Photo: A panoramic view of the winter wonderland seen from the top of Taebaeksan Mountain
Gangwon-do, situated far off to the east of Seoul, is known as Korea's most mountainous region, where more than 40% of the area consists of high rolling hills, mountains, and valleys. Due to its high altitude and harsh environment, ridgelines become beautifully coated with white snowflakes every winter, including the backbone range of Taebaeksan Mountain. However, the geographical features of this region are significantly different for the Taebaek Mountain Range, which stands in the middle of Gangwon-do, dividing the region into two parts: Yeongseo (the west) and Yeongdong (the east).
Separate weather forecasts are often made for each of these sub regions. For example, showers may be expected on the eastern side while snow is forecast in the western region, since the warmer temperature near the ocean causes the snow to turn into rain. Interestingly, this meteorological phenomenon can be witnessed at the top of Taebaek Plateau, which is 600 meters high in altitude.
For the same reason, winter in the Teabaek region is severely cold and known to last longer, often as long as 6 months (from mid October to mid April of the following year). It may give you a harsh time shivering in the cold, but it allows for the Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival to take place here. The event welcomes visitors from all over the world to enjoy a winter wonderland from January to February. It’s important to note, however, that the festival period is subject to change depending on the amount of snowfall each year.
Photo: Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival (courtesy of Taebaek-si)
Taebaeksan Mountain is the main peak (1,567 meters above sea level) of Taekbaek Mountain Range, stretching from north to south, crisscrossing through Bonghwa-gun in Gyeongsangbuk-do, Taebaek, and Yeongwol-gun in Gangwon-do. The Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival is held here to celebrate its beautiful alpine landscape and fun winter attractions unique to the area. The event first started in 1995, and has since continued as a tradition every year, drawing more than 5 million visitors in late January, making it the busiest season for Teabaek residents.
Photo: Cooking dried fish over briquettes (left) / Rice dough pounding (right)
The major attraction of the festival is found at Danggol Square of Taebaeksan Provincial Park, where a wide variety of winter-themed art pieces and ice sculptures highlight the venue. Visitors can take part in riding snow sleds, snow rafting, playing folk games on the ice, and many more activities, all of which can be enjoyed on the snow field. The variety of activities makes the festival perfect for visitors of all ages.
Moreover, if you're a hiking enthusiast or a challenge-seeker, you can take on a two-hour hiking trail up to the top of Taebaeksan Mountain. At the top, the surrounding nature below you will provide you with an unforgettable panoramic view of the mountain's wintery wonderland. If you're up for this particular exercise, make sure to wear hiking boots with a good tread, and bring a walking stick for added stability. Also, don't forget the high altitudes bring with it a piercing wind on certain days, so extra layers of warm clothes are essential if you want to complete the hike!
Photo: Snow Flower Train (courtesy of Korail)
Freshly-fallen snow covering the mountains like a white blanket never fails to impress, no matter how much you look at it. There is a train in Korea that offers a view of this breathtaking scenic wonder. It's called the "Snow Flower Train" (Nunkkot Yeolcha; 눈꽃열차). This train goes around, under, and over various mountains that give you a panoramic view of this beautiful snowy landscape. The train stops temporarily at a station built high in the mountains, giving passengers a chance to take in the scenery close up. The station may be small, but the nature surrounding it will invigorate your senses and rejuvenate your spirit.
Chujeon Station, the highest-elevation train station in Korea, sits at an altitude of 855 meters above sea level. Aside from the midsummer, the average temperature at this high elevation stays low enough that it's a good idea to have a space heater ready to go at all times. Since most passengers are Korean citizens, non-Korean tourists are recommended to use a travel agency to book tickets for the Snow Flower Train. You can also call the Korail Customer Service Line (+82-2-1544-7788) for more information about booking.
Snow Flower Train
There was a time when the city of Taebaek produced 30% of Korea's total coal production. People from all across the country came to Taebaek to work in the mines. However, with the surge of oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels, the coal industry saw a massive recession. Finally, in 1970, the industry went under and the population dropped like a rock, making it very economically difficult for the city. Since then, however, the city has seen a resurgence in visitors interested in its gorgeous natural landscape and historical significance in Korea's coal industry. So it goes without saying that Taebaek and coal have an intertwined relationship, about which you can find out more at the Taebaek Coal Museum.
The Taebaek Coal Museum is located about 50 meters from Taebaeksan Provincial Park's Danggol Plaza. The three-storey facility has a geological room, a coal production and discovery room, a room that explains the uses of coal excavation, mine safety and policy rooms, a room about the region of Taebaek, as well as an experiential mine shaft room.
The first floor displays rare minerals and fossils from the Paleozoic and Cenozoic era that most people have seen only in videos and pictures. Through learning about the history of coal mining, the harsh environment inside the mine shaft, and seeing actual tools that were used in the mine, one can catch a glimpse of some of the culture, customs, and technology of the time. There is also a basement level that is set up like a real mine shaft to give visitors the feeling that real miners would have felt when they went to work deep in the earth. This museum makes the perfect educational trip to find out just why coal was referred to as "black pearl."
Next stop after Taebaek Coal Museum is Taebaek Sangjang-dong Mural Village, also called "Nambu Village." The village was left neglected and isolated from the city's industrialization development, resulting in it becoming a slum of sorts. However, the whole village has since transformed into a nice little gallery today thanks to the artists who volunteered in helping Taebaek-si to be reborn as an attractive tourist destination. The region is heavily frequented by photographers seeking to take pictures of the unique murals of Sangjang-dong, of which reminisce back to Taebaek's golden age.
This unique and authentic alley was completed as part of a city project enacted in 2011. Many drawings of miners and their lives back then are portrayed, and there are also many murals featuring dogs holding money in their mouths, symbolizing that Taebaek's coal mines had once boosted the economy so much that the citizens would even let dogs use money as a play toy. In addition to its new artistic addition, many plants and trees were rooted in order to make the city a greener place.
1. By bus
From Dong Seoul Intercity Bus Terminal: Take a bus bound for Taebaek Intercity Bus Terminal.
(First bus departs at 6 a.m., last bus at 11 p.m. / 34 intervals per day / Total travel time: approx. 3 hrs and 10 min)
2. By train
Get on the train from Cheongnyangni Station then disembark at Taebaek Station.
(First bus departs at 7:05 a.m., last bus at 11:25 p.m.) / 7 intervals per day / Total travel time: approx. 3 hrs and 40 min)
*The above departure schedules are subject to change.
* This column was last updated on February 2015, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details from the official website before visiting.
<Last updated in February 9, 2015>