Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cheongpyeong

Last weekend's outing was to a small resort town on the ITX line Si decided he wanted to see called Cheongpyeong. Apparently it's been a popular summer destination for some time, as this flickr photo stream attests.

Only a few of the express trains actually stop in Cheongpyeong, so we had to get off at Gapyeong and double back on the regular subway. Altogether it takes about an hour to get there from Seoul.

The night we got there we walked through the quaint little rural neighbourhood near the station. It was pitch dark, really quiet, and had a very My Neighbor Totoro feel to it. There are at least two sizeable convenience stores on the main street, and we stayed in one of the bigger motels near the center of town.

The next morning we walked around, went through the neighbourhood street market and got some lunch from your basic kimbap-type restaurant, which was cheap and fresh, but not very good.





Walking across the full length of the town is quite easy, and we came to the river that basically forms one of its borders. It's quite shallow and slow-moving, but naturally, we could spot all of the life jackets from the road. Although, nothing will ever be quite as sad and bewildering as seeing adults wearing them in the waist-deep-throughout Han River Park Pool... -facepalm-



Trying to figure out where Cheongpyeong lake was, we decided to go upriver where the water was deeper to see what was around the bend (cue the Pocahontas song).







 We crossed the river by going down stairs and hopping along giant concrete blocks. 


What we came to was the beginning of a large valley full of rice paddies, bordered by wooded mountains on either side. We walked along the top of the river bank looking for a place to climb down, and ended up following an irrigation ditch from the rice paddy along a narrow path surrounded by dense foliage that dropped off on the one side.







There were hand-sized fish and frogs in the tiny man-made stream, butterflies and dragonflies everywhere. We eventually came to a rocky outcrop we could work our way down, and jumped into the cool water.

I mostly floated, watched clouds go by and thought about life and the universe and everything. Si had seen a forearm-length shark-shaped fish earlier and set off with his mask and new hand spear.


"The great white hunter returns!"

"Actually, I'm impressed you managed to spear one that small."




This fisheye effect is what happens when you slip while taking a photo in a river. 
Having watched The IT Crowd in the room that morning, all I could think of standing on the silty, slick river rocks was:


Now, this is where it got interesting. While walking along the 5-inch wide concrete 'path' atop the bank, I had started to get nervous because I was a bit sweaty and my feet were slipping around inside my synthetic leather sandals. I really didn't want to climb back up and go the long way we had come - and I definitely didn't want to slip and fall and die - but one does not simply cross a river with a backpack and messenger bag and assume they won't get dropped. 

After much deliberation, Si grudgingly agreed to do it my way and try to cross the shallow river with our bags. There were some guys standing about waist-deep and fishing just over a stone's throw from where we were, and it seemed silly and harder to go back when the opposite shore was so close. After carefully and successfully navigating what can only be described as algae-coated razors surrounded by quicksand, we reached what was supposed to have been the crossing point. Si scouted ahead and determined that the rocky bottom was too uneven, and that it would be too difficult to cross with our stuff. So, I did what any sensible person would do: I asked him to go rent a boat. Or an inner tube, or something. 

I gave him the little Ziploc bag I had my video camera in to carry what he would need, not knowing that he put all of his money and cards into it. Waiting on a rock with our belongings in the pleasant afternoon sunlight, I munched some steamed rice cake with nuts and browsed Facebook.

Then I spotted Si coming back down the river dragging a yellow inner tube, looking annoyed. He had put the baggie with the equivalent of hundreds of dollars, his bank card, et cetera in the pocket of his swim trunks, and lost it in the river.

Lost it in the river.

I sat stunned for a few minutes, and we each waged a brief and fruitless underwater search, since we both had goggles with us. The riverbed was all rocks and silt; visibility was about zero in some places. It was totally gonzo, all of it.

Si blamed me completely at first and I spent the rest of the evening in a bad mood even though he said pretty quickly that he was over it. We watched Lost and Stargate in the room. I had bibimbap again, and he had pizza.

The next morning I Skyped with a couple of people and we didn't end up setting off for the lake in earnest until about 1. There were no taxis to be found, and we decided to walk back to the station to get one, which turned out to be the best idea.



Observe the gaggle of young summer tourists outside their native habitat, traversing yet another rice paddy.

Even so, at first we kind of figured the weekend was totally fucked, because the driver seemed really confused about where we wanted to go (we didn't realise how huge the lake was), and Si closed his new hand spear in the door and broke it.

To get to the lake, you leave town the way the train comes in, past a big green bridge, and cross to the far side of the river. At this point there are a crapload of hotels, motels and resorts lining it, and it seems to go on for ages between the mountains. We had the driver drop us off at the stop past Haebongchon (no, not Itaewon), though there must be a good couple of dozen docks where you can do what we had gone to do: the FlyFish. This particular one also had bungee jumping (from a low height; the Sky-X at Seoul Land was way higher and more intense), water skiing, banana boats and other fun little inflatable watercraft. To do each thing once is either 20,000 or 25,000 won for the most part. Here's a video I got of a bit of everything:



Anyway, the FlyFish looks like a section of a kids' inflatable water slide. You lay on your back and hold on to handles, facing away from the speed boat pulling it. Every so often you catch some air and slap back down onto the water, all while enjoying the lovely scenic view. It's good fun. We also got to see a girl slip and faceplant on it when she tried to climb out.




The banana boat was slightly cheaper and pretty alright, but not quite as fun. I've never encountered one before, and I didn't know that everyone came off it really abruptly when the boat turned around, derp. But thanks to a couple of really nice women, we have photos of it.










So, fortunately, the second day went exactly how I'd wanted it to, and we were both happy again. I mean, as happy as someone who lost all their money in a river can get anyway. We waited ages for a local bus to come, walked through the cute rural neighbourhood from 'downtown' to the station, and then had to take the regular subway back into Seoul because we would have had to sit around for two hours to catch another ITX from Gapyeong. That took ages too, there were pushy adjummas and no seats the whole way. But that's okay. All in all, we had a good time. I'd definitely recommend this place for a summer weekend getaway that isn't too expensive.