Tuesday, March 7, 2017

South Korea: Nami Island and Garden of Morning Calm Winter Wonderland

It was snowing endlessly in Nami Island and I was heading to the famous tree line which attracted hordes of camera-toting tourists for years now. I couldn’t blame them as a certain famous Korean telenovela was shot there. I veered away from the crowd and found my own tree line and watched in awe as snow flurries continued to cover the area. I tilted my head up and let the soft snow touch my face. The island turned into a magical winter wonderland and it wasn’t a dream, I was actually there to experience it. My very first winter trip abroad and I’m all alone, but definitely not lonely.

I had four days in Seoul and specifically wanted one full day of exploring the outskirts of the city. I heeded the advice of some friends to avail a group tour instead of doing a DIY trip. I found a very good phone app for tour activities and services in some key cities around Asia and immediately checked out what they have to offer. Alongside with securing a Korean Travel Visa in the Philippines and seeking online resources for Seoul travel guides, I included Klook on my to-do list prior my first ever winter trip abroad.

Klook’s interface on its mobile app is so easy to use; you just have to search for the country or city that you are planning to visit, and then the types of activity or service that you can avail will be shown.

As for my case, I checked everything that they offer for my Seoul trip and found that they have AREX Express Train Airport Transfers and Seoul Pocket WiFi Rental which I availed at once. I was given options on tours in and around Seoul and found that the Nami Island + Petit France + Morning of Garden Calm Tour perfectly fits my itinerary.

I have my own Klook account and just needed to enter the specifics of my trip (including the pick-up point for the shuttle bus) and then chose the mode of payment. I immediately received a booking confirmation via email and then the voucher which will be needed to avail the trip followed. It was fast, hassle-free and convenient as all I needed to do next was to show up on the agreed date and time of the trip. No need to search the city itself for travel companies that would provide the same deal plus, they have an ongoing promo at that time so I had instant discount.

The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
Arriving at the frozen Gyeonggi Province (1.5 hours from Seoul) for the Garden of Morning Calm tour.
After a full day of walking tours in Seoul (at sub-zero temperature), I geared up for a day of excursion outside the city and made sure that I arrive ten minutes earlier than the agreed time at Dongdaemun History and Culture Park subway station. I also had the voucher ready on my cellphone to serve as my pass for the tour. I made sure that everything was ready when I left Guesthouse Korea that freezing Sunday morning.

The bus arrived on time as snow flurries started to fall. It was such a relief when we were asked to get inside our heated bus for the registration. The guide gave us a short briefing on what to expect and he made sure that all concerns were addressed beforehand for a smooth flow of the trip.

Nami Island South Korea
It seems like it'll be a snowy day at Gangwon Province for our Nami Island tour.

Namiseom Island (Nami Island)
Open all-year round
Ferry Schedule: 7:30am to 9:40pm
Admission Fees: Adults – KRW10,000 (US$8.68) 
Discounted rates for Senior Citizens, PWD, and students with proper identification – KRW8,000 (US$6.94)

It took us one hour to reach the jump-off point for our first stop, Namiseom Island or commonly known as Nami Island. The half moon-shaped island located in Chuncheon, 63-km. away from Seoul, was formed as a result of the construction of Cheongpyeong Dam. The isle covers an area of 430,000 sq.m. and it is named after the great General Nami.

Nami Island South Korea
Hues of pink and purple will surely pop in this winter backdrop
I stepped off the bus and snow flurries began to pile up over me (it would’ve been a torture if I wasn't wearing my waterproof jacket). We then marched to a cabana where our guide handed us our individual tickets (which was already included on the tour package) as well as a map and reminded us on our call time for the next destination. I also took note of the bus number so as to not get lost on the dozens of buses that were parked.

Nami Island South Korea
Winter Wonderland in Nami Island
I am on my own now and needed not to join anyone for the three-hour duration of the tour. The island is separated from the mainland by a five-minute ferry ride which leaves every 15 minutes from 9:00am to 6:00pm every day (and 30 minutes interval from 7:30am to 9:00am and 6:00pm to 9:40pm).

Nami Island South Korea
Freshly fallen powder white snow
The ride was smooth and we were welcomed by ice sculptures that were naturally formed as we arrived at Nami Island. While everyone almost ran into excitement, I took my time and was the last person to disembark from the ferry. 

Han River surrounded the snow-covered Nami Island. I was about to check the map on where to go but the heavy snowfall prevented me to do so. I prepped my action camera (and kept my phone and camera inside my bag) and strolled along the tree tunnels on the left side of the island.

Nami Island South Korea
While I was freezing, this peacock moves with so much grace
The snow doesn't seem to tire at all. Others were using umbrellas to keep them dry but I was actually enjoying it. It was just two days ago when I was too worried about this winter trip ‘coz I have the lowest tolerance on cold weather. But then now, as acclimated as I can be, I am actually enjoying every speck of flurry that was falling.

Nami Island South Korea
A tropical girl experiences snow for the first time
I went to the middle part, the one that our guide told us to follow in case we got lost, and followed the trail. Numerous restaurants, shops and other activity areas were concentrated on this part of the island. I went to one of the bonfires to quickly defrost my hands then went back to my saunter.

