Chuncheon (춘천, 春川) is the capital of Gangwon (강원, 江原), the northeasternmost province of South Korea. For travelers weary of Seoul's crowds and big city atmosphere, Chuncheon can be an ideal place to spend several days. The area, surrounded by rivers and hills, offers a variety of relaxing outdoor activities and small town pace.
It was featured in the popular Korean drama serial, Winter Sonata, and as such is now a popular destination for tourists from around East Asia.
You can reach the city from Seoul's Incheon International Airport via intercity bus. Tickets available at the bus booth in the arrivals hall at the airport. The approximate length of the bus ride is 2.5 hours (assuming no traffic). The fare is approximately ₩18,000. From Seoul, buses depart from the Dong Seoul Bus Station and leave regularly every fifteen minutes, between 06:00 and 21:20, and charge a fare of approximately ₩6,000. To reach the Dong Seoul Bus Station, take the Seoul subway system to Gangbyeon Station and leave through exit number 4. The bus station will be visible across the street. These buses take approximately 70 minutes or more depending on traffic. Buses to Chuncheon also depart from Seoul's Sangbong Bus Terminal once every forty minutes, between 05:40 and 21:30.
A new metro line has recently opened from Seoul to Chuncheon. The Gyeongchun Line runs from Sangbong Station in the northeast of Seoul to Namchuncheon and Chuncheon Stations. Metro trains leave every 15 minutes or so, and take a little more than an hour to reach Chuncheon. It's a brand new subway line, mostly aboveground, and winds through the mountains, alongside the rivers and lakes for which the Gangwon region is famous. A one-way ride costs ₩3,150, from Seoul station.
Taxis are the most efficient way of getting around Chuncheon. Taxis are plentiful and you can easily find one within a few minutes if you wait on the sidewalk of most busier streets in the city. You may have trouble catching one if you are on the outskirts of Chuncheon or during rush hour when most are in use. The English word "Taxi" is used in Korean, so it's easy to ask someone where one might wait to find a taxi.
The taxis are identified by a sign mounted on top of the car, but also have a red LED sign with Hangul lettering inside their windshield. If this sign is lit, it signifies that the taxi is available for hire. They turn this sign off when they are already transporting a customer. Stick your arm out to the street as a taxi approaches and they will stop.
Taxis are the best option for short trips through town and are nice when you need door to door service. They are especially helpful when shopping and you have goods to carry with you as you can put them in the trunk or the back seat. Another benefit is when you have multiple people in your group as the fee is the same no matter how many people ride.
Most taxi drivers speak no English, so it is a good idea to have the address of your destination written in Korean to show the taxi driver.
Though bus numbers are clearly marked and always run the same routes, most are not on any kind of schedule and you could wait 5 minutes or over an hour at a bus stop. They can also become very crowded and you may have to wait for people to get off after several stops before you can acquire a seat. Bus stops are placed throughout the city, but may be a little walk from where you are staying or from your destination. However, buses are more economical when traveling alone or going very far outside the city. Bus fare is typically ₩1,100 per person. Most Koreans who ride the bus regularly have a chipped card they scan when they board. As a visitor, you will need to put the exact cash into a slot in the front when boarding.
When you approach the stop you need to get off at, press the red button to the right of the exit door located on the passenger side of the bus half way back. This signals the driver to stop and the side doors will open. Exit quickly as it seems they are often off and running again before you can hit the ground.
Bicycles can be rented in several shops in town. One is near Namchuncheon station, once you get out from exit 1, keep walking 200 meters under the railway tracks. Another store is located at Chuncheon station exit 2. The rental costs ₩3,000 per hour or ₩10,000 per day.
- Animation Museum. South Korea's only Animation Museum is located in Chuncheon and is worth a visit of a few hours or more. The museum sits directly next to an animation studio. Patrons may also purchase tickets to view a screening of animated Korean short films for ₩4,000. The subject matter mainly pertains to the history of Korean animation, but also highlights animation from other parts of the world, including North Korea, Europe, Japan, and the United States. Although most of the displays are in Korean only, English speakers will still enjoy the variety of media presented. The sculptures outside of the museum, created with used car parts, are a popular photo opportunity.
