The northern Seoul suburb of Uijongbu has long been just a sleepy farming village north of Seoul of little consequence in Korean history.
However all this would change in 1950 when it became a pivotal battlefield during the Korean War. The terrain around Uijongbu provided the last natural defensive positions before the North Korean army could reach Seoul. After the ROK Army forces lost the Battle of Uijongbu the gates to Seoul were open and the city would eventually fall only days after the North Korean invasion. Below is a picture of Uijongbu in 1950:
In the picture you can see Highway 3 which is the north-south highway running in the center of the picture and Highway43 which is on the right of the picture that is a northeast-southwest running highway. These two highways converge in Uijongbu and are the two routes the North Koreans used to capture the city during the Korean War. Here is a picture that shows the devastation that happened in Uijongbu during war:
If you look closely in the below picture you can see the slopes of Dobong-san mountain in the background:
After the war the city became known as a US military camp town called a “gijichon” in Korea when a large contingent of US soldiers were stationed in the city after the Korean War. Even though the town is host to US soldiers today, I don’t think anyone can claim with a straight face that Uijongbu is still a camp town considering its explosive growth that has made the city a thriving metropolitan center for Korea’s northern Gyeongi-do province. Here is a modern day Google Earth image of Uijongbu that shows how much it has grown as well as identifying various places I will mention in the rest of this posting:
These following photographs should give everyone an indication of the explosive growth of this town. This below picture is taken from Cheonbo-san mountain that shows the US military base Camp Kyle in the foreground and Uijongbu in the distance tucked into the slopes of beautiful Dobong-san mountain in 1965:
Picture via Ottmar.
Notice how Camp Kyle is on the outskirts of the city and is surrounded by farm land. I have had people in Korea now a days ask me why the US military built their bases within Korean cities? However what these people don’t understand is the bases were originally built outside of the Korean cities, but Korea’s explosive growth over the past few decades has completely swallowed these bases.
Here is a picture I took from the same vantage point back in 2005 that shows how Camp Kyle has been completely surrounded by the city:
Camp Kyle’s front gate at this time was very dangerous because you had large slow moving military trucks trying to turn on to a fast moving highway 43 that saw heavy traffic. So it should be no surprise that Camp Kyle was one of the US military bases in Uijongbu that was shutdown in 2005.
Here is a picture from the same vantage point in 2011:
In the picture it can be seen that Camp Kyle has been completely leveled as the land is prepared for redevelopment. Here is how Camp Kyle looked when it was still open in 2005:
Camp Kyle isn’t the only place being redeveloped, just down the road from Camp Kyle is Camp Sears which was also closed out in 2005. Here is how the camp looked when it was open in 2005:
Here is how it looks in 2011 after being leveled for redevelopment:
If you look closely in the earlier 2011 picture of Uijongbu you can see that the old Camp Essayons has been leveled as well in order to construct a university hospital. Here is what the camp looked like back in 2005 when it was open:
Another USFK base Camp La Guardia has also been leveled and can be seen in the center of the below photograph also when it was open in 2005:
Camp La Guardia was really a base that needed to be closed because it was an old airfield that had been completely surrounded by the growing Uijongbu. Not all the camps in Uijongbu have been closed though. Below is a picture of Camp Red Cloud that can be seen lying at the slopes of the hills to the west of town:
Camp Stanley is the other US military base still open in Uijongbu that lies right next to the Uijongbu Prison that is the building pictured below with the blue roof:
You can read more about these closed US military camps at this prior ROK Drop posting:
The land where these US military camps is located is not the only place in Uijongbu being redeveloped. In the past 10 years this entire city feels like it has been redeveloped. The heart of the city is without a doubt the area around the Uijongbu Train Station. The train station used to be this old brick building that Seoul Subway Line 1 ended and passengers could transfer to the KORAIL train system to travel to locations north of Uijongbu.
