Nami Island (남이섬)

Saturday, 27 February 2016

On the last Monday of our trip, we decided to go to Nami Island (남이섬), a half moon-shaped island located in Chuncheon (춘천) just 70km north-east of Seoul. Having self-declared it's independence in 2006, the island is actually a micronation and its official name is Naminara Republic (나미나라공화국). It even has its own flag, passport, currency and stamp. Tourists also are required to have a visa issued by Naminara to enter the island, but it's included in your ticket.

There are a few ways to travel to Nami Island, but we decided to take the round trip shuttle bus (click here to make a reservation), which costs 15,000 won per person. To pay for the ticket, you just have go to the Nami Island office in Insadong (인사동) a few days prior to the departure date. Conveniently, we were at Insadong 5 days before going to Nami Island so we made our payment then.

On the day of departure, you must arrive at the designated place—either Insadong or Namdaemun (남대문), depending which was closer to your accommodation—by 9:20am for a 9:30am departure. Namdaemun was the closest to us, so our departure location was just near Sungnyemun Gate (숭례문). The bus was a large coach so it was a very comfortable 1 hour ride there.

When you arrive at Gapyeong Wharf (가평관광), you can enter Nami Island either by ferry or zip wire. We took the zip wire because we thought it'll be a good experience and something that we could remember from our trip to the island. Plus, it was the more exciting option! It cost us an additional 38,000 won per person (not including the 15,000 won shuttle bus fee), so it is the more expensive option than had you opted for the ferry ride. However, I think the zip wire was definitely worth it—because to me, buying an experience is priceless. Now I can always look back on that day and relive it for years to come.

But if you still prefer taking the ferry instead, the website where you can make a reservation for the shuttle bus also includes a Package Ticket for 23,000 won, which includes a round trip shuttle bus and entry to and from Nami Island by ferry. But because we decided to enter the island by zip wire, we could only reserve the round trip shuttle bus. Leaving Nami Island, regardless of how you enter, is by ferry.

When we arrived at the ground level of the zip wire tower, we were the only ones there so we only waited a short 5-10 minute after paying before taking the lift to the top. One of the staff members even kindly took a photo for us at the top of the tower.

Only two could go at a time so I went with Shirley because I'm the one who's the most afraid of heights out of the three of us (heh). The seat harness was clipped twice around my body so it was very tight and secure. I wasn't uncomfortable at all and I felt safe the whole way down. For the first 10 seconds after the door opened, I was a bit nervous but I calmed down soon enough to be able to take some photos and even record a video. That feeling while I was in the air was truly amazing.

When you're about to reach land, a photographer will be there to take a "professional" photo of you in your harness, which you could then buy for 10,000 won. We didn't know that, so Shirley and I didn't even look at the camera—we were too busy looking at our own cameras! Therefore, we didn't end up buying our photos, but Annie did because hers turned out good.

While Nami Island is actually more famous for being the filming location of the Korean drama "Winter Sonata" (겨울연가) starring Bae Yong Joon and Choi Ji Woo, I never saw the drama nor am I familiar with the actors, so I was quite indifferent about that fact. What I really liked about Nami Island is its snowman theme—and if you enter the island by ferry, two cute snowmen will be first ones to welcome your arrival!

But with all cuteness aside, it's actually the beautiful lined trees that makes Nami Island such a popular tourist destination. It was winter when we went, so we missed the colourful autumn leaves and most of the trees were bare, but it was still a very nice place to walk around nonetheless—making it a really good one-day outing for families and couples alike.

If you're not a big fan of walking, there's also a number of activities that you can do to explore the island, like hire a bicycle, ride on the sky biker or join the electronic car tour. We originally wanted to hire a bike, but because the ground was too muddy from all the rain so we just decided to walk.

For lunch, we went to a restaurant called "Nammoon" (남문) or 南門. Shirley and I ordered lotus leaf sticky rice (yeonip bap 연잎밥) which came with a marinated beef stew (bulgogi 불고기). Annie ordered her own bulgogi stew, and we only realised after the food came out that we doubled up on the bulgogi.

After lunch, we went to a souvenir soup which sold THE cutest souvenirs ever. We bought the ceramic bunny photo clip holders, snowman bread, snowman chocolate, and postcards. Souvenir shops in Korea sure know how to attract tourists by making everything cute—if you've been to the souvenir shop at N Seoul Tower (N서울타워) recently, you'll know what I mean.

Just around the corner from the souvenir shop is the Sonata Café, which sells hotteok (호떡). And what was really interesting about their hotteok was that that they either pan-fried it in oil or coal. It costs about 500 won extra if you wanted the hotteok pan-fried over coal, but we still got that one because we've never seen it before in Seoul. It was average tasting filling-wise, but the whole pancake itself felt much lighter than its oilier alternative.

To me, the most picturesque location on the island was definitely Metasequoia Lane (메타세쿼이아길). Even without any leaves, they still stood tall and looked really beautiful.

When we started walking back around the island, we found the First Kiss Bridge, which is lined with soju (소주) bottles. It's also known as another spot where "Winter Sonata" was filmed, but I actually found the two snowmen kissing at the front to be the highlight—they're so cute!

A little bit of history: Nami Island is named after General Nami (남이장군), a military commander who passed away at a young age of 28 after being falsely accused of treason during the reign of King Sejo (조선 세조). It wasn't until 300 years later that the truth was uncovered and his good reputation was restored. On the island, you can visit his tomb and the monument that was erected in his honour.

Our bus was scheduled to leave at 4:30pm, but because we wanted to go to the Snowman Café at Gapyeong Wharf (where we got off the bus), we decided to leave Nami Island early. The ferry comes in 20 minute intervals, so we boarded the one that came around 2:00pm.

The Snowman Café was definitely one of the cutest theme-cafés I've ever been to. (Even the snowman at the front of the café was eating a snowman bread!) The interiors of the café wasn't as cozy as I had imagined it to be, but it was still a nice place to chill. You could even buy some snowman souvenirs which were different to those available on the island.

We ordered a serving of snowman bread, hot Americano and hot milk tea. The snowman bread was of a similar texture to a custard puff but with a red bean filling instead. It was too sweet for my liking, but it could be balanced out with a sip of Americano.

Our one-day trip to Nami Island was probably one of our most enjoyable days in Korea because it didn't involve walking from attraction to attraction or catching the subway from station to station. We took a very non-directed approach to exploring the island and even got to take part in an adventurous activity. I'm not sure if I would recommend staying overnight (maybe just one if you really want to familiarise yourself with the place), but I think our day tour of Nami Island was more than enough because the island itself is honestly not that big.

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