With its mountainous landscape and glowing green rice paddies, the South Korean town of Gapyeong seems a million miles away from the concrete wilderness of Seoul. In reality, it is only a short 50 minute ITX train trip away from Yongsan station. Gapyeong is a hugely popular tourist destination amongst locals, but is often overlooked by the mainstream travel guides. If you’re looking for a taste of the true rural Korean lifestyle (cabbage farms and all), you can’t go past a daytrip to this picturesque town.
Admittedly, I may be slightly biased, as I lived there for a year and a half whilst teaching English at the local Primary school. But, having travelled a lot of Korea I can honestly say that it was always comforting to watch out of the train windows as the identical concrete tower blocks of Seoul gave way to endless mountains. (Even if there was only one post office, and the local photography shop was just a man with a colour printer).
Korean towns and cities are often given English slogans (my favourites being ‘Good Chungju’, and ‘Only Jeju’. Modesty is clearly important when inexplicably giving your town an English motto). In a slightly greater show of creativity, however, Gapyeong was given the slogan ‘Ecopia’. This is highly fitting for a town which holds outdoor activities for every season.
During the summer, water sports activities and barbeque parties are particular popular amongst visiting University students. Speed boats towing inflatable rafts race up and down the river, and giant water obstacle courses seem to emerge like clockwork from beneath the green depths.
In Spring and Autumn fans of the popular 2002 Korean drama ‘Winter Sonata’ flock to Namiseom (Nami Island) to see the breathtaking foliage. The island is a great daytrip for the family, with easy walking trails, craft shops, fairground rides for the children, an outdoor swimming pool, and even an ostrich farm to satisfy your Aussie homesickness (or is that emus? I never can remember).
To visit Nami Island you will need to take a short 5 minute taxi ride from Gapyeong train station. From there, you must take another 5 minute ferry ride over to the island. The ferry terminal has an abundance of restaurants to choose from, and even a freestanding bungee jump if you are feeling adventurous (though perhaps not immediately after eating).
Gapyeong’s second famous island is named Jaraseom, meaning Jara island (See, you’re half way to learning Korean already). Every Autumn It hosts the annual Jaraseom International Jazz festival. Jazz musicians from around the world attend, and play through the night. You can take a picnic and relax as the melodious saxophone harmonies bounce and pirouette between the surrounding mountains.
During the winter months the river surrounding Jara Island freezes, and becomes the seeting for the ‘Sing Sing’ Ice fishing festival. Relive those childhood Pingu watching days as you huddle by the icy hole waiting for a bite.
Admittedly, navigating around any non-central Korean town can be difficult without a rudimentary understanding of Korean. However, the two islands are highly popular amongst local tourists, and can be easily arrived at via taxi (and at little expense).
No matter what time of year you visit, Gapyeong has something for you. If this isn’t enough to convince you that it is worth the trip, then just take a look at their adorable town mascot. Case closed.
Photos by the author.