- Chuncheon International Mime Festival. Starts Wednesday of the fourth week in May and lasts for five days. A globally renowned art performance festival in Korea. The main event consists of performances of international and domestic mime groups, and there are special events such as street performances, mime lessons, body painting shows, and mime concerts throughout the festival period.
- Nami Island (Nami Nara, Namisum, Namiseom). A moon-shaped island of 4 km in diameter, resulting from the construction of a dam in 1944. Great nature, with metasequoias. It was one of the main filming locations of Winter Sonata.
- Chuncheon International Marathon. Late October. This marathon circles Uiamho Lake, famous for its beautiful scenery. This is considered the optimal marathon in terms of scenery, difficulty and weather. There is a full course of 42 km and short courses of 5 and 10 km. Here is an international marathon that anyone can enjoy, running with world-famous marathoners.
- Jungdo (Island). A large island on the Soyang River. A ferry runs to the island every half hour. Fare is ₩5,500 per adult. The island makes a great day trip or picnic. You can hike around and see ancient Korean huts, or rent bikes and ride a paved trail that goes around one side of the island. Bike rental is approximately ₩10,000 per hour. Surrey bikes and four wheelers are also available to rent. The island has places where you can camp, and at the southern end there are cabins for rent (55,000 won per night and up). Ask about these at the tourist bureau; they don't speak English at the office on the island.
- Soyang Dam. At the head of the Soyang river. Built in 1973, Soyang Dam is Asia's largest gravel dam. Soyang Lake was formed while the dam was being constructed and lies across Chuncheon, Yanggu and Inje. It is called the "ocean within the land," and forms an ideal driving course for its open panorama and beautiful scenery. There is a ferryboat trip to Yanggu, a popular dating course. Boat rides are available to tour the lake, and there is a boat ride that takes you to a hiking trail to see a Buddhist temple. There are food stalls along the walk to the docks - they sell boiled lake shellfish, pancakes and fried grasshoppers.
- Hiking. Chuncheon sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. Bong Ui Mountain is a famous peak located just North of Myongdong (Downtown Chuncheon) and sits just south of the Soyang river. Trails lead to the top from all sides of the mountain, and there is exercise equipment on top. It is not a very tall peak, but makes for a good hike. Its elevation is approximately 280 m (925 ft), next to the Soyang River which is 70 m (240 ft). Another group of hiking trails is located on the east side of Chuncheon. Starting at the provincial police headquarters, and running in back of the LotteMart in EmmaCo, the main trail runs along a ridge, crossing over several highways on elaborate bridges. Side trails lead up from the west. From the tourist resort of Gangchon, one can hike to a waterfall, or up the mountain to a high village where there are several restaurants for hikers. Trails for hiking and biking can be found along the river running through the south part of Chuncheon, and then on along the lakeshore on the west side of town.
- Statue Park. A park with many marble statues and a building which contains and replica of an ancient Korean water clock. A small store provides bike rentals and across the street are docks where you can rent paddle boats on the river. The river feeds into the Soyang and from there you can see Jungdo island. The Ethiopian war memorial is adjacent to this park.
- Gangchon Ski Resort. Located approximately 30 minutes drive from downtown Chuncheon. A free shuttle runs from Chuncheon to the ski resort.
- Cheongpyeong-sa Temple, The ferry leaves from Soyang Dam, ☎ . Cheongpyeong Temple is South Korea's National Treasure No. 164 is a Buddhist temple dating back to reign of King Gwang-Jong (949-975). Tucked away in a valley between two mountains, it sits at the southern ridge of Mount Bong. The walk up to Cheongpyong Temple is one of Korea's most beautiful walks. Surrounded by woods, clean air and a beautiful stream with many waterfalls, the walk up to the temple is a walk that one does not want to miss. There is a small entry fee to get into the "park" and there are many "ma and pa" restaurants and vendors along the way for snacks. One of the most amazing experiences is dining on the river on a small river table, a platform that is placed in the middle of the stream. There is a small backpackers motel near the entrance of the temple if you want to stay overnight. There are a lot of hiking trails that branch into the mountain for those who want to experience Chuncheon's best eco-tourism site. However, to get to Cheongpyeong Temple is quite difficult. There is a mountain ridge road that takes you up and around the valley, however most people tend to take the ferry that leaves from Soyang Dam. This dam is about a 30 minute taxi ride from Chuncheon's central station. Adults ₩5,000 / Youth ₩5,000 / Children ₩3,000 Including ferry charge.
