Tuesday, June 1, 2010

KORAIL Seaside Train - Sunday, April 18, 2010

I'd been interested in the idea of the Seaside Train since seeing it in a brochure the other day. The brochure was in Korean only, so I wasn't positive about all the particulars. Basically, it's a sightseeing excursion, by train, down the coast from Gangneung to Samcheok, and back. The distance is roughly sixty kilometers each way, and the transit time is about eighty minutes each way. There was a schedule included in the brochure, showing departure times of 08:40, 10:30, 12:00, 14:15, 16:10, and 17:40.

We got to the station just before 11:00, planning to get aboard that 12:00 train. The friendly, helpful ticket agent told us that the 12:00 departure was from the other end, in Samcheok. The next departure from Gangneung would be at 14:15.

We had over two hours to kill, so we started walking back through town towards the Home Plus store. We were taking our time, following an indirect route, just exploring the neighborhood. The day was overcast, with that north-east wind coming off the sea, cooling things down again.

As it was a Sunday morning, there were not many people out on the streets. We made it back to the Home Plus building in about thirty minutes, after doing some window shipping along the way. Inside the Home Plus, we wandered the isles on several floors looking at things, trying to kill some more time. This is a big store, and has pretty much anything you'd need.

A little after noon we went up to the sixth floor restaurant mall to get some lunch. Most of the small restaurants up there were doing a brisk business. We browsed through them for a while, trying to decide, and finally went with the Bob House again. Ok Hwa loves her some Bi Bim Bob. Inside, she surprised me by ordering the Bulgogi instead. I went with the Beef Soup. This place prepares exquisite meals. They are beautiful to look at, and delicious to eat. Our lunches cost 5,500 wan each, a little over five dollars American. A bargain in either country. If you're ever in the area, I recommend them highly.

We made it back to the station by 13:30, and bought our tickets. Our first class seats cost us 30,000 wan each for the round trip. There were a lot of people in the station now, and more were arriving by the minute. They were all here for the Seaside Train.

The boarding call was at 14:05, and we all streamed out to the waiting train. There were a lot of families with young children, and young couples, and the atmosphere was friendly and lively. There were assigned seats, and we found ours quickly. This train has a unique seating arrangement. All the seats face the port, or left, side of the train. That's the sea side of the train on the way down and back. There are two rows of seats. The one in back is slightly elevated, making it easier to see over the backs of the seats in front. There is a clear walkway along the right, starboard, side of the cabin, behind the two rows of seats, and there are big windows along each side, giving great views in either direction.

All those people who were at the station when we got back had evidently snapped up all the front row seats. Our seats were in the back row. The view was not as good from back there, but it was still very nice.

So, off we went, easing out of Gangneung. It was a smooth and comfortable ride. We were seeing the city from an unfamiliar vantage point, elevated from the streets along the raised railway. We passed over our everyday bus stop there on the main drag, and by the Jungang Market, then crossed the river into south Gangneung. Pretty soon we were out in the country, and then rolling along down the coast.

The tracks do not run right along the coast the entire way. Occasionally the line has to go around a mountain, or some seaside development, but most of the way it runs as close as possible to the beach. There are numerous tunnels along the line, also. One, in particular, seemed like it was about two miles long.

About ten minutes into the trip, we emerged from a tunnel to find ourselves right in front of the Unification Park we'd seen the other day, with the Warship and the Submarine. The driver paused here for a couple of minutes, to give everyone a chance to get a picture, then we were off again, running down the coast. A short while later we pulled into the beautiful seaside park at Jeongdongjin, where we had spent some time with our newly met friends the other day. There is a landing here, where the train stopped for about ten minutes, allowing everyone to get off and stretch their legs. Supposedly, this is the closest train station to a beach and ocean anywhere in the world. Everyone who had a camera was out making pictures of the train, the beach, and their loved ones. I joined in, getting some nice photos.

Under way again, we next rolled through the town of Okgye, with it's busy port, then by the beautiful seaside campground called Mangsang Auto Camping Resort. In addition to it's cabins and campsites, they have a section that looks like a mini trailer park. This is a bunch of nice, small travel trailers, permanently situated. I guess you rent these like motel rooms. The idea is to back your car up to the trailer hitch and park it there. This gives the illusion that you've pulled your own private travel trailer out here from the city. A fun, and clever idea.

