I arrived at Yongmasan Station, named for the nearby mountain, on a bright, crisp January day, and coming out of Exit 2 the first thing I noticed was how hilly the neighborhood was. Apartment towers to the east sat up on bluffs, and the street just in front of the exit dipped down into a culvert before running back up again so that one second I was ten feet below Yongmasan-ro (용마산로) and the next a good ten feet above it looking out over apartment roofs to more towers and mountains in the distance to the west.
Turning right on Yongmasan-ro-45-gil (용마산로45길) I got my first clear glimpse of the mountain, its imposing face of craggy rock and brown winter scrub appearing up ahead in the gap between the buildings on either side of the road. What looked a bit like moss was a green net that had been bolted over the mountain’s face to protect against falling rocks.
Walking towards the mountain brings one to the Yongmasan Waterfall Park (용마산폭포공원), which centers on a trio of artificial waterfalls. There’s also a playground, some tennis and badminton courts, a pair of tent restaurants, and a soccer pitch with the most gorgeous setting of any public pitch I’ve seen in Korea. Abutting the mountain, the pitch is enclosed by bluffs on two sides that rise up just feet from the pitch’s fenced enclosure.
The waterfalls are located towards the rear of the park, tumbling into a small, tarp-lined pool that’s fronted by a plaza with a walking track and some benches where a lone ajeosshi was taking a load off. The central cascade, Yongma Waterfall (용마폭포), is the tallest at 51.4 meters, and is flanked by two smaller ones, each at about 21 meters: Cheongyong (청용) (Blue Dragon) to the left and Baekma (백마) (White Horse) to the right. The flow had apparently been cut off for the winter, and without water the three falls were left just as curiously different colored rock, their shapes further delineated by the protective green netting running right up to their edge. Despite the lack of water and the fakeness, facing the waterfalls is still rather impressive, with the rim of the half-moon basin rising up high above you, lines of small pines perched around the lip. For another view, there’s a small viewing platform located above Baekma Waterfall.
Near the waterfalls you’ll find access to hiking trails that wind up Yongmasan and link to nearby Achasan (아차산) and Mangusan (망우산), passing several tombs and mountain springs.
Another option for outdoor recreation in the Yongmasan area is to head to the Jungnang Stream (중랑천). Go out Exit 1 and turn right onto Myeongmok-ro-27-gil (면목로27길), following it west all the way to its end. There’s a walking track running between the apartments and the Dongbu Expressway (동부간선도로), and if you follow it south you’ll come to a pedestrian bridge that you can use to access the park. In all honesty, however, the park along the stream isn’t very good, pretty poor when compared to other urban streams in the capital. There’s a bike and walking path, and a few badminton and basketball courts, but that’s about all for facilities. Even benches or any other rest stop are in short supply. On top of that, the stream itself isn’t particularly pretty, and you’re constantly exposed to the thrum of traffic on the adjacent highway.
You could also get to the stream by going south from Exit 3 and turning right on Dapsimni-ro (답십리로), which will lead directly to the bridge. I went back to the station this way, and it brought me past one of the bigger groupings of hostess bars that I’ve come across in Seoul. There were probably a couple dozen in total on Dapsimni-ro and Myeonmok-ro (면목로), and in general they looked a bit classier than hostess bars I’ve seen elsewhere, which is a very relative comparison to make, I know. Almost every single one of them had signage in some shade of red or pink, and several had drawings of women in poses so old-fashioned that they were almost endearing, clutching a rose between their teeth for example.
West of the station, the area between Nongdeung-ro (농등로) and Myeonmok-ro is a quiet, very normal neighborhood with a few kids out playing in the street and women pulling wheeled carts on the way to or from the store. Things get busier around Myeonmok-ro, which is the commercial vein running through the area, lined with restaurants and cell phone stores playing K-pop. Busses shuttle up and down the road and groups of high school kids on their day off were walking around, hanging out and killing time.
Just a half-block west, Myeonmok Market (면목시장) runs parallel to the street of the same name. This covered market is signposted by a pair of white, blue, and green arches marking the entrances on Myeonmok-ro-33-gil (면목로33길) and Myeonmok-ro-35-gil (면목로35길).
The market was clean and airy, busy but not crowded. I paused for a bit to watch the proprietor of one stall feed sheets of dried seaweed into a machine that ran them through a conveyer belt, toasting them and giving them a thin shower of salt as they exited. The machine spat them out into a cardboard box where the man’s daughter would gather them and slip them into plastic sleeves to be sold.
As I was doing this, a bright red blur snuck into the corner of my eye, and I looked up to see a guy dressed as a clown walking past, a bag of balloons tied to his waist. He wore a baggy red jumpsuit with white polka dots, a fuzzy red wig, and white face paint. I watched him walk away down the aisle, no one else, not even the kids, paying much attention to him.
The market had the usual assortment of vegetables, meats, snacks, and clothing on offer, and one stall had two huge bowls of marigold hobak juk (호박죽) (pumpkin porridge) and burgundy pat juk (팥죽) (red bean porridge) on heaters, ready to be served up to anyone looking for something to warm them up. A kitchen supply store at one end was playing the Guns ‘n’ Roses version of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ while nearby a stall selling seasoned raw skate (홍어) had set up a speaker system, and one of the women working there was delivering her sales pitch into a microphone while the other two scooped up orders into plastic bags, doing a brisk business.
I crossed paths with the clown a couple more times before I left, and each time I did I noticed the hopeful look on his face as he waited for someone to take interest in him, but I never saw anyone actually do so. Times are tough all over.
Yongmasan Waterfall Park (용마산폭포공원)
Right on Yongmasan-ro-45-gil (용마산로45길)
Jungnang Stream (중랑천)
Left out of exit on Myeongmok-ro-27-gil (면목로27길)
Myeonmok Market (면목시장)
Left out of exit on Myeongmok-ro-27-gil (면목로27길), R on Myeonmok-ro (면목로) (first set of lights), L on Myeonmok-ro-33-gil (면목로33길) or Myeonmok-ro-35-gil (면목로35길)