Generic travel is one thing, but travelling on the trail of something you are passionate about is another level of joy. Ask hardcore bibliophiles and they will tell you how they roam the world in search of book-related ephemera. And the question about books as souvenirs is a foregone conclusion when you're talking to them. For instance, writer Janice Pariat says she often marks a journey with a book. One of her most memorable trips was to Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon, the oldest bookshop in the world, founded in 1732. Some folks love to hunt out rare book finds in their chosen destinations. Or dive into interesting libraries in the cities they travel to. If you count yourself among this book-lover's troupe, here's a gem of a find.
Just 22 miles northwest of Seoul lies Paju, a fascinating town in South Korea packed with libraries, book cafes and publishing houses. Known as the Paju Book City, this undiscovered gem in Gyeonggi-do province is a book aficionado's paradise. In June 2012, Paju became a member of the International Organisation of Booktowns (IOB), an organisation that features thirteen countries with notable book towns.
Inaugurated in 1998, Paju is home to hundreds of book-related businesses, including design studios, distribution centres, and printing presses. The town's buildings display the book city's motto, which is to "actively support culture and arts based on books." Pick up books at the many bookstores and indulge in a beverage at one of the many cosy cafes while perusing your purchases.
Paju is home to the hub for Korea's book publishing, known as Paju Publishing Culture, Information, and National Industrial Park. The best part here is probably the five-storey Asia Publication Culture and Information Centre, which houses an exhibition space, events hall, and education centre. It houses the astounding Forest of Wisdom, a central library with tens of thousands of books. The walls are lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves, some standing over 25 feet tall. Come here with some time in hand to browse the huge collection of fiction and non-fiction, picture books, reference books, and other works here. You are welcome to sit wherever you choose and read books for free until the library closes. The publication centre additionally preserves historical writings and typographic techniques.
Fees: Initial entry costs 2,000 won (INR 126) for one hour. Subsequent hours also cost 2,000 won each. The maximum fee for a full day, up to 24 hours, is 24,000 (INR 1519) won.
Beside the main building of the centre is the Book City Letterpress Museum, which has 35 million metal character blocks among other traditional printing equipment in its collection. Local writers, artists, and book enthusiasts come together for the center's annual fall book festival.
Address: 145, Hoedong-gil, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do, Paju-si
Timings: 9am to 6pm
While in Paju, don't miss the Pinocchio Museum, an area devoted to children's literature and fairy tales. Bring your kids along, and as they explore the enthralling exhibitions, watch their imaginations soar.
Address: 152 Hwedong-gil, Gyeonggi-do, Paju-si
Timings: Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 6pm
The Forest of Wisdom even has accommodations available for you to stay. Jijihyang guest house has simple rooms with wood interiors, Wi-Fi, and absence of TVs provide a comfortable and distraction-free reading environment. Beautiful views of the neighbouring sea and Paju Book City are available. Incidentally, Jijihyang means “a home for paper”.
Find more info about Paju Book City here.
Paju is home to many architectural marvels, such as Photopia, a building designed to resemble an ocean wave and used as a studio for producing and processing photographs. The headquarters of the publishing company Dulny are housed in a tall, angular building that is reminiscent of a heavy-duty transport vehicle from "Star Wars."
Imjingak is home to Pyeonghwa Nuri Park, a sizable park with fascinating installations, and a variety of artefacts pertaining to the war, making it an important part of Korean history. The Korean War's Freedom Bridge and Imjingang Rail Bridge are located here, along with a Memorial Hall, memorial monuments, and recreational spaces.
For a touch of the surreal, do visit some of the copycat European villages here, like Provence, a bewildering copy of the area in France. And Gyeonggi English Village, which offers a live-in, English-only environment for short-term English immersion for Koreans. The Heyri Art Village is a hybrid tourist attraction and colony which is home to painters, sculptors, photographers, performers, and other artists.
Address: 145 Hoedong-gil, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Take the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) to Seoul Station from Incheon International Airport. Transfer to Line 4 (Blue Line) heading towards Danggogae and alight at the same station to switch to Line 3 (Orange Line). Take Line 3 towards Daehwa and get off at Jichuk Station. Then, board the Gyeongui-Jungang Line toward Munsan and disembark at Paju Station. Alternatively, buses from Seoul Central City Bus Terminal or Express Bus Terminal head to Paju. Taxis or local buses further connect to destinations within Paju, making it accessible within an hour from Seoul.