KOREA – Aaahh! That was my first encounter with snow. As the plane was about to make its landing, the Asiana Airline flight crew announced the local time and the local weather. “It is -3 degrees in Incheon right now.” she said. My eyes grew wide of what I just heard. Among my travels abroad, it was my first time to hear a “negative degree” during a local weather announcement. I was sitting by the plane window and I made a quick glance at the foggy terrain outside. I blinked at Mom who was sitting beside me then. She threw me a wide grin and we both knew we needed another layer of clothing aside from the two layers that we were already wearing.
As we landed at Incheon International Airport, Mom and I hurriedly opened our suitcases and we grabbed the coats that we could find the easiest in our stash. We walked a few steps to meet our tour guide. Our tour guide was a girl, her English name was Julie but her real name was Park Ho Kyung. She waved at us and pointed our tourist bus so Mom and I both headed out. Whooaaa!!! As the airport automatic door slid open, the cold winter wind blew on our faces. It was warmer inside than out! My three layers of clothing was not enough! We jumped inside our bus and thankfully, it was comfortably warm and well-heated. I sat down and sniffed a few times, realizing I was about to catch some colds. We stopped at a nearby café and had our breakfast.
It was a long ride to our first destination! I wrote my Korean name on the bus windows to ease the long travel boredom. It was my first time to see frost on the inside of the window glass. We rode a ferry to Nami Island. As the ferry stopped, we headed out the dock and walked towards the entrance. It was drizzling (rain and winter is not an awesome combination by the way)! We HAD to buy some winter hand gloves to cover our then freezing fingers. My Chuck Taylors crunched as I walked on the wet pavements.
Nami Island offered a gloomy ambiance, but the weather did not stop us from exploring its natural beauty. It is located in Chuncheon in the Gangwon-Do region. It is most famous as the set of the Korean Drama “Winter Sonata”. The place is vast with mulberry trees, chestnut trees, and a peaceful harmony of nature and civilization.
Our walk to Nami was indeed momentous, having been able to adjust to the cold winter weather as first timers and being able to see a part of South Korea’s heritage at the same time.
There were mini clay pot villages inside Namiseon Republic. Mom and I got the chance to marvel the loveliness of the handmade clay pots.
After our Nami Island visit, our next stop was lunch… our very first authentic Korean lunch. It was a stir-fry shop where we had to cook our pork and vegetable stir-fry ourselves. It was matched with various side-dishes like kimchi, potatoes, and fermented beans. Lunch was an experience itself. We hopped on the bus and went to our next stop, Seoraksan National Park.
Mt.Seorak or Seoraksan was another site rich in South Korea’s culture. Still in Gangwon-Do, it was a two hour-drive from Nami Island. Parts of it were covered in snow so it slowed our hike because the ground was slippery. It was not my first cable-car ride, but it was however the first on a winter. A cable-car took us to a part of the summit and no matter how white the snow was, the view was still stunning. At the outset, I was too excited to be walking on snow, but then I realized that my footwear was undeniably inappropriate.
Despite the foggy façade of Mt. Seorak, there were other fascinating views and pieces in there that caught my attention. The fact that the mountain trail was covered with rubber mats to avoid accidents was already enthralling for a third-worlder like me. There were monks wearing winter clothes, walking on the grounds at the foot of the mountain. There were Buddhist temples, icy streams, fountains that looked like wish-granters, telephone booths, wet wooden pathways, snowy bridges, and maps at every corner.
Our first day in Korea was remarkable considering the long bus rides and the snow trails. We stayed at an accommodation in Gangwon-Do, and another amusing fact was that the floors were heated! It completely eased our sore legs and feet and I was actually considering a snooze on the floor. Haha!
To be continued…