Daegu City Guide
Next to the well-known centres of Seoul and Busan, Korea’s third largest city Daegu gets minimal hype. Lacking in city centre tourist draws and spread out diffusely over an area larger than Seoul, the capital of the eastern district of GyeongsanbukDo usually creeps onto people’s wish lists for one reason alone: the spectacular nearby temple.
Haeinsa is thought by many to be the most attractive of Korea’s extraordinary array of temples, housing more than 80,000 carved blocks containing the entire Buddhist scripture, and has its origins in monks educated in China way back in the 12th century. The nearby peak towering over Haeinsa stretches to an impressive 1,400 metres (most of which you’ll have to climb from the temple), and is a strenuous height with rewarding views to be found at the peak. You can even stay in the temple for a night or two for free, though you’ll be expected to observe Buddhist custom strictly during your stay, which often includes an extremely early wake up call for mediation.
The city itself is easily navigated via the subway network, which bought Daegu into the world news when nearly 200 people died in a subway fire in the early part of the century. If anything, Deagu now has one of the safest lines in the world, having learnt a harsh lesson. The subway stations will easily transfer you around between the restaurant heavy district of Deurangil in the south and impressive old market streets, which include perhaps the world’s only street dedicated to rice cakes. You’ll also find the dog trade is still going strong in Daegu (especially the soup) and can make for some unpleasant market images in the back streets. You’re expected to bargain for everything in the market areas.
Deagu also has a lively nightlife, including a notoriously open (though technically illegal) red light district. Foreigners can receive a less than warm welcome (especially if you’re just looking, which is probably the category most tourists fall into), though the sites can be worth the hassle, with the oddity (alluringly dressed women embroidering while they wait to be selected from the windows) as bizarre as the dodgier side of proceedings. It’s worth noting that – should you be inclined to indulge – being caught by the local police may well lead your deportation.
Other attractions worth checking out are mainly of the modern variety. There’s an impressive (and extremely plastic) theme park bizarre named ‘Tower Land’ and some fantastic sites to be seen in the Daegu National Museum, which has a heavy emphasis on Buddhism. The expat scene in Daegu is a flourishing one. The city is home to its own English language magazine, two American military bases (though how long they will stay in the heart of the city is an increasingly significant issue for the locals) and certain bars that are renowned for their – for want of a better word – non-Koreanness. Grab an expat and you’ll quickly learn the ropes, and usually get a warm welcome (Korean’s lack of ethnic mix means they won’t be too hard to spot, either!).
All in all, Daegu has more than enough sights and quirks to occupy you for a day or two, and a few long-term foreign resident swear by the city. It makes for a great cheap and easy hub for seeing the south of the country, and most find the city affordable and welcoming compared to the hustle of Seoul and Busan. That alone will be more than enough to give you fond memories.