The island of Namiseom is an easy day trip from Seoul, and a chance to escape the mainland and enjoy some natural beauty – well, sort of.
The name Nami comes from General Nami, a brilliant military strategist who was falsely accused of treason during King Sejo’s reign (r. 1455-1468). His grave was never found, but there was a pile of stones where his body was supposed to be buried; taking a stone would supposedly bring misfortune to the thief’s house.
You’ll see only a couple signs of Nami, and no mention of that story – the more interesting story is more recent. After the construction of the Cheongpyeong Dam in 1944 made this place an island, a gentlemen named Min Byeong-do bought the island and planted thousands of trees. He then turned it into a resort town, which served as the backdrop for films and festivals including ‘Winter Sonata’.
In 2001, Kang Woo-hyun was put in place as CEO, and has re-created the area as a place where nature and art are enjoyed, as opposed to a place where people just drink. What a noble concept – and probably the reason why the only alcohol around is makgeolli (a smooth rice wine). It also helps that it’s pitched / marketed as a natural place, although it’s a rather odd combination of ‘natural’ and ‘touristy’.
It gets a little gimmicky in 2006, when the island declared ‘independence’ on 1 March 2006 and became the Naminara Republic. Since the Gyeongchun line opened all the way to Chuncheon in December 2010, the area became connected to the Seoul subway system. Whether because of the easier transportation or the independence gimmick, the area has averaged 1.5 million visitors a year.
Admission? Nah – immigration. After purchasing your visa (er, ticket), get in line for the ferry – it comes every 10-20 minutes. Like some other places in Korea, they offer a discount to foreigners – my friend (who I’ll call Kiwiwiwi) found that odd.
Once on the ferry, it’s a short ride across the lake to the island – about 10 minutes.
A waterfall greets you as you arrive on Namiseom.
IMAGINE 2011… A great chance to break out the permanent markers and declare your love for someone. Not pictured is a series of wooden blocks surrounding a large tree with even more messages.
Every Korean expat knows the green glass bottle – soju. Whether that induces old drinking memories or the hangover the next morning, these bottles are part of the island’s project to recycle and beautify the area. Recycle, ok, but beautify?
One of the only signs of General Nami’s presence, along with an unremarkable tomb. In case you’re curious, the poem’s English translation reads:
I will cut the boulders of Mt. Baekdu until my sword is worn away. I will water my horse with the waters of the Duman River until it dries up. If a man cannot subjugate an entire nation by the age of 20, Then no one will not deem him a hero.
A little incongruous – these signs highlighted a number of countries around the world.
This is more like it – inside the plastic flap are some books to read and enjoy. A number of these were scattered around the area.
The First Kiss Bridge, complete with flattened soju bottles. Perhaps the soju assisted with those first kisses?
A photo op with a ziggurat of ‘recycled’ catalogs. This just gets weirder.
A sheep balancing on a fore leg on a building’s ceiling?
An exhibition of pottery, along with a photo opportunity.
Lunchtime! One of several restaurants on the island offered up a old-school metal rice-and-kimchi lunch box along with the above bottle of makgeolli. Kiwiwiwi explained that you’d shake this box up to mix the flavors – but put on the protective gloves when before shaking.
Kimchijeon, anyone? A thin, kimchi pancake paired nicely with the aforementioned lunch box.
And now, back to the weirdness:
Entitled 희망 (‘Hope’). Part of a larger exhibit involving plenty of other nude figures.
No title seen, but this is one of dozens of statues with a mother-and-child theme.
While the whole island might not feel natural, the tree-lined street offers a beautiful view and plenty of photo ops. You may notice a lack of connection to the ground, however – at any given time there was never really the feeling of ‘getting away from it all’…
As some rain began to fall, I liked the texture of the rain drops compared to the lily pads.
After the ferry ride back to the mainland, we caught a taxi to the nearby Petite France village (쁘띠프랑스) – an intriguing take on recreating a scene straight out of the French countryside. Unlike the Seorae Village in Seoul, this is a complete recreation with one exception – a real 150-200 year old Housing Pavilion, moved from France to Korea. Some scenes from “Beethoven’s Virus”, a Korean drama, were shot here.
Between the gently sloping roads and the picture-perfect buildings, it feels like an amusement park sans rides and significant amounts of staff.
Inside the Auditorium was a frequently run puppet show. Being entirely in Korean, Kiwiwiwi explained it was a French tale about a magic feather that would allow the husband to manipulate his wife. Wait, what?
The classic book character himself – the Little Prince – has a prominent appearance throughout the village. At least one kid found himself posing for this photo in the unfortunate Korean practice of ddong chim (note this is simply a picture of a picture).
A gorgeous array of plates.
While exploring the various buildings, one can stamp their papers as a sign they visited the place; unfortunately, climbing the stairs of the three-floor observatory gives some people the energy to stamp anything other than their papers.
The murals are pretty, though are the two guys hugging with the bride chasing one of them?
It’s still a little drizzly, but that made the flower come alive.
It’s easy to forget you’re in Korea while meandering inside, but visits for most people didn’t last long. Despite their being a couple coffeehouses and a small French bistro, there is no evidence of French people anywhere, and the curious combination of souvenirs (American aromatherapy stuff or Korean notebooks, anyone?) left me puzzled.
If you’re looking for an easy day trip out of Seoul, you can’t go wrong by meandering east on the Gyeongchun line. Connecting Seoul to Chuncheon (and making plenty of stops along the way), most of the landscape gets away from tall apartment buildings and lots of traffic.
Ratings for Namiseom (out of 5 taeguks): How do I rate destinations?
Ease to arrive:
Worth the visit:
Ratings for Petite France (out of 5 taeguks): How do I rate destinations?
Ease to arrive:
Worth the visit:
Directions to Namiseom: take the Gyeongchun line away from Seoul (easiest transfer is at Sangbong station on line 7). Be careful to take the train that goes towards Chuncheon – the Jungang line is the same color on most signage and maps. Get off at the Gapyeong station, then wait for a bus or catch a cheap taxi to Namiseom (about a 3,000 won taxi ride, takes about 7-10 minutes). Once dropped off, tickets are 10,000 won (8,000 won for foreigners until the end of 2011), which gets you into the ‘country’ and a round-trip ferry ride at no extra cost. Open 7:30am-9:45pm (last ferry back to the mainland), although there is plenty of lodging available on the island.
Directions to Petite France: take the Gyeongchun line away from Seoul (easiest transfer is at Sangbong station on line 7). Be careful to take the train that goes towards Chuncheon – the Jungang line is the same color on most signage and maps. Get off at the Cheongpyeong station, then catch one of the shuttle buses (8 shuttle buses a day leave from Cheongpyeong station). Alternatively, take a bus ride – start at the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon station, line 2) and catch a frequent bus to Cheongpyeong Bus Terminal (trip takes about an hour). From there, 8 city buses a day go to Petite France. 8,000 won admission, open from 9am-6pm.
© Chris Backe – 2011
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