Rainy Day Escapes Off the Beaten Path

  • Date07/29/2011
  • Hit6444

July in Korea means leaving home with an industrial-strength umbrella. For about six weeks, summer cloudbursts called sonagi in Korean routinely drop 20 centimeters (8 inches) or more in a single day, swelling rivers and inundating streets. “Sonagi” is also the name of one of Korea’s most beloved short stories. Penned by Hwang Sun-won and published in 1953 during the Korean War, Hwang captured a nostalgic snapshot of innocent love between children. The story has inspired countless TV and film scenes of couples who discover a romantic bond when a downpour leaves them huddled together beneath an umbrella or a tree.

While an unexpected summer soaking can be fun, keeping dry can be romantic, too! For example, why not take your date to a museum or gallery for a dry (and air conditioned) summer visit? But if you’re looking for something off the beaten track, greater Seoul also offers less-conventional activities that can win you some extra romance points, get you out of the house and won’t leave you soaking wet! Here are a few suggestions.

Incheon’s Airport Oasis

The Korean Peninsula’s hot, wet summers and cold and snowy winters have cultivated hardy native plants. While spring is when forsythia and cherry blossoms burst awake from their winter sleep, it’s during the summer that Korea’s parks and forests become truly verdant. Unfortunately, summer is also when seasonal monsoons bring weeks of wind, rain and mud. Given this reality, a nature lover’s best bet might be visiting an indoor garden.

The controlled microclimate of a greenhouse can host an exotic mix of plants and flowers. One case in point is the surprising strand of tree ferns located inside Incheon International Airport. Native to South Korea’s sub-tropical Jeju Island, the three-meter-tall trees in the Transportation Center greet passengers as they transit between the AREX Airport Express station to Incheon’s main passenger terminal.

Called Stargarden, it’s two sturdy glass and steel tunnels softened by 9,000 herbs, cacti, aquatic plants (and waterfalls!) and hanging plants. An attractive boardwalk rises and dips through 2,000-square meters of space that’s been divided into seven themed gardens. Located amidst a cavernous hall in one of the world’s busiest airports, the ambitious botanical space is an unexpected treat for the weary traveler.

On a recent visit, an exhibition featured the winners of a design contest for the airport’s second terminal (exhibit runs through August 3rd). Scale models of seven honored designs were on display, including the winning plan by a joint-South Korean-American consortium. With construction scheduled to begin in May 2013, the renderings suggest that Terminal Two will expand Terminal One’s experiment with indoor landscaping.

Innovative approaches to airport management is a major reason why Incheon has received Airports Council International’s “Best Airport Worldwide” award for six years running. In the words of USA Today, a major American daily newspaper, “Why can’t all airports be like Incheon?”

Incheon International Airport’s Stargarden
Cost : Free
Hours : Open 24 hours.
Tel : 032-741-2686 Ext. 7
Web : http://cgg.cha.go.kr/

Changgyeonggung Palace’s Daeonsil
Cost : 1,000 won
Hours : 09:00-18:30 April-October; 09:00-17:30 November, March; 09:00-17:30 December-February; Closed Mondays.
Tel : 02-762-4868
Web : http://cgg.cha.go.kr/
For more on Changgyeonggung Palace, click here

In Search of New Heights

And finally, if horticulture isn’t your hobby of choice, we’ll try something more athletic. Especially when the elements make exercising out-of-doors difficult or dangerous, it’s important to find other ways to stay fit. Cases in point are the growing number of indoor climbing gyms. While Korea’s legion of very fashionable hikers have long made a sport of traversing the country’s mountainous terrain, rock and even ice climbing have recently emerged as popular pastimes. Peak climbing season typically runs April through November, but even the most seasoned climbers head indoors during the monsoon season.

As a result, in recent years a number of Seoul-area climbing schools have opened to help climbers hone their technique during the off-season. One of the best facilities for a wide range of skill sets is the Kolon Alpine School Education Center. Located directly below the bald granite head of Bukhansan National Park’s Insubong peak, the seven-level center includes retail space, classrooms and two climbing rooms.

Watching as climbers deliberately plan their movement across a wall covered in grips of various sizes, shapes and colors, it’s easy to see why climbing is an excellent full-body exercise. The careful calibration of one’s weight and balance relies heavily on the legs. Newcomers to the sport will soon learn that climbing makes use of muscles that most of us have forgotten we had. But for men and women, alike, climbing is a great way to gain muscle tone without adding significant bulk. Furthermore, those interested in indoor training don’t have to invest on expensive equipment, since most indoor gyms require only a good pair of climbing shoes.

Should you want something more adventurous, Kolon Alpine School has also installed an ice climbing wall. With a Guinness Book of World Records plaque to prove it, the school boasts the world’s highest indoor wall of ice. Once inside the chilly chamber, ropes dangle beside an igloo and ice-making machine. Especially during these hot and humid summer months, I can’t think of a better way to cool off.

Kolon Alpine School Education Center
Cost : Inquire about class and membership fees.
Hours : 14:00-23:00 Monday-Friday; 10:00-18:00 Saturdays, Sundays; Closed Holidays
Tel : 02-990-0202
Web : http://cafe.daum.net/alpinekolon

At first glance, the persistent rain of the summer monsoons can put a literal damper on your plans to get out and enjoy all that Korea has to offer. Rather than let the summer sonagi squash your sense of adventure, however, see the rain as the perfect reason to venture off the typical travel itinerary and experience more of what Korea has to offer.