Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Wonderland: The Garden of Morning Calm and Chungnyeongsan Recreational Forest

The Garden of Morning Calm's winter lighting festival

For Valentine's Day weekend, I decided to head north of Seoul with a travel group to check out the Lighting Festival at The Garden of Morning Calm.

I had taken that week off from work, and didn't do many exciting things (unless you think going to immigration is entertaining). This little day trip was a good way to end my week.

Valentine's Dinner at On The Border in Pyeongchon

But first, there was Valentine's Day! In Korea, it is tradition for the woman to give the man a gift for the holiday. Likewise, there is another holiday, called "White Day," which falls a month later on March 14. Then, the man is expected to give the woman a gift. However, for the single folks, their day is on April 14, where you all gather together to eat black bean noodles, called Jajangmyeon, and wallow in your sorrows!

Who can say no?

In my case, I decided to take my date to a restaurant. The week before, I showed him some tacos I made, and subsequently found out that he hadn't tried Mexican food before! He's Chinese, and doesn't typically eat the expensive foreign food in China. Recalling my good experience last time, I took him to another On The Border location, this time in Pyeongchon. It has the same yummy, mid-priced food. This one can be reached by heading out Beomgye Station exit 4, which is on Seoul Subway line #4. This location is right inside the Lotte Department Store on the 8th floor, next to TGI Friday. This On The Border's phone number is 031-8086-9805.

Chungnyeongsan Recreational Forest

I booked a day trip with the Seoul Expat Global Meetup group, which is headed by Harry Yoon. This particular trip cost me about 25,000 won, including transportation to and from Apgujeong Station in Seoul. Our first stop was at a rather mediocre Korean restaurant that mostly served just a few stews and soups.

Exploring Chungnyeongsan Recreational Forest

After eating, we went to the Chungnyeongsan Recreational Forest (축령산자연휴양림). This is a big park in a mountainous area. Visitors can go there for a more authentic camping experience, to experience nature and for hiking. Despite what its name suggests, don't expect to find many different organized activities there. They offer cabins for rent, and wooden planks for those who would rather pitch a tent.

 Reservations can be made from their website, which is only in Korean. The admission is cheap, being only 1,000 won. Their rental prices are reasonable as well, with it being the cheapest to pitch a tent. When we used the bathrooms there, they didn't seem too clean and were a bit smelly.

It was a beautiful day!

After stepping out of the tour bus, we immediately flocked to the ice sculptures that greeted us at the entrance. They were pretty, and the weather was beautiful. We took a walk around and absorbed the natural surroundings. This would be a peaceful place to go camping, and ideal for those who love to hike. This park is made for hikers who love scenic views.

Garden of Morning Calm

At the entrance
Next, we stopped at the Garden of the Morning Calm (아침고요수목원). This is a large colorful garden ideal for families and couples to visit. However, it's winter, when the flowers aren't exactly in full bloom. As a result, they have put up various lighting schemes all over the garden which they switch on in the late afternoon, around 5:30 pm.

For adults during the winter festival, the fee is 7,000 won per person. To get there, one could take an intercity bus from East Seoul Bus terminal or from Sandbong Bus Terminal for Chucheon. From there, go to Cheongpyeong bus terminal. To get to the garden, you can take a local/shuttle bus or hop in a taxi. As a warning, the lines are long for the shuttle bus going back.

When the lights were first turned on

The lights certainly make things interesting in the winter because the way they illuminated the garden was so gorgeous! This also turned out to be a big attraction with more and more visitors pouring in and flocking to take photos. The weather was freezing cold, but that certainly didn't stop anyone! It almost stopped me though -- and if I were to go again, I would make sure I wore at least two pairs of thick socks along with a good pair of gloves!

Hearts and swans!
Immediately outside of the gate, there are various food venders, and they are a good idea to hit for snacks and quick meals if you're hungry. They have many different treats for everyone. I happened to buy a snack, which was a hotdog they dipped in batter. Next, they pasted french fries onto the batter and deep-fried the whole thing. No idea what it was called, but it was delicious! They've got all of your staples, such as rice cakes, waffles with cream, fish stuffed with beans, regular hot dogs, ramen, etc. Inside the park, there's a little convenience store and a coffee shop, but these two places will set you back a bit more money.

Now, what they called the "lighting festival" wasn't really a festival as I would think of it, but it was rather just many gorgeous lights to look at and pose by. They had animals, such as reindeer, a giraffe and an elephant. They had a series of romantic light structures, such as a few different hearts and swans. All of these had long lines! There were fun structures like a horse and carriage, which the kids loved. There were also tunnels of light at people could walk through.
Enjoying the lights!

There were quite a bit of people there and I almost got lost a couple of times!  All in all, it was really nice and I was glad I came. I would totally recommend it, especially to those who may find themselves in the area and are looking for something else to do.

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