Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kickin' in Chuncheon


 Note - I haven't updated this blog since sometime around the last time my buddy Don got laid, so it's high time to post something.  As I generally spend my time these days sitting in the hot tub drinking whiskey or playing God of War II on a CRT TV, I don't actually have anything interesting to say about my current lot.  Fortunately, I've got some old stuff (new to you) that I can run.  Today, I'm posting an article that I originally wrote for 10 Magazine, but that never actually ran because of timing issues.  I visited the city of Chuncheon way back in December 2010.  

Also, I should not that the article's title is a tip of the cap the EV Boys and their famed Korean expat video, as true today as ever.  


Want to get out of town?  What if I told you there’s a place 90 minutes from Seoul with mountains, lakes, clean air, respectable nightlife, and is the home base of what may well be Korea’s best single local dish?  What if also mentioned that that you can get there for 2,000 won?  Is that something you’d be interested in?

Entourage jokes aside, that’s what we’ve got in Chuncheon, thanks to the latest expansion of the Seoul Subway.

Dalkgalbi 
Dinner for two, for one.

Let’s start where I always tend to - with the food.  Dalkgalbi was recently voted the most-loved Korean dish by this very magazine.  I agree wholeheartedly.  Chuncheon invented dalkgalbi, and it isn’t shy about advertising this.  Downtown Chuncheon features Dalkgalbi Street, in which seemingly every restaurant serves this dish exclusively.  Certain guidebooks claim that it’s impossible to eat at any of these joints alone.  My Chuncheon trip was solo, so I worried about this notion, but I had no trouble getting a plate of the town’s signature dish.  I chose Youmi Dalkgalbi (033-244-4455) because it was busy but not full, and it proved to be delightful.   
This is the entrance to Dalkgalbi Street downtown.  Good Eatin.'

Nightlife
My lovely love motel, Motel Papaya

While nobody would mistake Chuncheon for Seoul or Busan, it has enough going on to entertain anybody for a weekend.  Chuncheon is a college town, and there are a number of bars, hofs, and restaurants clustered around Gangwon University.  The two most interesting spots that I came across in this area were Sheriff and the Hard Rock Bar.  Hard Rock is a casual student-dominated pub while Sheriff was a bit more popular amongst the expat crowd.   To get to the university area, take a taxi to “Gangwon hoomoon.”  The taxi will stop right in front of Sheriff.  Hard Rock is in the alley around back and to the left.  
I saw this ad at Lotteria in Chuncheon.  The burger is almost as big as her waist.
The preeminent expat bar in Chuncheon has to be Tombstone, though it’s popular with young locals as well.  This establishment features dart boards, cheap beer, and easy conversation.  Tombstone had the largest and most energetic crowd of any bar that I visited in town.  To get here, take a taxi to “Hi Mart.”  The Taxi will drop you across the street from the bar. 

Nature
Chuncheon is known for its lakes and mountains.  I headed for lovely Uiam Lake, an easy 20 to 30 minute walk from downtown.  A bike trail runs along the coast, and passes the architecturally  (and otherwise) interesting Memorial Hall for Ethiopian Veterans of the Korean War.  Jung-do looms as the largest island in this lake, and provides a number of summer outdoor activities.






Down the road and outside of Chuncheon proper, Gangchon is a fun town to explore on a rented motorcycle or ATV.  The primary attraction here is the Gugok Waterfall.  I skipped the motorized options and opted for the somewhat lengthy though enjoyable trek, if for no other reason than burning off some of that dalkgalbi.  The winding trail provides mountain views without any brutally taxing inclines.  Gugok Waterfall really shines in the dead of winter, when the falls themselves freeze and ice climbers tackle its challenge.  Gangchon can be reached via buses 3, 5, 50, or 50-1 from downtown Chuncheon’s main road, Jungangno.   Buses 50 and 50-1 go all the way to the falls, but they are quite rare.  Gangchon is also on the subway line between Seoul and Chuncheon. 



It was cold.
The mountain trail to the waterfal in Gangchon


Icy waterfall

Farther afield, two of the most famous places in the region are Soyang Lake, to the northeast of town, and Nami Island, to the Southwest.  Soyang is the largest lake in the region.  Nami Island is famous for its trees, and for being the setting of the Korean drama “Winter Sonata”  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit either on my trip.  On the plus side, now I have a reason to go back to Chuncheon. 

Getting There


As you can see, I went to Chuncheon so long ago, it involved a ride on a real train rather than a subway. 

From Seoul, getting to Chuncheon is a breeze.  Simply take the Chuncheon subway line.  All trains pass through Mangu Station, and some originate from Sangbong Station.  From outside Seoul, express buses run to Chuncheon.  To get downtown from the train or bus station, take a taxi to “Myeongdong.”

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