Saturday August 4, 2012
Heaven on earth
Story and photos by MAJORIE CHIEW
A rich tapestry of sights, sounds, food and culture over five days in South Korea will bowl anyone over.
SLURP ramen, visit Samyang ranch. Sounds like a tagline, doesn’t it? But it’s not.
The thought just came naturally when we visited the Daegwallyeong Samyang ranch, in Pyeongchang, Gwangwon province.
Owned by Samyang, a famous South Korean ramen manufacturer, the 2,000ha ranch in the Daegwallyeong Highlands (850m to 1,470m above sea level) is one of Asia’s biggest farms and its largest green pasture on a plateau for dairy cows.
The place is also a popular film location. Movies like Lover’s Concerto (2002), Taegeukgi: Brotherhood Of War (2003) and Beethoven’s Virus (2008), not to mention TV series like Autumn In My Heart (2000), were also filmed here.
So what’s cattle got to do with ramen?
“Samyang Ranch was set up because the owner wanted to raise cattle to make good stock for ramen,” explained Jinny Kim, our guide.
The ranch was set up in 1972, but it was only in 1985 that the filming crews started to drop in. By the 1990s, it had opened to tourists who wanted to see in person the beautiful scenery they had witnessed on the screen.
“It takes 20 minutes by bus to go up to the top of the plateau and 15 minutes to descend. The entire tour takes two to three hours as the ranch covers 10 million sqm,” Kim elaborated.
The ranch is indeed too vast to explore on foot. Thankfully, our chartered bus took us all the way to the top. Other than the cows, sheep and ostriches sighted along the way, we were also greeted by a stupendous sight at the top – wind-powered generators!
Wow, it was almost heaven!
The Daegwallyeong Wind Power Plant has 53 wind turbines spread over the wind-swept highland 1,100m above sea level. Erected at intervals of 200m, these windmills provide electricity to 50,000 households in the nearby city of Gangneung on the east coast of South Korea.
As the south-westerly winds blow at an annual average speed of 6.7m per second, this area is blustery and ideal for power generation. When I played back the video recording taken here, even my son could tell the presence of wind! The awesome landscape naturally attracts large crowds of tourists.
Actually, the ranch wasn’t the first item on our itinerary. Namiseom was the first destination after our early morning touchdown at Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea. Also called Nami Island, it is a tiny half-moon-shaped island (462,809 sqm) in Chuncheon.
A popular tourist destination, it was formed by the inundation of the North Han River when Cheongpyeong Dam was built in 1944. The island was named after General Nami who fought courageously in battles but died at the age of 28. His tomb is on the island.
Nami has tree-lined roads but its real claim to fame is as the location of the mega-hit TV drama, Winter Sonata. Last year alone, the island attracted 2.3 million visitors.
Nami’s rise can be traced back to 1965 when a former Bank of Korea governor, Minn Byeong-do (1916-2006), bought the island and then set about reforesting and beautifying it. The island has many attractions but we could not appreciate fully what it had to offer as we had to hurry along because of the tight itinerary.
After touring Nami, we stopped at Chuncheon, a famous tourist city and the capital of Gangwon-do, where we had lunch within walking distance from the ferry terminal. Here, over 20 restaurants were selling Chuncheon’s famed chicken barbecue (dakgalbi).
After breakfast, we headed to the Alpensia’s Ski Jump Tower (built for ski jump competitors) to get a view of Alpensia Resort, a ski resort that is open all year-round, in Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do. Again, Alpensia Resort, located on a plateau 700m above sea level, has popular culture connections. It was one of the locations for the movie National Athlete and will again be in the limelights during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
The Alpensia Ski Jumping Stadium has been earmarked as the location for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Alpensia has six slopes for skiing and snowboarding, with runs up to 1.4km for beginners and advanced skiers, and an area reserved for snowboarders. Already large billboards in Pyeongchang are advertising this event – six years in advance!
Later, we trooped off on foot to the nearby Ocean 700, a large water theme park. Its indoor facilities include several different pools and mega slides, while its outdoor facilities include cabanas, sunbeds and more pools. The water park also has a special spa and massage services.
After our inspection of Alpensia, we checked out and headed for a Korean traditional food culture experience.
This was at the Institute of Traditional Korea Cuisine, in Gangwon province. The institute is on a 13,000-sqm site and is equipped with a traditional stone ice chamber, a restaurant, a large kitchen for cooking workshops and a compound filled with crock jars of spices. We were treated to a food demonstration which included bibimbap (rice topped with vegetables and meat) and Korean ginseng yoghurt.
These we had, together with other traditional Korean dishes, for our lunch after the demonstration was over.
Next, we headed to Woojin Playdoci, also called Woojin Play City, in Gyeonggi-do. Billed as “the future model of a theme park at the heart of a city”, it is the only entertainment centre in Seoul where people can ski all-year round.
Woojin houses South Korea’s first indoor ski – a sledge park with six sledge lanes, each 100m in length, and a ski slope that is 270m-long and 70m-wide.
It also boasts South Korea’s largest water park, a western-style spa, a fitness centre and various shopping areas. The wave pool here can deliver artificial waves up to a height of 2m, and there are seven different slides, including a 100m tube slide, the Zebra and a “black hole” slide called Space Ball!
The other highlights of our trip were Suncheon Bay (Eco-Park) and Boseong Tea Plantation.
Suncheon Bay, a coastal wetland, is one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse areas in South Korea. The bay has the country’s biggest colony of reeds and is, in fact, famed for its golden reed fields which offer shelter to Hooded Cranes and other migratory birds such as Black-faced Spoonbills and swans.
Located in the centre of Korea’s southern coast, the bay boasts various geographical features such as a river mouth, circular-shaped reed beds, salt marshes, tidal flat and islands.
From the bay, we went on to visit Boseong, the country’s home of green tea. The Boseong tea plantations are said to produce over 40% of the South Korea’s green tea. We took the opportunity to buy tea and tea products here.
We also visited another organic tea plantation run by Choi Chang-Don and his wife and had a traditional lunch that included bibimbap.
Next, we headed for Gwangju (Metropolitan City), but not before a surprise stopover at the city’s KIA Motor factory for a visit.
KIA Motor was set up in 1965 but was bought over by Hyundai Motors in 1998. The factory with 6,700 employees produces a total of 420,000 cars yearly. It is responsible for 24% of total production and 22% of employment in Gwangju.
We also visited the city’s Traditional Culture Center which has Mt Mudeungsan as its backdrop. Here, we were treated to a traditional tea ceremony where Korean women attired in hanbok waited on us and we were entertained with a stringed musical performance and drum music. The afternoon of culture was hosted by Gwangju Cultural Foundation director Kim Dong Yule.
Dinner was at Gum Da Yeon, a traditional Korean restaurant. We were served the speciality dish of sam hap. a three combination dish of kimchi, braised belly pork and fermented stingray. The prized ingredient was the 90-day-old fermented stingray.
Two years before, I had visited South Korea and stopped at a few noteworthy places, including Jeju Island. This time around, I visited several more cities, and I must say that I enjoyed the many destinations and enriching experiences on offer over the span of just five short days!
The writer’s five-day familiarisation tour of South Korea was organised by Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) and supported by Korean Air.