Making tracks in and around Seoul

Thailand July 16, 2014 00:00

By Chusri Ngamprasert
The Nation

7,521 Viewed

Visitors to the Asian Olympiad in September should make time to discover the delights in and around the host city

Incheon, South Korea’s third most populous city after Seoul and Busan, is all set to host this year’s edition of the Asian Games and the organisers are understandably keen to show off what their city has to offer visitors to this premium sporting when it kicks off in September. 
With Seoul less than 30 kilometres away, it stands to reason that supporters will be wanting to spend time there too but enthusiasm for the capital shouldn’t be at the expense of such locations as the One Mount leisure theme park in Goyang, just 40km north of Seoul. Open a little more than a year, the park combines water, snow, sports and shopping for the ultimate fun experience. 
The Snow Park at One Mount claims to be the first South Korea’s indoor winter theme parks to be based on Finland’s “Santa Village” and proves it by coming complete with an ice road, an ice lake and seven theme caves. 
As temperatures are well below zero, it’s best enjoyed with a snow jacket and a warm gloves. But there’s no need to worry if you arrive in the spring with no winter accessories: the park has snow jackets and helmets for rent and with every rental, they generously give away a pair of gloves.
Armed against the cold, we make our way to the ice rink and are surprised at its small size. “Well, it is designed for Santa’s elves,” a friend points out. 
The equally elf-sized single-seater sledges with mini ski poles are too hard to control so we opt instead for Santa’s helpers’ tricycles and ride on the icy lane around the main rink.
Others in the group opt for the dog sledge but are disappointed that despite the not-so-small additional fee, all they get is one tour of the ice rink, arriving back where they started in less than five minutes.
Shrugging off our cold weather attire, we head to Wolmi Traditional Park on Wolmi Island, one kilometre off Incheon’s coast. Named in honour of its crescent shape, the island has long been regarded as a strategic military location and during the Joseon era was a military base protecting Han-Yang, as Seoul was known at the time. The park itself was the site of the Incheon Landing Operation during the Korean War and used by the Ministry of National Defence to house military barracks for more than 50 years. The city of Incheon redeveloped the area as a community space and opened it to the public in 2001.
There’s plenty to do in the park, which is home to Wolmi Mountain, a hilltop observatory, the Korean Cultural Garden, the Wolmi Cultural Centre, the Korean Immigration Museum and walking trails shaded by leafy trees.
Many visitors head straight to the Korean Cultural Garden to admire the traditional architecture that’s showcased through replicas of old-style Korean homes. Also popular is a typical palace garden from the Joseon dynasty.
The single-storey hanoks, as the homes are called, are made from soil, timber and rock with ondol, an under-floor heating system of ducts, carrying hot air from the kitchen stove to other rooms in winter, and a wide daecheong or front porch to keep the house cool in summer.
Each hanok reveals the social class of the owner. The luxury tiled roof or giwa are typical of the homes of the rich yangban (upper classes), while houses of  commoners and poorer yangban have just plaited rice straw or choga.
The nobleman’s house is modelled on Yangjindang, Poongsan Ryu’s family house in Hahoe Folk Village in Andong. 
The Cultural Centre in the park offers workshops in Korean cuisine and visitors can learn to prepare and cook such favourites as Bulgogi, grilled marinated beef, and sample what they cook.  
Another location worthy of a visit is the Jade Garden in Chuncheon, an hour away from the capital. Created on the theme “Small Europe in the Forest”, the compact botanic garden is not as large as London’s Kew Gardens but makes the most out of its natural valley topography. Various garden styles and the beautiful landscape make for a pleasant walk. 
Visitors can also take a variety of biking trips and we opt for the shortest excursion, a 7.2km rail bike return trip to Gangchon Rail Park beginning from Gyeonggang Station.
Gangchon Rail Park uses the retired Gyeongchun Railway Line, which opened in 1939 and served both the first steam locomotives and the classic Mugunghwa passenger trains. Closed in 2010, it was revived by the Gangchon Rail Park as a rail bike attraction and operates from three stations: Gimyujeong Station, Gangchon Station, and Gyeonggang Station.
There are four people to a rail bike and water and a hat are vital accessories for this outdoor activity. The old railroad track leads us up the hill, passes the curves and over the bridge spanning the North Han River. When we slow down to catch our breath, we can almost touch the waving flowers beside our rail bike.
_ The writer travelled as a guest of Thai AirAsiaX.
If you go
_  Thai AirAsiaX ( flies daily between Bangkok and Incheon.