Our journey today brought us to yet another nearby province from Seoul. Today we headed out to Gangwon-do for our first time experience in riding the Railway as well as a visit to Nami Island that we did not do the last time we were here. As we returned to the hotel late the night before, we slept in a little and headed out at around 10.30am. Our first stop is the Railway Bike, located at Gangchon. The journey from Seoul to Gangchon in Gangwon-do took us 2 hours to reach via the subway.
Gangchon Railway Bike Ride
There are several railway bikes around in Gangwon-do, I chose to come to the one in Gangchon for a couple of reasons: firstly it is very near to the subway station which meant that we did not have to waste time in travelling from the subway station to the railway bike park; and secondly, it is a few stops away from the subway station which is nearest to Nami Island. We reached Gimyujeong subway station at around 1 pm. From the subway station, it is a mere 3 mins walk to the railway bike park, which is literally next to the subway station. There are only two types of railway bikes available: 2-seater and 4-seater railway bikes. There are scheduled departure timings for a ride on the railway bike. My friends and I wasted no time and headed straight to the ticketing counter. We were glad that we managed to get the tickets for the 1.30om departure on a 4-seater railway bike. Tickets on the railway bikes are charged based on the type of bike and not by the number of headcounts. We paid KRW40,000 for the 4-seater railway bike. Since there is some time left before our scheduled departure, my friends and I went around exploring the railway bike park. The park seems to exist for the sole purpose of boarding the railway bike. There are limited facilities at the park. We only found one cafe selling finger food and a few photo spots for visitors to take pictures at the railway bike park. There is also a very short zip line at the park, which does not interest us. As we still have some time left, we headed into the cafe, initially wanted to grab a bite. But the limited food on sale dissuaded us to even have our lunch there. We spotted a corner in the cafe where we spent the rest of our time taking pictures.
It is soon our time for boarding. We headed outside the cafe to join the queue to board the railway bikes. There are two queues already formed up at the boarding area. We made sure that we are queued in the 4-seater bike queue. Boarding was efficient, staffs at the railway bike station boarded visitors by groups and gave us a brief on the brakes and how to use the bike. We settled into our bikes and waited for the green light for us to start pedalling the railway bike. We did not have to wait for too long to be given the green light. Pedalling on the railway bike was easy and effortless (provided all the passenger chip into the pedalling of the bike. Along the way, we would pass through three tunnels. As the bike leaves the bike park, we were treated to sceneries of the countryside. We initially find the scenery rather refreshing, no tall buildings and a lot of greeneries on either side of the railway where we passed by. However, the scenery on this stretch became repetitive after a while as we were pedalling through farmlands. We have to follow the pace of the bike in front of us and the bike kept stopping, apparently for its riders to take pictures. My friends and I were having more fun in pedalling the bike and “plotting” to slam into the bike in front. At times we were slacking off and stopped pedalling leaving the friend sitting behind to do the hard work until she found out and busted us. Farmlands slowly turned into a wilderness, the railway track brought us under and over metal bridges, we soon came to the first tunnel about 10 mins after leaving the railway bike park. The first tunnel was a relatively short one lined with pinwheels on either side of the tunnel walls. These pinwheels seem to be powered by electric rather than wind. The Koreans did a fantastic job of turning an otherwise boring and dark tunnel into a spectacle of colour, bright and Instagram worthy tunnel.
At the end of the first tunnel, the railway track bridged over an almost dried river, giving us a feeling of flying over the river. This part of the track seems to be predominately taken over by nature, there was wilderness all around us. Leaves on the trees are mainly green with a hint of yellow, grown on the small hills on the side of the track. The only sign of civilisation is the highway bridge at a distance next to the track and sporadic farmhouses at a distance from the track. This section of the Gangchon Railway Bike ride is pretty short, we arrive at the second tunnel about 5 mins later. The second tunnel was dark at the entrance. It got brighter the deeper we rode in it. We were treated to a colourful light show in the second tunnel. Strips of LED lights turned from green to blue to pink as we rode through the tunnel. Wow, two tunnels with completely different themes. This got us hyped on how the third and final tunnel will be when we come to it.
The second tunnel is slightly longer than the first one. The track continues over a small wooden bridge over a small stream. Hills form the backdrop over the farmlands and we started to see more trees donning on their red and yellow autumn outfits. There is a good mix of nature and farmlands with very little civilisation in sight. The distance between the second and the third tunnel is rather short. We came to the third tunnel after 10 mins of pedalling. The third tunnel is again different from the first two. The third tunnel is a pitch dark. As we pedalled our railway bike in the tunnel, we begin to see white strips of LED lights illuminating the ground and at some parts, the ceiling of the tunnel. This tunnel is the VR tunnel, which I guess there would be some VR effects if we had forked out the extra KRW5,000 per pax. However, we were not given the option when we got our tickets.
Coming out of the third tunnel, we were taken away by the beautiful scenery. The railway track hugged along a river which is decorated by endless mountain ranges on the opposite side of the river. Parts of the mountain ranges displayed hues of red, constantly reminding us of the autumn season. Pedalling along the river, enjoying the gentle autumn breeze is a very tranquil affair. We were truly able to enjoy the moment, as it felt that we were the only people around the area. This stretch of the railway is the most scenic of the entire Railway Bike trail. This is the part that we make us feel coming all the way here, experiencing this unique activity is well worth the time invested.
