Friday, November 7, 2014

[CHUNCHEON] Nami Island By Air

Nam-i Island, you’ve probably heard about it. Once upon a time there was this popular Korean drama called Winter Sonata shot in a beautiful island somewhere near Seoul. That's the Hallyu version of the story. Technically, Nam-i Island was born with the creation of a dam and the consequent flooding of some areas. A wise entrepreneur thought it would be profitable to turn it into some sort of amusement park. After it was featured in the drama, the rest was history.

Most people who go to Nami Island are tourists from neighboring countries, China leading the pack. The place is so popular among the Mainland Chinese that their flag is actually placed alongside the South Korean one by the immigration office. Oh yes, the island refers to itself as the Naminara Republic. In order to get in, you have to get a “visa” which costs 25,000 won for the whole year. You can get it for 10,000 won if you only intend to stay for a day. Or not get one at all if you go there by air. Wait, what?

Nami Island does not have its own airport, but in an attempt to be more appealing to thrill-seeking tourists, a zip line has been constructed by the ferry terminal, allowing access by air for the bold and the daring. The wait time is longer than the ride, around an hour if you're alone; even more if you come in a group. There are two destinations: Jara Island and Nami Island. Jara looks small and boring from high above. I'd say choose Nami Island instead.

How do we even get here in the first place? The island is right at the provincial border of Gyeonggi and Gangwon, South Korea’s northernmost regions bordering the DPRK. From Seoul, most tourists take the express bus next to Tapgol Park in Insadong, but not everyone would be so lucky to get a slot. While the fare difference between the bus package and the Metro-bus-admission fee combo is negligible, you might still want to know the alternative route by rail if ever you don’t make the cut in the express bus. Feel free to read on.

First stop: Get your ass to Hoegi station which is in the northwestern side of Seoul Metro’s Line 1 (Dark Blue). From there, transfer to the Jungnang line all the way to Sangbong where you transfer to the Gyeongchun Line all the way to Gapyeong. Gapyeong is Gyeonggi’s last county going east. From there, a bus ride of less than ten minutes would suffice to bring you to Chuncheon in Gangwon where the island immigration office is located. If coming in big groups, take a taxi. It would only cost you around 4,000 won one way.

A word of caution: The Gyeongchun Line connects two provinces. Do not expect quick stops as if you were in the Soul Metro. It takes a little over an hour to get from Hoegi to Gapyeong. The bus left without you, dude. Deal with it. Since most domestic tourists take this route to go to Nami Island, expect the train to be full. You might want to outwit and outplay them as far as securing a seat is concerned. Otherwise, prepare to be on your feet for an hour.

While most of the island’s visitors are international tourists, Koreans also frequent the place. Take note that the place is a popular excursion area for couples. As such, it wouldn't be that surprising to find a lot of them in couple T’s and tandem bikes. If you are bitter about your love life, you might be better off at Itaewon where you can drown yourself in loud music and liquor. Or just go to Nami anyway and take the zipline. It’s going to be exciting, right?

Well, not really. If you have tried other ziplines in Asia, you’d definitely know that this one is a tourist trap. The one going to Jara Island is twice as fast, but then again, what to do when you get there? In any case, you'll be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of Nami in the whole duration of your “flight” which lasts less than two minutes. If you go in the fall, the collage of red and yellow is said to be very nice. You have the option to shell out an additional 10,000 won for a souvenir photo. Don’t.

One thing you realize upon disembarking is how bad the tourist infestation is. Going in the middle of the work week does not seem to help since most of the tourists are coming from abroad anyway. It’s even funny how I got a barrage of Tagalog here. So that’s why I couldn't find any Filipino in Seoul for the three months I’ve been there. They are all vacationing here! Anyway, you are also in for a lot of Cantonese and Mandarin; Malaysians as well.

What does the island have to offer then? Red leaves. Yellow leaves. Green leaves. Take your pick, provided that you come in autumn. The island would be predominantly white in winter, with the skeletons of meta-sequoia trees left for you to ogle at. The island is said to be charming even in winter, taking a cue from Winter Sonata and all. But if you are going alone in such harsh weather conditions, perhaps it is not worth it. Besides, the hot springs down south would be your best bet against the snow.

The island has a museum but I never figured out where it was. The main attraction here would be the several meta-sequoia lanes made popular in the drama. They would be in their most dramatic during autumn when the fusion of yellow and red would be enough to make anyone, at least those experiencing such season for the first time, fall in love with the colorful display of foliage. In late autumn, the ground would be buried under a sea of yellow leaves which you could use as props for awesome photo-ops.

Oh, and ostriches! Yes, there seems to be a family or two here and most of them are cooperative in photobombing your selfies. It has been a while since I last saw an ostrich and carefully observing their behavior and appearance just reminds me of velociraptors. Freaky! But yes, they would be a good distraction if you have kids in tow. Just don’t toss the toddlers in the ostrich play pen, okay? The only barricade you have here are wooden fences.

After an hour or so, I got to realize that the island is actually for everyone. I even saw a bee line of paraplegics in wheelchairs enjoying the scenery. And then there were those kids who came as part of a big school excursion. Some of them were chasing one another at that large field next to the Han River. Some were giving their teachers a hard time trying to get them down from the trees. Kids! There is also a curious display of several huts and aborigines, which feels more Native American than Korean, to be honest.

You can rent giant duck boats if you want to cool down at the Han River, which is unnecessary in this weather. Perhaps it would still be worth it if you come to the island as a couple since it is one of the popular activities for that demographic. If you come with the family, there are also several options for you because the island is a theme park after all! Some rides are operational but most families just bring their kids to have a picnic or take advantage of the yellow leaves for taking cute photos.

The island is well-equipped with clean toilets and several restaurants which are likely to be overpriced. It’s all about business, you see. The island even has its own CEO, for crying out loud. All in all, the experience is actually worth it. While the place is teeming with people, there are still some secluded spots which you could have all for yourself if you are trying to be emo and shit. If you plan to go to Seoraksan next, I believe there is an express bus headed to Sokcho leaving at 5:30 PM from Gapyeong Bus Terminal.

[CHUNCHEON] Nami Island By Air

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