October 25, 2017
When my friends were organizing our South Korea itinerary, this was the part I was looking forward most to. Although I tried to obscure it from my companions, I can’t deny to myself how ecstatic I am and when the day finally arrived, contain it I could no longer do. But it nearly became a disaster because of some confusion. While my friends were checking the best way to get to Gapyeong County, they noted that the most convenient mode is the fast train. Unfortunately, all train trips from 8 AM to 10 AM were fully booked. Our saving grace is the 7 AM trip which was not fully-booked. As a consequence, we have to rush our preparations before going to Yongsan Station.
Speedily but swiftly, we prepared for another long day of adventures and fun. When we were all prepared, we flagged down a taxi – the subway is no longer an option because we were in a rush. Thankfully, the cabdriver knew where to drive us without too much elaboration. I have noted that communication is a great barrier in Korea not because the translations are incorrect but because foreigners tend to pronounce Korean words differently from how Koreans pronounce them.
Thankfully, we were able to catch the 7 AM ITX train with a few minutes to spare. Please note that for train rides, T-money cannot be used as it requires tickets which must be purchased at the ticket booth. This is going to be my first Korean train experience and I was looking forward to it. All of these new experiences are making me literally jump in my seat like a child.
To get a better view, I sat on the window side. As the train sped up, the scenery quickly transformed from urban to countryside. In 30 minutes, we reached Gapyeong station, our stop for the day. When we walked out of the station, we were greeted by the biting cold and the thick fog. I was reminded of Baguio but more than that, it seems our prospect for the day is going to be very bleak and gloomy. To warm ourselves, my friends and I went to the nearest cafe to sip a warm cup of coffee, paired with bread. The coffee and bread is our breakfast.
After breakfast, we headed to the bus stop in front of the subway station to wait for the Nami Island-bound bus. In Chuncheon, there are two types of buses plying around – the regular bus and the express (tour) bus. The city express bus is more expensive compared to the regular bus. Unlike the regular bus, the city express buses issue tickets which can be used as an unlimited-pass to City Express buses for the day. Yep, you can hop on and hop off city express buses without having to pay anything. Please be careful not to lose the ticket as you are required to present it every time you ride the bus. Moreover, the ticket will not be acknowledged by the ordinary buses, hence, you will still be required to pay for the ride. We had a difficulty spotting the express bus so we ended up taking the regular bus. Nevertheless, it is still a escape from the cold.
South Korea travel tip # 11: Bus stops have a screen flashing the estimated time the buses will reach a particular bus stop. You just have to check the bus number. Again, the time flashed are estimates – the buses can come earlier or later than expected.
In a couple of minutes, we reached the Nami wharf. In the thick fog, we can barely make out the outline of the island but we knew it was there somewhere. First, we have to buy our tickets and ride the ferry to the island. The first ferry leaves at around 7:30 AM but I am doubtful if anyone made that trip in this cold. As for us, we took the 8 AM trip. Our group is one of the first ones in the island because it was largely deserted when we alighted there. There is a resounding silence but it is all the better for us as we can have the island all for ourselves sans the crowd, even if it just for a few minutes. The later it gets, the more crowded the island gets because everybody wants a piece of it.
But what made Nami Island such an irresistible travel destination, both for local and international tourists?
During the infancy of the Hallyu Wave or the Korean Wave, one particular Korean drama gutted the hearts of many across the globe. Endless Love: Winter Sonata’s heart-wrenching story was one of many that introduced Korean culture to the consciousness of many. Beyond the story, what caught the viewer’s attention is its snow-clad setting. It was such a marvelous destination that it instantly became a household name. If you’ve been a fan of the first Hallyu Wave, then the word Nami Island will always ring a bell.
South Korea travel tip # 12: During peak seasons, Nami Island could easily get crowded. If you want to be intimate with the island, it is best to get there early.
The mist still covered the island when we alighted from the ferry. In spite of the cold, being in the island is truly amazing, beyond anything I imagined of. It gives off a wonderful aura that appeals to the wounded soldiers in us. The towering redwood trees brought me nostalgia that made me question the unreality of it – have I really set foot on one of Korea’s most iconic spots? All of these feel so… surreal. Sure, it felt surreal when we landed in Incheon but it was even more surreal when we were in Nami. It felt like we were in the heart and soul of South Korea. All places we’ve been to so far have been great but Nami just possesses something so special that makes one’s jaw drop in awe and euphoria.
Enough of my whimsical drivel. Let’s talk about the place. Tall trees surrounded the area but in between are wide open spaces where one can simply lie down or sit down and just watch time pass by. Nami is much more beautiful in person than in television. The winter version was amazing but the autumn version is even more amazing. Autumn is truly in the air and it is even more palpable in Nami – the leaf covered tracks, the multi-colored trees and the breeze – all converging into an idyllic sight to behold.
One of the best things to do during autumn is to walk. The serenity that shrouds the island transports the senses to another dimension. While walking, one can snap pictures of the wonderful spots that abound the island. There are so many wonderful spots that even a single tree could be a great subject. Some of the amazing spots include the avenue of trees (I chose to call it that because of the symmetric alignment of the trees flanking the track), the statue of the mother feeding the child and of course, the renowned Winter Sonata statue. Locating the latter was a challenge and it took us a while to find it. We had to inquire with the Naminara Republic staffs to find it. It is in the middle of the island, located near the reflection pond, where, a couple of hours ago, we snapped several pictures. I guess we got distracted. Nami is a paradise and one can easily get lost in the moment.
Biking around the island is another popular activity in the island. My friends were looking forward to it but it was something that I was quite apprehensive of – I don’t have great balancing skills. Moreover, I’ve never really successfully driven the two-wheeled implement before. For me, it was a monstrosity but my friends were very persuasive I ended up riding it. When I began letting go of my fears, the experience turned into a liberating one – the wind blowing on my face reviving that lost zest for life and fun. It was unexpected but I rode on the open spaces with ease that I never thought I had before. I was shocked but I was happy. It was an experience of a lifetime.
There is a mini-zoo and mini-train in the area which children could enjoy. Mini-libraries are spread all over the area as well. Visitors could read the books. I was in awe of this feature. Again, I am culture-shocked, more so when I saw the same feature in our Secret Garden tour a couple of days later. Another feature that I loved about Nami is the hospitality of the staff. They are all over the area and they are very approachable. They are always prepared to cater and help visitors. Moreover, they were trained to understand and speak English. It is no wonder that Nami earned the nod of UNESCO as a Child Park.
While we were roaming around Nami, we spotted an unusual (or not really) sight. On one of the most picturesque parts of the island, a Korean drama shooting was in progress. Unfortunately, we were unfamiliar with the actors but one thing is clear, they chose the most romantic spot in the area – the track lined with gingko trees popping alive with golden colors. The trees’ yellow leaves gave the area an even more surreal atmosphere. It is no wonder that the drama chose to shoot the proposal scene here. We asked the staff what is the title of the drama they were shooting but she only mentioned the station, JTBC. It was a different experience nevertheless.
I knew on the onset that this part of our Korean adventure series is going to be my longest piece. Understandably so, Nami Island is one of my all-time favorite places in the world. It gave me a very different experience. Moreover, it was a catalyst in my slow healing. It was just unfortunate that we had to cut our adventure short. I mean I could spend the entire day here and I wouldn’t mind. But then again, there are other wonderful spots in Korea as well which deserve our time of day. Besides, as the day wore on, Nami got more crowded.
So for now, goodbye Nami Island. One day, I promise I will be back. For now, I am just going to feed my readers’ eyes with these amazing pictures taken at Nami. Annyeong!