During my trips back to Korea, I usually make it a point to incorporate days out of Seoul because there’s only so much one can do in Seoul before getting Seoul bored. A day-trip out of Seoul to Jeongdongjin, a small seaside town near Gangwon-do, is completely doable if you’re pressed for time, but still want a short trip out of the city, away from the hustle and bustle of the urban life.
The town first came to prominence after being featured in a Korean drama, The Hourglass, in the 90s. It has since become a popular location for Koreans to catch the first sunrise in Korea (due to it’s location on the Easternmost part of Korea), typically on the first day of the new year. It is also an inexpensive destination choice for Korean college freshmen who want to embark on their coming-of-age trips to celebrate their newfound freedom.
Most people typically opt to take the night Mugunghwa train (the slowest, cheapest mode of transport) out of Cheonyangni station in Seoul, arriving at Jeongdongjin station at about 5, right before sunrise. After catching sunrise, they would then hop on the next train back to Seoul. Or some of them could be like us, staying in the Gangwondo vicinity to sight-see. There is almost no accommodation cost involved because you can catch a nap on the five-hour train ride, unless you choose to stay an additional night.
As luck would have it, (because the Rail Bike we had pre-booked wasn’t exactly near Jeongdongjin station), we ended up spending most of our time in Gangwon-do on trains. This was how our schedule looked like:
- 2325 to 0428: Cheonyangni to Jeongdongjin Station
- 0715 to 0925: Jeongdeongjin to Mindeungsan
- 1125 to 1230: Mindeungsan to Auraji (where we then had lunch and had to take a bus to Gujeolri because that was where the starting point was)
- 1430: Rail-biking at Auraji
- 1730: Auraji back to Cheongyangni Station in Seoul
Of course, our schedule would have had way less transits had we taken a train directly from Cheongyangni to Auraji (yes, there’s a train for that, and I’ll go into that later). Needless to say, by the end of the day, we were so done with sitting on trains. At least we had a bit of exercise with the rail-biking, though it wasn’t a lot – about 15 to 20 minutes worth of cycling depending on your speed.
My travel companions – Cheryl and Joy, who also serve as my trusty translators when my command of the Korean language fails me.
The interior of Mugunghwa trains, the lowest class of trains, but also the cheapest. Our 5-hour ride cost us only 21,000 krw. A KTX ride could be easily twice the price.
At 6am in the morning with not much options for breakfast, kimbap and ramyun will have to do.
When the sun rose, we realised just how close we were to the sea!
One other thing you can do at Jeongdongjin Station is to take the Sea Train. As its name suggests, the Sea Train offers one an unparalleled view of the coastline along the East Sea (Dong Hae), with the seats directly facing the windows. We were extremely pressed for time, so taking the Sea Train would have meant that we might miss our rail bike timings, which we had already secured tickets for.
One of the trains we came across was actually the A-Train, which is a relatively-recently launched route which goes through the Jeongseon county in Gangwon-do. We hopped on for the Mindeungsan to Auraji leg (8,400 krw), and then subsequently from Auraji back to Cheongyangni in Seoul (27,600 krw).
Vast, vast improvement from our Mugunghwa ride earlier that day.
Having some fun onboard the A-Train. Semi-coerced into this by the friendly train stewardesses!
The unmistakable exterior of the A-Train.
The iconic structure you’d probably see the moment you draw into Auraji station. Had to get myself a shot with it.
We also had a big pot of Gondeure Namul Bap, a Gangwon-do specialty. Gondeure or wild vegetables, are unique to the Gangwon-do region.
Clearly having zero regard for safety. Must.get.Insta-worthy.shot.
After what seemed like hours, with our tummies filled, enough photos taken, and probably 2-3 cups of coffee to make up for the uncomfortable slumber we had on the trains in the morning, it was finally time for us to board our Rail Bikes. The Rail Bikes seat up to four persons each. Joy and I got to take the front seats (which I later regretted because I got a whole load of sunlight in my face).
To be frank, the views on the Jeongseon Rail Bike route weren’t all that great, and were in fact, a little underwhelming. Once the ride ended, I couldn’t help but feel a tad disappointed having travelled all the way there just to see scenery, which we already saw on the train ride there.
Thankfully we had some spare time after the rail biking, before our train back to Seoul, so we spent that time exploring the vicinity around the Auraji station instead, and that most certainly didn’t disappoint. I’m not quite sure what these landmarks are called, but ask around if you’re there and you’ll most definitely be able to find these little gems. Just a word of caution though, trains out of the Jeongseon area are quite infrequent, so don’t get too carried away exploring and get your return tickets in advance!
If there was anything that made the trip all the way to Auraji worth it, this view had to be it.
Share some of your memorable day trips out of Seoul!