- Chuncheon Myeongdong Street. A small street, splendid for shopping. Stores are located on both sides of the lane. It is dubbed the "street of the young people" since you can always find clothes and culture currently in fashion.
- Chuncheon Barbecue Spicy Chicken Street. Chuncheon barbecue spicy chicken is almost better known than Chuncheon itself. Many chicken restaurants each boasting to be the original. The savory smell of the cuisine attracts passers-by.
- University Street. A 900 meter street at the back of Gangwon University in the "city of education," Chuncheon. Many interesting stores and cafes.
- Chuncheon Underground Shopping Complex. A huge underground shopping complex under City Hall. This is a one-stop shopping mall where you can compare prices and get a nice bargain.
- Gangchon. A popular membership-training site for college students. Gangchon is called the heaven for bike trekking. It is very close from Seoul, 40 minutes by train, a favorite weekend vacation spot because of the amusement parks, hostels and the new Gangchon resort.
- Gongjicheon. A favorite resort spot for citizens of Chuncheon; it is said that spring has come to Chuncheon when the ice of Gongjicheon melts and boat lovers come out. You can enjoy biking and boating on the weekends. Covered wagons in the vicinity are full of people until late at night.
Koreans rely heavily on small, individual stores to provide goods and services for specific things. The idea of a mega store that sells everything is more recent, but growing in popularity. There are a few of these type of "mega" stores in Chuncheon, making it easy for a foreigner to find most of the grocery and general household items they need.
- Emart. The closest thing to a Walmart equivalent, Emart is a large shopping center with most everything you might need. The lower level is a food court and grocery center, the second level a department store and additional levels for parking. Emart is located on the south side of Chuncheon.
- GS Mart. A bit smaller than Emart, GS mart provides much of the same in terms of product and pricing. GS Mart also has a food court upstairs that includes a McDonalds. Some local Koreans seem to prefer GS Mart due to it's "cleaner" and less crowded nature, but it doesn't offer as large of a selection of groceries and household goods as Emart. GS Mart can be found in Seoksadong on the east side of Chuncheon. (In Dec. 2010 GS Mart in 'Aemma Co' became Lottemart.)
- Home Plus, Toegye-dong 144-1. 10AM-midnight. Home Plus has only popped up here in Chuncheon in the last year. It's E-Marts major competitor throughout Korea. It's, for the most part, exactly like Wal-mart or E-mart. It has all essentials you could ever need packed into one, four story building. Produce, groceries, electronics, hardware, homeware, kitchenware, beauty products, cleaning supplies...obviously the list goes on. If you live in Toegye-dong it's the best and probably closes mart you can get to. It even has a really yummy food court on B1 and an American style restaurant (buffet style) on B2.
Chuncheon has various districts that are rich in restaurants. One such area is Dakgalbi Street, which is packed with restaurants that specialize in the dish. Dakgalbi (Hangul: 닭갈비) is a delicious grilled chicken dish with vegetables and topped off with a spicy Gochujang sauce. Most restaurants will offer both tables with chairs and tables with floor seating. Chicken, rice cakes vegetables are grilled before you on the table's skillet. Near Kangwon National University's back gate there are a number of places for both Korean and foreign cuisines. Starting a block east of the bus terminal, you will find dozens of restaurants serving a wide variety of Korean dishes. The downtown market has a number of inexpensive food stalls serving all kinds of Korean food. Also get fresh fruits here, sweets, rice cake, meat as well as gaegogi (dogmeat) in season. A five-day market near the main post office also has tasty dishes as well as produce, fish, etc.