The next town down the line was Mukho. This is where Ok Hwa was born, and spent her young childhood. She was pretty excited, and made sure to point out a couple of beaches where she used to swim and hunt for clams. Many of the beaches along through here are framed by rugged, rocky outcroppings, which extend out into the water. Lots of these jagged rocks stick up from under the water for many yards out. Swimming amongst this stuff must be tricky, at best, with the waves trying to push you against the rocks. She said her little brother got his head smashed pretty badly like this once, when they were very young.

An interesting feature of the coast here is that any undeveloped waterfront, away from towns, public beaches, ports, industrial complexes, etc., is fenced with heavy chain link fencing, topped by barbed wire and coiled razor wire. Every few hundred yards or so, there is also a small, concrete, camouflage painted military look-out post, bunker, or sometimes a gun emplacement. All this is to guard against infiltration by North Korean spies, or even worse, invasion troops. These people live with the ever present threat of North Korean aggression. It's a strange sort of relationship, because they also consider the Northerners to be their brothers, and long for re-unification. All this armed preparedness over here makes our lives in the States seem pretty relaxed by comparison.

Continuing our excursion, we next rolled through the busy town of Donghae, with it's industrial area and port. This town is about the same size as Gangneung, but not nearly as nice, from what I could see.

A few kilometers south of Donghae, we came to the charming seaside village of Ch'uam. There is a big, beautiful park here, right by the tracks, with a landing for passengers. The village is nestled between two small, steep mountains that frame a beautiful view of the sea. About half or more of the passengers on our train disembarked here. This was a mystery to me, but it became clear why later in the day. They all waved good-bye to us on the departing train, and began descending a long wooden stairway into the village below.

About ten minutes later we rounded a mountain that was between us and the sea, crossed a wide river, and came into the city of Samcheok. This is where the trip ended, and the train headed back to Gangneung. This was a pretty dismal looking little city, in my opinion. We pulled into the tiny station, and everyone got off and went inside. There was nothing in there except a ticket window , and a small waiting room. The restrooms were in another small building next door. Out front of the station, there was a broad avenue with cars whizzing by, and not much on the other side except the river. Our side of the avenue was taken up by the station and rail yard. Not much of a destination. There was more to the city than this, but it was on the other side of the river, with no way to get there except by taxi or bus. The only interesting feature to this place was that mountain. The townspeople must have been busy planting, because a large portion of it was planted in cherry trees, which were just now coming into bloom. Also, both sides of the river were planted in cherry trees. Aside from this, there was nothing of interest here. All of us passengers just sat around the little waiting room looking at each other.

After twenty-five minutes or so, the boarding call was given, and we all headed back out to the train. It was sitting right where they had left it earlier. It was only four cars long, and the car on each end, in addition to being a passenger car, had a driver's cab on the end. They never had to turn the train around. The driver just walked to the other end of the train, climbed into the cab there, and drove it back in the other direction. Pretty ingenious.

For some reason we were assigned different seats in a different car on the way back. They were still first class seats, no different than the ones we'd ridden down in. Anyhow, we were headed back now, and after about ten minutes we came back to that nice little village, Ch'uam. All those people who had gotten off the train earlier, now got back on again. They were the smart ones. They had spent the last hour in a charming little village with a park, a beach, shops, restaurants, and so forth. We had to tough it out in that boring little waiting room. Someone should have said something about this to us. Oh, well, we'll know better next time, if there is one.

So, we did the trip in reverse now. It's not as interesting on the way back, because you've seen it all before, very recently.

On the way home from Gangneung Station, we hit our usual shopping spots in town, picking up a few essentials for back home. And, again, Ma and Pa were waiting for us on the little front porch as we pulled in. We're starting to get real settled in here. It's a shame we have to leave in a few days.

The official website of KORAIL (English Version): http://info.korail.com/2007/eng/eng_index.jsp


  1. Thanks to the above commentor for your insightful observation, which reads "Appearance is often far from the truth, people are easily fooled by the appearance of decoration". How true!

  2. 每一粒厄運的種子,卻包孕著未來豐盛的果實........................................