The Enchanting Nami Island

[27 Oct 2016]

It was a side trip we talked and talked (to death, actually) of making for several trips now, yet it never materialised till this autumn. The location in question is Nami Island (남이섬) .

In order to get to Nami Island situated about 65km away from Seoul (서울), several changes of public transport is required. And the last stage of travel requires one to take a short 5-minute ferry ride departing from Gapyeong (가평) wharf. While updating my research on the route we were to take, I came across a company providing shuttle bus package to Nami Island. Ooh… just a bus ride. No multiple transits required. Way too convenient. We got lazy, and decided to sign up for the package with Funtastic Korea. Since the package even includes a visit to Petite France (쁘띠프랑스) and is rather inexpensive – doing the trip on our own wouldn’t cost very much lesser – so why not?

It was the best decision, ever. If we had gone ahead with my initial plan of trudging on our own, we would have run into some serious trouble with time management since I usually lose track of time while photographing.. While comfortably getting off and on our shuttle bus, we often saw long queues waiting for the Gapyeong City Tour Bus – the mode of transport we would have had to depend on it if not for the package. With the shuttle bus package we didn’t even need to queue to buy our entrance tickets! Consider signing up the transport package if you are lazy like us, or isn’t confident about the multiple changes of public transport without being able to read Korean.

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There are two ways to get onto Nami Island: either via the ferry (that comes by every 10-20mins during the peak period, or 30mins before 0900hrs or after 1800hrs), or via zipline. Ferry transfer both ways are included in the entrance tickets but the cost of ziplining will require additional charges. The zipline looked fun and we really wanted to give it a try. As you might have guessed it, it isn’t in our character to go for something alternative (read: crazy!) so we stuck with the conventional, and by far, more popular choice. Furthermore it was cold!

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It was not a long wait for the ferry. Since we were allotted only 4 hours on Nami Island, we wasted no time in lingering around to take pictures at the wharf. There should be lots of time for that after we were done with exploring the island. Furthermore, the highlight of the trip is Nami Island, not Gapyeong wharf.

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Unlike most other travellers to the island, we headed right to the south-western edge of the island first instead of going for the few famous tree lanes. While traipsing around admiring the autumn foliage, we found a lovers’ lane (연인의 길) that followed along the perimeter of the island. It was not exceedingly picturesque, but I liked it for its tranquility: it was a quiet path devoid of human traffic save for three sets of couples we met along the way. Compared to the hustle and bustle at the other parts of the island, we found it welcoming.

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We couldn’t hide out at the Lovers’ Lane forever. When the nearby Metasequoia Lane (made famous by the Korean drama ‘Winter Sonata’) got a little quieter, we bravely ventured back. Me thinks this lane is more beautiful in winter, if memory of my previous trip to Nami Island 12 years back serves me well. Nevertheless, the mister managed a rather nice picture of me with a clear background void of selfie-takers, surprisingly. I’ve always been ambivalent about the preponderance of a new generation of travellers who take way too much time hogging picturesque spots taking too many selfies. The situation was bad enough pre-selfie era but it’s now worse than ever: everyone seemed to have  conveniently thrown their basic courtesies out of the window. Selfie-taking is truly dangerous for most of the people out there; I’ve seen it for myself how some just kept moving backwards to get a good selfie without realising they were about to trip over a curb/venture too near a flight of steps etc. But I digressed.

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The mister needed a visit to the restroom hence we walked a short way back towards the wharf and came across a smelly pond and a whole row of stacked stones along a short stone wall. The Koreans seem to have an enchanting habit of stacking the stones/rocks whenever and wherever possible. I see them everywhere! Apparently, they stack these to make wishes, and if the stack doesn’t collapse, the wish will come true. Of course, the higher the stack, the better. I said that I wanted to try stacking a stone tower of my own, only to have him roll his eyes at me. So condescending. 🙄

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After a short respite, we headed to another tree lane that I find to be more beautiful – the Ginkgo Tree Lane. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Most of the visitors to the island were congregated along this lane and ALL were trying to eternalise the vision they were seeing, on photographs. Can’t really blame them, or us, for that matter, can you? The beautiful golden-yellow ginkgo leaves that last for only a few weeks per year are easily the most photographed autumn foliage on Nami Island, as opposed to the more famous Metasequoia Lane.

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I felt my stomach growling, denoting that it was time for lunch. With the plethora of  restaurants and cafes on the island, there was no lack of choice for sustenance. Since we heard marinated chicken barbecue (닭갈비) is a regional specialty, we eventually decided to go for Seomhyanggi (섬향기). The food was quite sumptuous, and it was shiok eating barbecue meat al fresco in the cold. The naengmyeon (냉면) though, I didn’t enjoy much. Wanted Mul Naenymyeon (물냉면) but was served Kimchi Naengmyeong (김치냉면) instead. 😦

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After a satisfying lunch, we strolled to the Namipungwon Maple Garden. The maple leaves were in such vibrant hues of red I was completely in awe! So captivating yet I couldn’t quite capture the extent of its beauty with my camera lens. Instead of trying and trying, I decided to concentrate on enjoying the sight with my eyes. This is something valuable that I learnt over the years of travel photography, that sometimes the beauty of nature simply just cannot be captured by the camera lens, and when these times occur, I should just let go.

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The autumn foliage was simply enthralling. Juxtaposed against the deep blue sky that we saw (towards the north only, strangely) I effortlessly took so many breathtaking pictures. Even most of our wefies turned out decent.

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I bought an inexpensive selfie stick online a few months back, just for the fun of it, and introduced the mister to it that day we visited Nami Island. He was initially resistant to the idea of walking around with a selfie stick but quickly got hooked to it. He even went as much as admitting to me that he finally understood why so many people walked around holding selfie sticks. 😆 It became so much more convenient to take pictures from a high vantage point he had no qualms about walking around with the stick too.

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With the arrival of our ferry at Gapyeong Wharf, our short trip to Nami Island came to an end. Although we were allotted a full 4-hour duration to explore the island, we found ourselves needing only about 3 hours to fully explore the island at a leisurely pace. The rest of the time, we spent at a cafe and then later on, boarded our shuttle bus early. Although it was a huge group that day, we were all punctual to boarding the bus. In no time, we began our journey to Petite France. I had wanted to visit Petite France in a long while, ever since Running Man was filmed there in a much earlier episode. Also, several Korean dramas had classic scenes filmed there including Beethoven Virus and You Who Came from the Stars. In short, I had expectations.

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I have to admit that I found Petite France underwhelming. Was even disappointed. It was nothing like Alsace, which I believe is where the attraction is modelled after. I can’t even bear to describe how the mister felt about the place. He did say something which I think is indicative of why we found the place underwhelming though, that ‘Petite France is for people who have not been to Europe, in particular Alsace’. Perhaps, perhaps.

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We were only allotted 1.5hrs at Petite France, and even then, we found it way too long. After a final look, we walked out after a mere 45 minutes and headed for our bus to prepare for the long ride back to Seoul.

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Was taking this day trip (amidst our very short visit to Seoul) worth it? Simply for the awesome autumn foliage alone, I’d say it was a day well-spent. And getting ferried around (without having to worry about getting on/off at the right place) to the destinations was definitely a huge plus.

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