to an outdoor marketplace
****Guk-bap: A Korean soup typically served in a clay bowl that is usually enjoyed by putting rice in the soup
*****Tteok-bok-ki: A Korean cuisine that stir-fries or boils rice cakes with a spicy sauce