Seoraksan and Nami Island: Daytrips out of Seoul on Holiday Weekend

The last week of April/the first week of May in Korea is a time full of celebrations and activity. For university students everywhere, midterms begin winding down just as two holidays drew closer for the weekend: Buddha’s Birthday (석가탄신일) and Children’s Day (어린이날). With all of this free time for many students, and the fact that one of my friends from Canada had traveled to Seoul to visit me, we decided to take a few day trips to Nami Island (남이섬) and Seoraksan Mountain (설악산).

Unfortunately, after these experiences, I definitely have a better understanding of the shear amount of people who leave in South Korea. At this point in my exchange, I’m very comfortable with the crowds in Myeongdong (명동) and at events that take place in Seoul (서울), but it wasn’t until these day trips that it really hit me. Here is my take on leaving Seoul on what are arguably some of the busiest travel days in South Korea:

 

Nami Island

While we decided to book a formal tour to Seoraksan, we decided to play our  it by ear and plan our trip closer to the day-of, May 3, Buddha’s Birthday. Our goal was to visit three places in single day: Nami Island, Petite France and The Garden of Morning Calm, which are all located in Gapyeong-gun and connected via shuttle bus. When we ended up doing more research closer to May 3, we realized that all three spots, although close, wasn’t as possible in a single day, so we prioritized to go to Nami Island and Petite France instead.

A big issue we bumped into was that because we were planning to travel to Nami Island on a national holiday, our first plan of taking a train to Gapyeong Station (가평역) and then the shuttles wasn’t possible when trying to book train tickets just two days in advance. Because of the holiday, every train from 6am ‘til noon on May 3 was booked up. Fortunately, we were able to get a shuttle running from Namdaemun Market (남대문시장) here in Seoul all the way to the docks to Nami Island, for about 26,000 Won each, with entry fees included.

By transit (train and the shuttle bus from Gapyeong Station, the entire process of getting to Nami Island should take about 2.5 hours, by a direct vehicle, less than 1 hour and 15 minutes. We met our shuttle at 8:30am on Buddha’s Birthday, and because of the volume of traffic on the highway, we didn’t arrive at the Nami Island ferry dock until about 12:30pm.

The pier to take ferries from the dock to Nami Island was packed with people

 

Nami Island – The Upside

Despite the doubled time it took for us to reach Nami Island, the entire atmosphere of Nami Island was perfect. The weather on Buddha’s Birthday was bright and warm, but not too humid of uncomfortable. Plus, there was a breeze that swept through the island that kept things nice and cool. Despite the amount of people on the island, it felt very different from Seoul in that people had gone there to relax and enjoy each other’s company. We didn’t feel like we were in the way or being rushed anywhere. We were able to take our time and enjoy the time we had away from the city.

Despite the travel time, Nami Island provided a beautiful escape from the city

Even with the number of people who were on the island for the holiday, we still had plenty of room away from big crowds

 

Seoraksan

My friend had booked our trip to Seoraksan a few weeks before she arrived. At the time, I had likened a holiday in South Korea to one in Canada, where there would be crowds in a few select places, but everywhere else operated normally otherwise. The only other holiday I had experienced in Korea at the time was March 1st Movement Day, but I had chalked the events of that day up to be more of an exception because of the protests.

I woke up bright and early on Children’s Day and got to my friend’s hotel near Seoul Station for our 7:20am pickup time. The first hiccup we faced that day was that there was a miscommunication between the organizers and our tour guides and we ended up leaving the hotel at 7:40am instead.

The absolutely worst part of the day, however, was again the insane amount of traffic we faced beforehand. A look at Kakao Maps, and the drive for a bus from Seoul to Seoraksan should have taken a little under 2 hours and 30 minutes to get to Seoraksan. Instead, the traffic pushed our trip to last six hours, and we didn’t get to the park entrance until 2pm. We even missed our initial booked time to go up the mountain, so our guide had to receive a partial refund and pay for tickets at a different time.

 

Seoraksan – The Upside

Similar to Nami Island, Seoraksan offered an awesome, relaxing experience from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Seoul. Having learned that the mountain site used to be home of a Buddhist temple, and to say how isolated and unattached much of the surrounding area was. It was surreal to imagine how anyone might have traveled all the way from Seoul to the temple in Seoraksan. Definitely another great experience, and another reason to explore outside of Seoul once you arrive in South Korea, but I don’t think it was worth a six hour drive from, and a four hour drive back to the city. Despite spending more time in our bus (albeit, it was a fancy Mercedes bus), I was able to make some awesome memories on my day trip to the third-tallest mountain in South Korea.

The view from the cable car ride up to one of the peaks.

The bridge towards some hiking trails that lead to a few of the waterfalls around Seoraksan

The view from the top of the mountain was spectacular

Another memorable moment: we got to write on a slate shingle that would be placed on a Hanok (한옥; Korean traditional house) in the area

 

Article by Kevin from Canada

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