South Korea · Travel Tales

An Autumn Morning on Nami Island

Notes on visiting Nami Island, Petite France, and the Garden of Morning Calm in one day from Seoul:

Preparations

  1. Reserve your ITX-Cheongchun tickets here. Print out your reservation form. This is not your ticket; more on this later.
  2. Print out a discount coupon (1 for each person) for Petite France here. This gives international tourists a 25% discount (only until Feb. 29).

On the day of your trip:

  1. Go to Cheongnyangni Station.
  2. Purchase ITX-Cheongchun tickets. Go to the Tourist Information desk or, if it’s too early, to the ticketing machines.
  3. Take the train from Cheongnyangni Sta. to Gapyeong Sta. Go as early as possible to avoid large crowds (and in autumn, I tell you, there are so. many. people). We took the #2003 train at 7:16 AM.
  4. Upon arrival at Gapyeong Sta., take a taxi to the Gapyeong wharf. Just tell the taxi that you’re going to Nami Island. The ride will not cost over ₩4000.
  5. Buy your tickets to Nami Island (₩8000 entrance fee/visa, inclusive of ferry rides).
  6. Get on the ferry and get off at Nami Island.
  7. Roam around Nami Island for 2-3 hours.
  8. Go back to Gapyeong wharf. Have lunch.
  9. Go to 7-11 and wait for the Gapyeong tour bus (₩5000, unlimited rides; pay the driver) to Petite France. Grab a leaflet to know the bus schedule.
  10. Spend about an hour or two in Petite France (₩6000, discounted).
  11. Take the Gapyeong tour bus to the Garden of Morning Calm.
  12. Spend about two hours in the Garden of Morning Calm (₩8000, discounted entrance fee on weekdays).
  13. Take the Gapyeong tour bus to Cheongpyeong train station. From here, either take the regular train (in which you may have to stand for an hour), or wait for the ITX-Cheongchun, back to Seoul.

* * *

I should say, right off the bat, that the places here in the Gapyeong area are totally, unabashedly tourist traps — for good reason. Nami Island and the Garden of Morning Calm are gorgeous in autumn, and Petite France is a sort of pilgrimage for many a You Who Came From the Stars fan (like me).

Speaking of K-Dramas, Nami Island’s claim to fame is Winter Sonata, which I, as a college student, was kind of obsessed with in spite of all its improbable cheesiness. Nami Island is especially beautiful in autumn, though, just simply exploding in color — and in the sheer number of tourists. That’s why the best time to go there would be really early.

And now, an interlude featuring explanations that got lost in translation —

Husband and I took the 7:16 train from the Cheongnyangni Sta. It’s so early that the information booth, where we were supposed to exchange our train reservations for actual tickets, was still closed. Because of this, and seeing that there were no other offices open, we went straight to the platform.

This was a mistake. See, if you’re riding the ITX, and you came to Cheongnyangni Sta. via the local train, you have to tap out of the local line first. Then, you have to buy the ITX-Cheongchun tickets from the vending machine.

So because of this, we got on the ITX and stood almost all the way. Thankfully, the ride took less than an hour. We asked a couple of ticket inspectors if there might be any problem, and they just said “It’s okay.”

Now when we got to Gapyeong Station, we went through the ITX gates — but since the non-tapping out might cause us some problems, we decided to approach the guards. I explained to them the problem — there was no one in the information booth, we weren’t able to tap out, etc. They did not know much English but they seemed to have understood our problem, and they ushered us into their office.

And there, everything started to become confusing. The guards and officers spoke to each other in Korean, and to explain the problem to us, they used Google Translate. You can probably tell how well that worked. The guard who spoke to us tried different permutations of “finished after the situation” — which we didn’t get at all — till he landed on “posthumously released.”

Husband and I stared at each other, wide-eyed, mentally telepathing Are we in North Korea?! and we said, “Oh no, that means dead” — cue slashing motions across our necks. Somehow, Husband was able to figure out that the guards meant our reservations were cancelled when we didn’t seem to buy our tickets. “Yes, yes, cancel,” said the guards, and they let us pay the rest of the amount of the tickets (actual price minus the reservation fee) and tapped our tickets out.

Actually, we never really felt like we were in any mortal danger because the guards were just calm throughout. And in spite of instructions getting lost in translation, everything else was so convenient, and everyone was honest. Sadly, it would have turned out differently had we been in, uh, more familiar ground, without any language barrier.

** End interlude **

Upon exiting Gapyeong Station, we took a taxi to the wharf and paid our tickets. We went to the next ferry and marveled at the water that looked as though it was steaming in the cold morning air. For most of the short ferry ride, we remained inside the ferry, keeping warm.

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Ferry to Nami Island

If you’re into it, you can even go to Nami Island via a zipline!

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There were only about fifty of us on the first trip to Nami Island, and even then, we took the less trodden path through the grove of Japanese maple trees. We shared the path with just a couple of other tourists and  several squirrels.

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Then we found ourselves in a lane of sequoias.

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A statue celebrating the joys of motherhood (this might be a fertility statue too, just saying)
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The Winter Sonata statue T__T

Now there is a lane of ginkgo trees that’s a staple of Nami Island brochures, and where many went to take pictures.

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This shot was necessary.
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More ginkgo trees! It didn’t seem to matter to everyone that the ginkgo fruit smells literally like crap.
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On the main lane
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The quieter side
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The tomb of General Nami, and a poem he wrote

We escaped just as the hoards of tourists started arriving. In fact there were already a lot of us on the trip back. Nami Island isn’t exactly South Korea’s best-kept secret, but for about an hour, it felt like it was our own.

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