Day 2 of our Winter-Fall in Seoul adventure found us clamoring to get up early for the trip to Nami Island. We were supposed to take the bus so we can sleep the entire 1-hour ride, but it was already fully booked a couple of days ago (how tourists are expected to book when there are no online reservations, I do not know. Sad face), so we were stuck with the train. Good man Jin of B My Guesthouse recommended a faster train route, an advice we heartily took.
- Getting to Nami. Thanks to Jin, instead of taking the subway all the way, we hopped off at Sinyongsan station, exited and crossed the street to Yongsan Station (it’s very large, can’t miss it). There we booked tickets on the ITX train (KRW4600) to Gapyeong Station. Unlike in the subway, the seats are folded up on the carriage walls, so you have to pull them down so you can sit. It was a smooth 55-minute journey (i.e. nap time), then outside Gapyeong Station we boarded the hop-on-off bus for KRW5000, taking us to the dock (you would want to keep this ticket if you want to go to Petite France, or any other neighboring attraction, or at the very least back to the train station). From the dock, we lined up to get our Naminara Visas (KRW8000), then hopped on deck for a short 5-minute ferry ride to the island.
- Trees, bikes and Winter Sonata. Nami Island is a tourist resort (for want of better term) at Gyeonggi-do, about 2 hours away from Seoul. Admittedly, the initial lure of the place was its standing as shooting location for the enduring drama Winter Sonata (you’d want a picture with the couple’s statue), but the island has its own natural, well-preserved charm that makes its fame quite well-deserved. Once you start taking pictures, it’s hard to stop. But then it’s really better if you just dropped the camera and appreciate the beauty of the place with your own eyes. I read from one blog that the place made the blogger feel like taking a long emo day around the place, and I saw what he meant. The place deserves a leisurely stroll along the leave-strewn paths, your walk guarded by endless, looming trees, with white balloons marking the way. If you want to go around the entire place in a few hours and get some exercise in as well, I recommend renting a bike (KRW5000 per hour). It’s an exhilarating feeling, the closest thing to riding a broomstick maybe.
If earthly worries start to bother you (i.e. hunger, itch to shop), a place called Country Restaurant welcomes you first if you’ve turned right from the entrance, serving honestly priced Korean cuisine. A little walk on, there is a block of more restaurants serving other cuisines, and also coffee and tea places. Near the bike rental center, you will find an ice cream store and a stock of souvenirs.
- Le Petit Prince. After spending half a day at Nami, we decided to venture to Petite France before it got too cold. Mind you, Nami is already a few degrees colder than Seoul, thanks to all that water surrounding it. We took the ferry then headed to the bus station next to 7-11, and waited for the hop-on bus. You can refer to the bus’s route and schedule on the poster at the bus stop. Flashed the ticket to the driver then got on. I think the ride was for another 30 minutes. Petite France is a French-style little village based on the Little Prince novel.
It’s quite a small place that would take only a couple hours of your time to tour. Ticket to enter costs KRW8000. We grabbed a free map and checked out all the museums, antique stores and a cafe or two. We also got a free puppet show in the square (puppet dancing to Blurred Lines was very strange though) and spotted the miniature Eiffel Tower. This quaint place is also the scene of many dramas, most popular for me are Secret Garden and Man from the Stars. Honestly though, cute the place maybe, visiting it once is quite enough for me. I won’t be tempted to see it again on my next trip to Korea. Our dinner hunger pangs got us here but we decided to look for less expensive grub back at Seoul.
- Food court troubles and grocery shopping. We grabbed the hop-on bus again back to Gapyeong Station at around 6pm, just when Petite France is closing. By this time it was properly dark and gathering cold. We took another ITX train and parked ourselves at Yongsan Station in search for grub at the adjoining E-Mart. E-Mart is Korea’s largest chain of discount grocery stores, so it was a great place to shop for stuff to bring home. Before that though we faced the very great quandary of getting a meal, since no one at the food court spoke English. Extremely hungry, my sparse Hangul was failing me, so we took to taking pictures of the food displays and showing what we wanted at the counter. It worked. Now for future reference of any non-Hangul speaker at E-Mart, the food court system goes thus: the food display is essentially the basic menu of all the stores lined up there. So pick your meal number, line up at the central cashier, and pay up. The cashier will hand you your number. Wait for your number to flash at the sign on your chosen store, then get your tray. Viola, dinner!