Nami Island is a favorite destination for tourists as some Koreanovela series that were shown in the Philippines were shot here (Winter Sonata for example, my momma told me). There were signs leading to the famous tree line and other key areas that were made famous by the TV series and as expected, these places were filled with tourists who were taking turns in photo/selfie/groupie moments. I deviated from the famed tree line and went back to my lone quiet winter walk.

Nami Island South Korea
Nami Island was made more famous by a hit TV series Winter Sonata.
A number of signages commemorate some of the scenes, like this tree line.
I found my own tree line and enjoyed it all by myself. I then walked over to the edge of the island where a number of cabins for rent were located. I found shelter on one of the cabins and enjoyed the view of the frozen Han River from there.

Nami Island South Korea
But I deviated from the crowd and found my own tree line.
I got lost. I didn't realize that Nami Island was big that I could actually get lost. The problem was, I couldn't tell the difference of a certain trail to another as everything was frosted. I followed my instincts and walked towards a path where it led me to nowhere, again. I wasn't frustrated as I was having fun with this lone and lost time. After an hour of going round and round, I finally found my way back. Whew!

Han River South Korea
Frozen Han River
I carried on with my saunter and enjoyed the last few moments I have on the island, this freezing Nami Island. I knew that I will come back to experience it during springtime of may be in autumn. But I'm sure that when that time comes, I will be traveling with a group or most probably with my mom.

Next on the itinerary was Petite France, a French-style cultural village located in Gapyeong in the province of Gyeonggi, but due to bad weather and slippery road conditions, the tour company decided to cancel it. The bus driver tried to drive along the winding slippery road but decided to not risk it. Everyone agreed that safety is our utmost concern so nobody opposed on the decision. The company then announced that they will treat all of us to dinner instead, and then the crowd cheered.

Gladly, the road to our next stop was fine and we had ample time to explore it. We arrived after an hour into the now completely frozen town.

The Garden of Morning Calm
Open all-year round
Open hours: 8:30am to Sunset
Admission Fees: Weekdays > Adults – KRW8,000 (US$6.94) | Teenagers – KRW6,000 (US$5.21) | Children – KRW5,000 (US$4.34)
Weekends > Adults – KRW9,000 (US$7.81) | Teenagers – KRW6,500 (US$5.64) | Children – KRW5,500 (US$4.78)

Still nursing a good hangover from our last destination, I went off the bus and followed the troop on our way to the sentry. The Garden of the Morning Calm is a favorite weekend destination for South Koreans due to the beautiful landscape it has to offer all seasons of the year and its close proximity to Seoul.

The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
The Garden of Morning Calm
The 30,000 sq.m. garden is considered to be the oldest private garden in the whole of Korea and also home for almost 5,000 species of plants, shrubs, flowers and trees. The manicured lawns and flower beds are divided into 20 differently-themed sections. They also have different attractions all throughout the year; Spring Garden Festival in Spring, Festival of Roses in Summer, Festival of Chrysanthemums in Autumn, and Festival of Lights in Winter.

Again, our guide provided us with the tickets and map around the garden and gave us two hours to explore it on our own.

The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
Legit hanging bridge
The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
The snow never seem to tire
Naked trees were filled with powder snow and the different colors of lightings illuminated the whole garden. It was as if I was put inside those miniature Christmas villages and was left all alone to explore it. I found it too Disneylandish, the lightings and stuff, so I deviated from the crowd (my favorite pastime) and looked for interesting areas to discover.

The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
Bright lights illuminate the whole garden during winter for the Festival of Lights.
I ended up on the outskirts of the garden wherein only a few dared to go and enjoyed the painting-like scenery. I enjoyed it too much that I failed to notice the warning signages that visitors couldn’t go there. I was laughing at my mistake as I braved the one-foot deep snow and went back to the right path.

The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
I, again, veered away from the crowd and discovered secret gardens
The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
The sky turns into a melange of bright glowing colors from the LED lights.
This particular scene turned everything into shades of purple.
It was a huge winter wonderland; a fulfillment of childhood dreams of a White Christmas, which I didn’t have. Suffice to say, the garden was magical and I could imagine it even more beautiful during springtime.

The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
The Garden Of Morning Calm South Korea
Christmas feels
The bus turned into zombieland as almost everyone dozed off instantly as we drove back to Seoul. I, on the other hand, was enjoying the night winter scene as I watched it unfold from the glass window. I was getting used to this kind of weather that it feels sad to leave it after three days of battling and loving the frozen feel. Or maybe I was too elated and overwhelmed on the unexpected surprises that caught me up during the trip to even bother the cold­­­. It was a memorable experience, definitely one for the books.


  1. hi.
    when is the winter there?

  2. I went there last July 2016 alone. Still summer though. But I want to experience a little bit of cold weather, but not winter. So, I'm coming back this October. You're right. It's very liberating. And cheaper. :-)

    1. Hi Tess. I'm also planning to go back to Seoul during autumn :)