Posts Tagged ‘Gangneung’

They say that life is a journey and not a destination, but sometimes when you are travelling it’s nice to have some kind of a destination. This is especially true in Korean cities which are mostly late 20th century places with lots of concrete apartment complexes, outlet malls and out of control commercial signs. Le Corbusier would probably love the Korean metropoles – they are machines for living in. It seems that some new ideas do take off very quickly in Korea.

There has been a trend for out of town complexes like Art Towns, Book towns and conference centres. Many of them probably looked better on paper than in real life. In their enthusiasm, some planners and architects forget that gardeners need to weed between the cracks of concrete, window cleaners need to clean the sheer 100 metre glass windows and retailers actually need to rent out the commercial units. Without those basics the drawing board utopias can quickly end up looking like the sets of poorly conceived sci-fi shows. The concrete and steel rarely sit well in their surroundings if they are not maintained and more importantly – used.

With all this in mind I was very skeptical about going to an out of town coffee ‘factory’ on the outskirts, the very hem of the skirt in this case. The place in question is the Coffee Factory of the Terarosa firm. It is the biggest domestic Coffee company in Korea and has a family owned, kind to farmers kind of feel. I have been to a few branches in Korea and found that it has a strong brand identity and is a welcome change from the other run of the mill places. Run of the mill in this case is the usual concrete urban interior with bookless bookshelves and a really expensive coffee roasting machine – which you can SEE!

After decrypting the bus timetable outside Gangneung Bus Terminal, I decided to take a taxi. It was a great decision which I failed to make on the return journey. The factory is right at the edge of town, the car park is spitting distance from the ring road, if you can spit quite far. The taxi pulled up round the back of the complex and it felt like I was entering another World. To enhance the feeling, a south american looking chap crossed my path decked out in earthy tones and an apron. In contrast to the distopian feel of many new buildings in Korea it felt quite positive. The natural landscape seemed to fit around the impressively big structures. I had to cross a kind of mini Indiana Jones bridge to get to the main edifice(s). The scale of the buildings was impressive but not overwhelming. It felt like there had been an apocalypse but it was a really really long time ago and people had just forgotten about everything apart from coffee and bread. It reminded me of the excellent film version of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Kind of a sixties version of what the future might be like. If I go again I will definitely wear a turtleneck.

Despite fitting in reasonably well with the vegetable gardens and general rural vibe, the Terarosa Factory is something of an oasis in an otherwise typically provincial and unremarkable setting. Even the visiting ajummas (middle aged Korean women) were dressed in more earthy and dare I say tasteful clothes than usual. One of the most impressive things about Korea which I have never adjusted to is the brightly coloured leisurewear of the older citizens. But in this post industrial concrete bunker of hipness, everyone seemed very at home, almost camouflaged. Maybe the architecture and design was playing tricks on me.  Maybe they have a dress code. Anyway, it was quite a contrast to the mornings I’ve spent hiking where the older citizens look pretty tropical.

I won’t go on much more because I’m no coffee expert. However, the coffee tasted like coffee and the bread tasted like bread. Actually, the croissant was the best I’ve had outside France. The staff seemed very kind and professional, not to mention busy. If you do choose to visit this place, try to go on a quiet day because various coach tours come and go, so it’s pretty busy. I hope the pictures capture what is a very special place.

Further Information:

Gangwon-do, Gangneung, Gujeong-myeon, 7 Hyeoncheon-gil

강원도 강릉시 구정면 7 Hyeoncheon-gil



Gangneung is a city on the east coast of South Korea in Gangwondo province. I have visited twice: once on my way to Soraksan National park and once on my summer holiday Gangwondo trip. It has a population of about 230,000 and is the main city of Gangwondo province, although the provincial capital is in Chuncheon nearer to Seoul. It has a small provincial feel to it, but it also has all the features of any major Korean city – like the Homelplus and CGV cinema. The tourist industry gives an extra buzz to the place.

The first time I went to Gangneung was almost by accident. I was going hiking nearby so I had to use the bus station, I also passed through the bus station once again on my way to Sokcho and Soraksan. On my way back home to Jeolla I had to take an intercity bus and it was holiday season so most of the buses were booked up. This meant I had to take a later bus which gave me a kind of 3 hour layover. I decided to explore the town for a while. My first impressions were of a typical provincial place with an overused and abused bus terminal and numerous garish motels near the bus station. It was only when I got down to the river that I started to appreciate the city some more. By chance, I had stumbled upon the Gangneung Dano festival (강릉단오제). This was taking place along the river and adjacent market area. The Dano museum is in Gangneung so I guess it’s an ideal place to hold the festival.

