The Forest of Wisdom

Diary of an Autumn Leafer – Heyri Artist Valley & Paju Book City 

If you tell a bibliophile that there’s such a magical place as a “Book City”, then it had better live up to its moniker. Add in 8 m high bookshelves and something called “The Forest of Wisdom”, and just point me in the direction of the unicorn to take me there.

Luckily, there was a bus from Seoul which scampered up toward the DMZ again but stopped before the serious border began. We took the bus to Heyri Artist Valley first, which took some sorting out in order to find. We got off the bus way too early, walked around a bit, popped into a nearly deserted mall to find a map of the area, and then decided, well, may as well get onto the bus again and go further out.

It was quite a ways from the mall where we’d stopped initially. I asked for help from the information kiosk, but, despite the words being in English, the lady inside the kiosk didn’t speak English. Instead, we resorted to a great lot of pointing, nodding, and shaking our heads.

Well, I sorted it out, and finally, we found Heyri. It is an unexpectedly beautiful, interesting, and fascinating place – full of tiny museums on topics such as coffee, toys, film, books, modern art, and other things, loads of cafes with different specialty drinks, and modernist architecture where even trees grow through buildings.

A long stroll through Heyri Artist Valley, enjoying the cool weather and sunny day, admiring the architecture and the scent of coffee everywhere, improved my overall state of mind after the very heavy day spent in the DMZ and JSA. Even though Heyri is thisclose to the DMZ, the two areas couldn’t be more radically different from each other.

After wandering around Heyri for a good two hours or so, complete with a coffee and danish in a very quaint cafe, we boarded the back and headed to the magical Paju Book City.

Paju was turned from industrial buildings into a massive publishing complex – about 250 publishers in total. Shops ranged from new books to used books, graphic books, and some items like maps and toys. There were publishers around every street corner, churning out page after page. Funny enough, a calendar I recently bought in Hong Kong was created in Paju, Korea.

Some of the buildings were quite whimsical. I could imagine that even little kids would find the statues and characters popping up in odd places quite fun. I know I loved it!

The most visitor friendly place was the Asia Publication Culture and Information Center. In there was the Forest of Wisdom – book shelves 8 meters high and the top shelves accessible by a special crane. The shelves are packed with what looked like donated books from many different people and places. The golden light on the pale golden wood made the Forest of Wisdom look a bit like El Dorado:

I highly recommend a day trip out to Heyri and Paju. The bus to Heyri takes about an hour or so from Seoul, and from Heyri to Paju, it’s about 15-20 minutes. The #200 bus leaves from outside the Hapjeong MRT station. Leaving early is probably best, as the bus only runs every 30 minutes, and it’s a bit of a haul out there. Also, leaving before rush hour is a good idea too, otherwise, you’ll be hanging out on a crowded bus for a long time.

But really – why wouldn’t you want to visit a book city?

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