Below is a picture of this location at night where Uijongbu Station is infamous to GI’s as being a place where many of the cab drivers will try to charge you hugely overpriced fees to bring you back to you camp, especially when 2ID had a curfew because they knew soldiers had no choice, but to pay the extortion:
Today commuters don’t need to change on to the KORAIL line at Uijongbu Station since Seoul Subway Line 1 has been extended all the way to Dongducheon. Additionally the station has been torn down and being redeveloped into a massive shopping center/train station:
Here is another view of the redevelopment going on around the train station:
In addition to the train station the entire downtown area is being redeveloped as well. Here is a picture of downtown directly across from the east side of the train station:
The entire area has seen a number of new buildings go up that has really added to the city’s skyline:
Further into downtown away from the new buildings around the train station, the older Uijongbu of older buildings, street ajummas selling goods, crazy traffic, oblivious pedestrians, the blackmarket area, etc. can still be seen:
Here are a few pictures of the area of downtown Uijongbu to the west of the train station that was taken back in 2005. The first picture is of a wedding hall:
Just for comparison’s sake here is what a wedding hall in Uijongbu looked like in 1965:
Picture via Ottmar.
Here is the main thoroughfare in this part of town in 2005 looking east towards Uijongbu Station:
Here is the view looking west towards the city hall complex at the end of the road, which by the way is a really nice structure:
I thought the big open road and the new construction made this area of Uijongbu look really nice, but in recent years it has been spoiled by the construction of a light rail transit (LRT) system known as the U-Line:
All over Uijongbu the concrete pillars from the U-Line are a major eye sore in my opinion:
The U-Line is supposed to help relieve the major traffic congestion that plagues the city. The traffic congestion has actually gotten much better in recent years. I can remember when it took an hour to drive from Camp Stanley to Camp Red Cloud. Now it can be done in half that time during even peak traffic times. A long time friend I have in Uijongbu told me he felt the U-Line had less to do with traffic congestion and more to do with being a big public works hand out to the companies involved in its construction. I guess time will tell how popular the U-Line will be with the locals in Uijongbu. I think the biggest demographic that will use the U-Line will be students.
Finally here is a view from a hill in the neighborhood of Geumo-dong looking towards downtown Uijongbu:
This picture of downtown Uijongbu 1965 only further shows how much the city has changed since then:
To the northwest of downtown is where Camp Red Cloud pictured earlier in this posting is located. Behind Camp Red Cloud a newer neighborhood of high rise apartments has been constructed in recent years along with a very nice sports stadium:
Besides the stadium a ice rink was constructed as well:
Across the street in front of Camp Red Cloud is where older buildings remain and is the location of a small ville for US servicemembers stationed at the camp:
You can see the highly controversial Julie’s Realty is located right across the street from CRC.
The previously mentioned neighborhood of Geumo-dong is one of the fastest growing areas of the city. This is an area of the city that I know very well since I lived in this neighborhood for two years. Here is a picture of Geumo-dong viewed from the summit of Cheonbo-san mountain:
Here is what Geumo-dong looked like in 1965:
Picture via Ottmar.
I can remember 10 years ago when Geumo-dong still had farms and small businesses and since then it has all been turned into apartments and a major shopping area:
Here is a picture of Geumo-dong’s main shopping district with the city’s only Home Plus at night:
Like much of Uijongbu, Geumo-dong also has a sea of apartments:
For those that have never lived in one of these high rise Korean apartments, they are actually quite nice. My apartment was a spacious three bedroom and two bathroom apartment on the 14th floor. I really enjoyed the view from being that high up and occasionally would run up the stairs for PT instead of taking the elevator. If you are wondering how Koreans move things to the higher floors they don’t use the stairs of elevators, they instead use these lift systems that quickly move furniture and other large items into the apartments:
The Geumo-dong neighborhood is also home to St. Mary’s Hospital:
This facility really is a good hospital with a foreigner friendly staff. They have an agreement with USFK to provide medical services for US military servicemembers and their families. The wife of one my soldiers gave birth to their daughter at this hospital.