If you have spent any amount of time in Korea you will know that there is a festival going on almost all the time. Some of them are to attract tourists and investment to places which may not otherwise attract anything or anyone. There are festivals for bibimbap, fermented foods, taekwondo, mulberries, horizons, cherry blossoms, and most famously mud. I am deeply skeptical about the need for festivals and the idea of treating places like commofities. When everything has to be marketed and packaged it takes some of the spontaneous fun out of things for me. Luckily I hit an interesting festival at an interesting time. It was completely unexpected and I was genuinely thrilled to see so much going on in a place which I only expected to pass through without much thought.

The Dano is a festival of dancing, drinking, and performance. It goes way back into Korea’s shamanistic past and is related to the wakening of animals from winter slumber and to the end of the seed sowing season. The whole atmosphere feels ancient and authentic, unlike some of the more modern contrived festivals in Korea. The costumes and dancing reminded me of the Mayday celebrations in England. This is not the worker’s day but the traditional morris dancing, maypole and other ancient wonders. Such things in England also have their origin in a kind of post agricultural work party. It amazes me to find so many similarities between cultures so far apart. It makes me realise that if you come from a place with distinct seasons, then the same seasons dictate the cycle of festivals throughout the year. In the UK, and I’m sure many other Western cultures, this ancient pagan rite has been folded into religious celebrations and public holidays. From what I saw in Gangneung the Dano thing seems very distinct and original. I don’t see much sober Confucianism or reflective buddhism in the revelry of the Dano festival, although some of the music and coloured ribbons reminded me a little of the buddhist culture in Tibet and Nepal. The food is great and the dancing shows are very entertaining. If you go to Gangneung try to get there during the Dano festival on the 5th day of the 5th month, you won’t be disappointed.

My second visit to Gangneung was part of my mini summer tour and it served as my jumping off point for a trip on the seaside train down the coast.I arrived quite late and intended on getting up very early so I opted to stay in a jjimjilbang. It was clean and convenient and for 8000W a pretty cheap way to spend the night. This place is a few blocks from the station near Lotteria, it’s called 오아시스 (Oasis) Gyo-dong, Gangneung-si, +82 33-641-7755. Type into google map or show the address to a taxi driver.  ‎Some jjimjilbangs are clearly for local types but this one seemed to have a few tourists passing through. Gangneung is a popular holiday destination for Koreans because of the numerous beaches outside the city. I was invited to sit and watch the Olympic football match with the guy working there, after it finished I managed to get a good few hours sleep. Anything above a 4 hour stint is good going in a jjimjilbang, I got about 6 hours on this occasion. In the morning at about 7.00 I walked to the train station, it wasn’t too far but with a large backpack and extraordinary heat it felt far enough. After booking my ticket for the special seaside train at 14,20 I wanted to see the beach area. There is a bus to the beach area called Gyeongpo but I waited for a while and nothing came. Eventually I took a taxi because it’s too far to walk. I walked back from the beach to the train station and I can say with some conviction …it’s too far to walk! Gyeongpo is a wonderful beach area with a large lake behind it. The beach itself has good facilities and the usual shops selling tatty beachwear and souvenirs. What is unusual about this beach and very reassuring is that they knocked down a whole row of shops and motels and planted mature pine trees. One thing I love about Korea is the pines, especially so close to a white-hot beach. I was later to realise that Gangneung is called the Pine City. Sometimes the marketing has positives. After a brief stay at the beach I realised why I don’t like beaches. I was covered in salt, sand, and sweat. I think beaches are ok if you make a firm plan to stay for the day, if you are entrenched you can enjoy it. However, I was just passing on my way to other sites next to the lake.