Another 15 mins of pedalling from the third tunnel, we arrived at our endpoint. There is a small rest area for visitors to grab some snacks while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. My friends bought some Korean Street food, while they were enjoying their well-deserved snacks, I went around taking pictures of the river. One can never get enough of the picturesque view that was before us. Soon we were told to get onto a train that would bring us back to a nearby train station for a bus transfer back to where we started. There are several carriages on the train, one of which is an open carriage which was packed with visitors. We did not bother rushing for the open carriage and gotten ourselves some rather good spot – at the end of the train. We were still able to enjoy the scenic river views from where we stood. The train ride took around 15 mins where buses are already standing by to ferry visitors back to the railway park. We reached the railway park at around 3.20pm. We wasted no time and headed to the subway station and catch the next train to Nami Island.
It is already 4pm when we arrived at Gapyeong Station, which is four stops away from Gangchon Railway Park. We approached the tourist information counter and checked where should we be taking the bus to Nami Island. We were informed by the staff that it would be cheaper and faster if we catch a cab to the ferry terminal. Indeed, we saved KRW2,000 by taking a cab to the ferry terminal. The cab ride took us only 5 mins to reach the ferry terminal. My friends and I headed straight to the ticketing counter and got ourselves the ferry ticket to Nami Island. The KRW13,000 cost includes return ferry journey and entrance to Nami Island. There weren’t many people at this time when we were queuing up for the ferry. We did not have to wait for too long for the next ferry to pull into the pier.
As the 5 min ride ferry approaches Nami Island, we can see the numerous trees with yellow and red leaves lined up along the coast of Nami Island. There are numerous paths on Nami Island that visitors can use to explore the crescent-shaped Nami Island, each of these paths are laid with different trees, which is best viewed in Autumn season. Before we stepped onto Nami Island, I had planned a specific path for us to take so we can cover most of the island. However as we stepped off the ferry, all the plans were thrown away. We were immediately attracted by a row of trees with the red maple leaves at the right of the pier on Nami Island. Lining up by the coast of the island with the river as the backdrop, my friends and I were captivated by the beautiful autumn scenery on this part of the island, so much so that we stayed here for quite some time taking pictures with the trees as though this is the only spot on Nami Island that is picture-worthy. After some time, we realised we had overextended our stay as the sun is setting, we continued on the path further into the island.
As we walked further into Nami Island, we spotted a small stream with a wooden bridge built across it. This is another great picture spot with the yellow, red and green trees in the background. After some photoshoots, we hurried to the other parts of Nami Island, hoping to cover more of the island before it gets dark. As we were walking along the path, we spotted more trees covered in yellow and orange trees. We were reminded of the autumn season in every corner we turned on Nami Island, these coloured leaves make Nami Island a great spot to visit during autumn. Soon we came to a forest of tall pine trees, entirely covered with red leaves. We attempted to take pictures of these trees, but the picture we took does not do it justice. The forest looks better on ground zero than in photos.
The sun has set and it was getting dark. We figured we will not be able to enjoy the picturesque autumn sceneries on Nami Island compared when there is daylight. We started to make our way back to the pier for our ferry ride back to the mainland. Along the way, we spotted a small gift shop selling souvenirs in the middle of nowhere. After getting some souvenirs, we continued our walk back to the pier and left Nami Island. Reaching the mainland, we decided to settle our dinner here before taking the 2-hour train ride back to Seoul. There are numerous restaurants around the pier on the mainland. As we were a little hungry, we settled in one of the restaurants. The cost of food is not as expensive as we thought it would be, and yet the food is very delicious. After dinner, we took a cab and headed to the train station where we took our 2-hour train ride back to Seoul. We headed back to the hotel to change up as we kind of stink after having the Korean BBQ dinner.
One of my friends wanted to get some facial masks in Myeongdong, we headed out again for a late-night shopping at Myeongdong. Before we head to Myeongdong, we stopped by Cheonggyecheon Stream. The last time my friend and I came to Seoul, we mere overlooked Cheonggyecheon Stream and did not really stroll along the stream. Cheonggyecheon Stream is a 10km long stream in downtown Seoul. The Korean government spent millions to revitalise the once smelly and dirty sewage stream. These days, Cheonggyecheon Stream is a popular recreational space for locals and visitors to stroll along. We were in time for the annual lantern festival along Cheonggyecheon Stream when we visited, which takes place every year in November period. Visitors would be able to see Cheonggyecheon Stream lighted up with figurine lanterns installed in the middle the stream. There are lanterns from the Korean and Chinese folklore as well as some from Disney animated movies such as Aladdin, Peter Pan and Lion King to name a few. However, it was a shame that the lanterns were not lighted up at the time of our visit, we can only see these lanterns from the street lights. My friends and I strolled along Cheonggyecheon Stream for around 10 mins before calling it quits and headed to Myeongdong.
Back to Myeongdong
Myeongdong is a mere two subway stops from Cheonggyecheon Stream. The vibe in Myeongdong is very different today being a weekday compared to weekends. There were significantly lesser people and most of the roadside stalls selling snacks were missing. Most of the shops seem to close early during weekdays at around 11pm whereas shops seem to open till midnight on weekends. We did not stay at Myeongdong for too long as my friend already got what she came here to get plus the fact that most of the shops are closed anyway. We walked around a little and headed back to the hotel. As our hotel is located opposite the Dongdaemun shopping district, we headed to check out the shopping in Dongdaemun, which was marketed as a place for late-night shopping with shops open till 5am. We found the price of the thing sold in the Dongdaemun area seem to be higher, and the face mask shops did not give as generous discounts compared to those found in Myeongdong. We headed back to the hotel to rest after 5 mins of walking around Dongdaemun area as we found nothing much to buy.