Like the rest of Uijongbu, Geumo-dong also has some areas affected by the U-Line eyesore:
Overall though the U-Line isn’t as bad as a eyesore in Geumo-dong as it is downtown. Pictured below in Geumo-dong was one of my favorite places to eat Uijongbu’s most famous dish budaejigae:
Budaejjigae is Korean for “soldier’s stew” due to the spam and other ingredients added to the dish that was introduced to the local Koreans by US GI’s:
The restaurant can be found adjacent to the old Camp Kyle. My favorite place to grab a drink was a place in Geumo-dong called Beer School:
This place had a wide selection of foreign beer and would actually issue out merit badges and diplomas to repeat customers. The owners of the establishment were very friendly to GI’s that would stop by here. Unfortunately when I went to stop by Beer School recently it was closed and was turned into a Chinese restaurant.
In Geumo-dong behind the Northern Gyeongi-do government office is a trail up a hill that provides some nice views of Uijongbu. You can see the hill in the center of this below image I took of the Geumo-dong neighborhood in June 2011:
I used to go run up the trail up this hill for PT occasionally in the morning. Here is a picture of the sunrise from this hill on one of those mornings:
Here is an example of another spectacular sunrise I was able to get a picture of in the morning:
Here are some views of the other areas of Uijongbu once again as viewed from the hill in Geumo-dong. First is a picture of the southeastern are of Uijongbu, which is where Camp Stanley is located at:
The mountain that towers over this area of the city is Suraksan mountain. Adjacent to Camp Stanley Suraksan mountain is some very nice streams that are a good place to hang out at in the summer. This section of the city is one of the most lightly populated areas where rice fields still take up just as much land as houses:
All in front of Camp Stanley are fields of rice that are worked by prisoners from the Uijongbu Prison. Also just down the road from Camp Stanley is this large Buddhist temple:
Here is a view looking towards the southwest portion of Uijongbu which is backdropped by Dobongsan mountain:
The southwestern portion of Uijongbu is sandwiched between not only Dobongsan, but Suraksan mountain as well:
The stream that runs through this area is a very popular spot for fishing:
I have never tried to go fishing in this stream because I once saw a sewage truck dumping raw waste right into this stream before:
Despite becoming a dense urban city, a nice thing about Uijongbu is how easy it is to escape the city. All around the city is wilderness areas with Dobongsan mountain which is part of Bukhansan National Park being the primary spot for people to escape the city:
Dobongsan is an extremely scenic mountain with a variety of Buddhist temples, hiking trails, and creeks to play in the water that are popular with locals.
Another popular location for locals is Cheonbosan mountain located adjacent to the Geumo-dong neighborhood:
Cheonbosan is not as tall as Dobongsan, but despite this it provides better views of Uijongbu and the surrounding region than its more well known neighbor across town.
Here is how Cheonbo-san looked in 1965:
Picture via Ottmar.
Notice that in 1965 the lack of trees on the mountain as well as the absence of the twin radio towers. Another place to escape the city is the mountains behind Camp Read Cloud. This is another area I used to go running at for PT. The winding road behind the camp leads to this nice lake where I have seen plenty of locals fishing at:
There are plenty of other hills around the city that I would go hiking at and exploring no matter the weather:
Occasionally I would run into random shrines like this one pictured below:
Or even find something unusual like a deer farm on the city’s outskirts:
All in all I really enjoyed my time living in Uijongbu and always stop by and visit friends in the city whenever I am in Korea. Every time I visit it is always interesting to see how much the city has changed. It is definitely no longer a camp town and quickly becoming one of the nicest commuter suburbs of Seoul in my opinion.
If anyone has any stories to share of their time in Uijongbu please share it with everyone in the comments section.
Note below is a listing of the “Profile” series of postings I have completed about different areas in Korea that I think readers may find of further interest to check out:
- A Profile of the Western Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
- A Profile of USFK’s Western Corridor Camps
- A Profile of USFK Camps In Dongducheon
- A Profile of the TDC Ville
- A Profile of Bosan-dong Ville
- A Profile of Teokgeo-ri
- A Profile of Uijongbu
- A Profile of USFK Camps In Uijongbu
- A Profile of Closed Out USFK Camps In Uijongbu
- A Profile of Camp Red Cloud
- A Profile USFK Camps In Seoul
- A Profile of the Korea Training Center
- A Profile of the Chinese Tunnel
- A Profile of Camp Mujuk
- A Profile of Camp Page