Behind Gyeongpo Beach is Gyeongpo Lake. This is a beautiful inlet which you can cycle round or even walk of you have enough time. It sits looking at the East Sea and to its back are the heavily wooded mountains. If you walk round to the North side you can reach the Chamsori and Edison Museum and then Gyeongpodae. The first place is a private collection of mainly gramophones and an adjoining museum dedicated to Thomas Edison. By the looks of it all this place will only get bigger and more renowned. It was a bit more expensive than most museums in Korea but I enjoyed looking at all the nik-naks and memorabilia. The owner has plans to open a movie museum and a children’s museum. Further down the lakeshore is Gyeongpodae. This a pavillion overlooking the beautiful lake, it is said you can see the moon 5 times from here: in the sky, in the lake reflection, in the sea,in a drinking glass, and in the eyes of a lover. I was here on my own in the daytime and I drank from a plastic water bottle. This area near the lake is quite a way from downtown Gangneung but there are buses running about every 10 – 15 minutes and a taxi fare is just shy of 6000W. I could have spent more time in Gangneung and if you base yourself there then you could also visit some of the parks outside town. From the train station you can also get the special seaside train which goes down the coast for 1h20 to Samcheok. This gives you a view of the coast on seats facing the huge windows, great for photography.

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Getting there: I think the best way is from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal but you can also go from Express Terminal in Gamgnam

If you want to travel by train it may take longer than the bus and you should go from Cheongnyangni Station in the East of Seoul. It takes over 5 hours and costs 22,300 W

Gramophone & Edison  Museum (참소리축음기 & 에디슨과학 박물관)



The Chamsori Gramophone & Edison Science Museum are just off the beach to the north of Gangneung, you need or take a taxi or bus to get there. I have to admit that it’s never been a huge interest of mine, but my guidebook recommended this place. It is, after all, the biggest collection of gramophones in the world!


Both museums are next to each other on the road that circles the lake Gyeonghpoho, the beach is called Gyeongpo beach. After waiting too long for a bus from the train station I took a taxi to the beach then walked to the museum. The lake is very beautiful and you can hire bikes to cycle round it.

The museum was curated by an eccentric gentleman called Son Seongmok. It has a collection of 4,500 phonographs, 150,000 phonograph records, 1,000 books, and 5,000 items from 20 nations. The place is very well organised even though I walked round the wrong way. It’s divided into sound, image, lights, inventions, and upstairs there is a smaller toy museum which will get bigger.20120730_103231

The history of sound displays the famous phonograph from England, familiar to anyone who has been in an HMV store (His master’s Voice). There are also record players and all sorts of organs. On the guided tour someone will show you how they work and play a few tunes.

World of Image displays silent films and some of the early television sets made by John Logie Baird. If you have been to the museum in Bradford, England then it may seem a little small. What you have to remember is that this is all the brainchild of one enthusiast.



Thomas_Edison2The Light and invention areas (Edison’s Invention Hall)were the most interesting because you can see the history of Edison’s ideas that eventually led to some of the things we take for granted, the light bulb being jut one of those things. He tinkered and experimented with all manner of things. He is one of the most perfect examples of a polymath I have seen. Edison, like many freethinkers, didn’t do well in school. He was not liked by his teachers who considered his brain addled. He left school early and was educated at home by his mother, and in the real world where he got the opportunity to test his ideas. He has over 1000 patents to his name, and aside from the inventions it was his reasoning and scientific method that has been his greatest legacy. It’s fair to say that his work at Menlo Park was the beginning of what we now call Research and Development.


Is the museum the best I have seen? No. Is it the best collection? No. However, the museum is a wondrous place because it catalogues enthusiasm. In the wrong context this museum would be seen as  a strange obsession, but it’s not. Son Seongmok has travelled all over the world and met many famous people. Apparently, he came from North Korea and his only possession was a gramophone. Despite the obvious theme of the gramophones Son Seongmok clearly has many interests, like his hero Edison. The exhibits show his interest in popular culture, 20th century music and fame, Hollywood, toys, trinkets and countless other things. In a country where education is very rigid and conventional this museum is vital because it shows that with an enquiring mind and boundless enthusiasm, we are capable of anything. If a person follows their passion and enthusiasm they can achieve great things without the conventional academic accolades.



Getting there from Seoul:

Dongseoul Terminal from 06:00 – 11:00 every 30 to 50 mins 3 hours journey time.

Buses are more frequent from Express Terminal in Seoul (every 15 mins).

From Gangneung City Centre: 202 bus goes to Gyengpo Beach then round the lake.

There is a tourist information office outside the Bus station and Train station. The bus station has been more reliable on my visits, they have a little print out of all the city buses you may need.