A new way of exploring Korea's lake country
Written and photographed by Peter DeMarco
The article courtesy of Seoul magazine
The first time I heard about Chuncheon's new water trail or Mulle-Gil, I had visions of paddling down a river on my canoe into the wilderness. I could see Pocahontas and Sitting Bull in front of me, leading the way. Wait a minute. This is Korea!
I quickly went to the website and saw pictures of sleek wooden canoes and a couple paddling on an empty lake—seemingly lost in Mother Nature. The pictures could have easily been from a Canadian catalog for outdoor gear. And then there was a map full of islands with colorful arrows representing the different water "trails."
The Mulle-Gil is a partnership between the city of Chuncheon and Blue Clover (www.blueclover.co.kr), Korea's only supplier of original hand-crafted wooden canoes. It began on Uiamho Lake in July of 2011. Ted Moores, a Canadian master canoe builder, came to Korea to teach the people at Blue Clover his craft. Now they have a workshop on site and a small flotilla of over 30 canoes.
Park Dae-sun, the Mulle-Gil's manager, points out that many foreigners are already accustomed to canoes and how to use them. It's a part of their culture, so it's a great way to see Korea's nature up close. For Korean's, it is a new experience that is financially accessible to everyone.
Before you can rent a canoe you have to attend a 20 minute class on how to use a canoe and where you can go on the lake. Once you grab your life jacket and paddle, you line up with your class and then get in your boat. This can be a little hectic since there are 30 canoes to fill, but the guides have it down to a science.
For anyone with an adventurous spirit and basic knowledge of how to paddle a canoe, the Mulle-Gil experience might seem a little tame. First, you can only rent the canoe for one hour. Next, you have to follow a designated route (out and back) by your guide. Then, if you go when it's busy, you'll be paddling amongst 59 other bright orange life vests. Finally, don't fall behind the group because the guide, cruising along in a motor-powered pontoon boat, will pull up close and coax you back to the herd with a "Fighting!"
That said, it's hard not to enjoy canoeing on a lake, no matter how many people there are or which direction you go. When asked the meaning of Blue Clover, Park said "blue represents the calming effect of water. And our clover has 3 leaves which means happy (a four leaf clover represents luck)." Judging from all the smiles everyone had after some time on the lake; it's hard not to think they are on to something. Pocahontas would be proud.
To reserve a canoe go to www.mullegil.org and choose the time you want. If you can't read Korean, you can call (070-4150-9463) and reserve over the phone. If you go in the summer, it's best to go in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat. Open year-round. Closed on Mondays. One hour on the canoe plus a 20 minute class costs 30,000 won.
Dakgalbi Alley or Dakgalbi Golmok in Myeong-dong is where everyone goes to taste Chuncheon's culinary claim to fame. For those that don't know, dakgalbi is stir-fried goodness: chunks of chicken marinated in chili paste, mixed with cabbage, potatoes, spring onions, and rice cake in a black metal skillet. Any restaurant in the alley will do. But for something unforgettable, a couple blocks away from the alley is Wonjo Dakbulgogi Jip (Original Grilled Chicken House, T. 010-2480-5762). At first glance, this grill house looks like it has seen better days. However, those are usually the places to eat at in Korea. On the menu is chicken in the same marinade as in dakgalbi, except you grill it at your table instead of fry it. Wrap it in a leaf, pop it in your mouth, and you will wonder why they aren't selling this stuff on every corner of the city.
The Walker Hill Hotel (T. (033) 254-8001, www.hotelwhill.com) has no relation to the one in Seoul. What it does have is an excellent location just blocks away from Dakgalbi Alley, the local market, cafes, a few bars, and shops. It looks like a love motel from the outside but has clean rooms, convenient parking, and is family friendly. Rooms cost 50,000—80,000 won.
For something more upscale, the Ladena Resort (T. (033) 240-8000, www.ladenaresort.co.kr) is right on the lake, has a beautiful pool, and is only a short walk to the canoe dock. A basic room costs 130,000—150,000 won.
If you have a tent, you can camp on Jungdo Island (www.gangwandotour.com) in the middle of Uiamho Lake. It only costs a few thousand won a night. The ferry (6,000 won R/T) to the island is just down the road from the Ladena Resort.
By car, take the Seoul-Chuncheon Expressway (38 minutes). By subway, Sangbong to Chuncheon (63 mins. Express) leaves 127 times per day. For something more romantic, take the slow train through the hills.
Chuncheon Tour Portal Site: tour.chuncheon.go.kr
Leisure Sports Festival (Aug 24—28): c-leisure.org
Donggang River Rafting
The best river rafting in Korea is on the Donggang River in Pyeongchang and Yeongwol. The white water, cliffs and lush greenery for a scenic backdrop beyond compare. If getting wet ain't your thing, there's plenty of trekking and paragliding to be done here, too. The Yeongwol Donggang River Festival is July 27—31.
FYI T. (033) 330-2741 Go Buses to Yeongwol from Chuncheon are slow (about 3 hrs). There's a highway from Seoul, though, that will get you there in 2 hrs from Dongseoul Terminal. From Yeongwol Bus Terminal, take a bus to Geoungyo, where the rafting begins.
Namiseom Zip Wire
Near Chuncheon is the lovely riverine island of Namiseom, noted for its pleasant, tree-lined walking paths. There's a ferry to the island from the town of Gapyeong, but if you'd prefer something a bit different, try the Namiseom Zip Wire, which carries across the river at speeds of 60—80km per hour (total time: 1.5 minutes) from a height of 80m. Cost: 38,000 won.
FYI T. (031) 582-8091 Go From Chuncheon, take the short bus or train ride to Gapyeong