Having lived in Gwangju for over six years, I have been around the block… literally. I have lived in Nam-gu, Buk-gu, Gwangsan-gu, and now Seo-gu. And of all these places, I have decided to settle in a little dong called Pungam. Now, most of you may know Pungam-dong because of the World Cup Stadium and Lotte Mart, but right on the other side, there is a little town within a town. Pungam-dong is mostly residential – which means a lot of high-market apartment buildings. This kind of neighborhood also provides wonderful facilities for spending time outside, whether for social or recreational purposes. Now, I could write a few articles about the variety of restaurants, coffee shops, and soju-bangs – Pungam-dong has them all – but for this article, I will provide you with my treasures: places that have made me feel at home and have made life in Gwangju just a little bit more memorable.
World Cup Stadium and Lotte Mart
As I have mentioned, the Gwangju World Cup Stadium is situated in Pungam-dong. Here, the Gwangju soccer team plays regular matches, and every now and then, the stadium also hosts a K-pop concert. Also next to the stadium are indoor tennis courts, a driving range, and an indoor swimming pool. Right behind the World Cup Stadium is the Lotte Mart. The department store is not as big as the Suwan Lotte, but comfortable for walking around with all the brand names from Nike to Levi’s and also a Uniqlo. The grocery store has recently been renovated with a “Home” section, where you can buy relatively cheap things to spruce up your apartment.
Pungam lake and reservoir
Every morning at 8 am, Benji (my three-year-old Shih Tzu) wakes me up and cannot wait for me to take him on his morning walk to Pungam Reservoir. It is beautiful every day! The morning air is fresh; ducks in the lake are quaking away; a familiar face is there to say “hello” or invite you over to a bench for a cup of flask coffee. Rain, snow, or sunshine, Pungam Reservoir makes you feel happy – just walking around and enjoying the fresh air. The trees and birds will make you forget for a few minutes that you are living in the city. Right across from the reservoir is Pungam-dong Mountain. It is a relatively small mountain, but the hike up the hill is quite challenging at times. It will take you about an hour to get up to enjoy the scenery of Seo-gu and beyond.
My favorite bakery
Recently opened in Pungam-dong is a bakery called Ettore Pang. The baker is also the owner, and he and his wife run the business together. This bakery to me is the sister bakery of Verviers. The baked goods are light and tasteful, and come in a variety of different doughs from gluten-free to whole wheat. The goods can be a little bit pricey but are worth every cent. You can also order custom items on request: a real treat and the only one of its kind in Gwangju.
My favorite Mom’s kitchen
This is the best place in Pungam-dong to have kimchi-jigae – or any jjigae for that matter. It is called 다 드루와 (Da Deuruwa). The owner is an old lady from Gwangju who feeds both hungry strangers and her family from her kitchen restaurant. Even if you insist that you are not that hungry, she will shower you with all kinds of wonderful side dishes and make you an extra fried egg just in case.
Getting around Gwangju from Pungam-dong
Travelling to Buk-gu and Gwangsan-gu will set you back a taxi fee of around 15,000 won, or probably take about an hour by bus. But Pungam-dong is only a 6,000 won taxi ride from downtown, the bus terminal, and Bongseon-dong, and is ideal for Friday and Saturday night getaways. It is also situated right next to the highway, which makes it comfortable for getting around the city if you have a car.
Pungam-dong is safe. In this neighborhood, everyone knows your name! There is a sense of community and kinship here. I have never felt isolated or alone in Pungam-dong – or scared. After two years, I can confidently recommend a visit to Pungam-dong – at least occasionally. Every visit will be a welcoming experience.