- Hajukol. This upscale restaurant in the far eastern part of Chuncheon's urban area serves lunch for around ₩18,000 per person. The set meal comes with many courses, appealing visually as well as taste-wise.
- Outback Steakhouse (Across the street from the E-Mart Bus Terminal.). The Aussie restaurant. Many different kinds of appetizers and steaks. Around ₩10,000 for burgers and ₩35,000 for steak.
- Peace of Mind Bakery and Book Cafe, 200-933 Gangwon-do Chuncheon-si Soksadong 114-12 (Hangul: 200-933 강원도 준전시 석사동 114-12) (Take a taxi), ☎ . , This cafe is filled with so many books, it can be considered a library. They serve bread as side dishes and offer steak, Italian food, and special teas. Before one leaves, the customer has the option to purchase baked snacks to go (like cookies) and special teas. In the background soothing music is played from a satellite service. The owner of the shop is a gentleman who speaks fluent English and is extremely friendly, he loves what he does.
- Vips. A Western-style buffet with a Korean twist. Here the customer can order steak, an all-you-can-eat salad bar (with free drinks included), tacos, fried chicken, and more. In the background, American music plays. Buffet, about ₩25,000.
Chuncheon has plenty of bars and small, local establishments that serve beer and coffee and a limited selection of food. These small establishments are called "Hof's".
- Sheriff's (At Kangwon National University's back gate.). Decent music, a couple of dart boards, and a fair selection of cocktails and beer, this western styled and themed bar is a popular place to hang out for both students of the University as well as foreign expats working in Chuncheon.
- Tombstone (Take a taxi to Hi Mart.). A popular Western styled and themed bar with dartboards and a decent selection of beer and cocktails. Reportedly under renovations, to be open again in the fall of 2009.
- Tudari. A major chain of Hof's serving mostly Korean beer and bar food. Usually nice and clean inside and fairly inexpensive. Tudari establishments can be found all over Chuncheon without looking very hard.
- Hard Rock (Kangwon University back gate opposite Johnny's Bar on the main 'bar street'.). A good 'Western' bar with a great selection of cocktails and imported beers, both bottled and draft. Guinness, Heineken, and Sapporo on tap, will even make a 'black-n-tan'. Also carries some hard to find import bottles, such as Duvel, XXXX, German weizens, and even North Korean-produced "Taedonggang", along with the normal Korean bar food and Korean beer.
Motels can be found in many places throughout Chuncheon. While they vary in price, they tend to be around ₩40,000.
- Jjim Jil Bang (찜질방), Yagsa-dong 150-10. A South Korean cultural experience that is not common anywhere else. If one is a visitor, the pleasant experience depends how well one is able to sleep. Essentially, the environment contains different rooms in a common area for family and friends to sleep. These rooms include: lockers, gender segregated shower rooms and baths, common area to sleep on floors, gender segregated sleeping rooms, saunas (hot rooms), snack shops, and massage rooms. It is advised that most likely the first night may be difficult to sleep if one is not accustomed to sleep on hard floors or sleep through snoring.
- Jasujung Bool Sauna (자수정 불사우나). The lobby will give customers a pair of night clothes. This place includes blankets to rent, but must be done so before 00:30 (otherwise, the shop will be closed). Also includes an indoor PC Bang, an exercise room, and a restaurant. ₩8,000.
- Zak's Guest House, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Zak is a friendly Texan who will warmly welcome you. The clean house features a large kitchen and a small garden. Dorm: ₩23,000-27,000, Double: ₩55,000-65,000.
- Chuncheon Sejong Hotel, ☎ .
- Chuncheon Bears Tourist Hotel, ☎ .
- Doosan Resort, ☎ .
Buses depart regularly to most major cities, including Seoul, from Chuncheon's Bus Station, on the south side of town. It may be worthwhile to inquire in advance at the station if unsure of the bus schedules.
A popular place for locals and other East Asian tourists is Nam-i Island, which consists of tree-lined boulevards that are among the set locations for the popular Korean drama serial, Winter Sonata. Particularly romantic when it snows in the winter, and popular among couples.