Earlier this year, we signed up with local tour specialists, Trazy, for the travel blogger sponsorship program. The brainchild of Jahyun and Kristine, Trazy works on the idea: ‘Travel + Crazy’ (equals Trazy), to offer offbeat tailer-made tours in South Korea. We know how hard it is to find English tours in Korea and that’s why Trazy appealed to us. Occasionally, Trazy invites bloggers, like us, to review select (seasonal) tours. After many missed opportunities — because of our travels over the last couple months, we were happy to finally make it for our very first tour (Yangpyeong Lotus Flower Festival+Rail Bike+Dreamy Camera Cafe Tour) last Saturday.
The tour was scheduled for 8:30 am in the morning with a pick up at Myeongdong Station (exit 4). Scott, our tour guide, was well on time and was surprised to see us early. Our co-travellers were fellow expat bloggers, Anjali and Domingos from Anjviola. We clicked instantly and exchanged stories about our lives in Korea.
Part 1: Yangpyeong Rail Bike
Yangpyeong, in Gyeonggi-do Province, is about an hour and half drive away from Seoul. It’s one of the most popular places to escape city life and connect with nature — making it all the more harder to plan trips over summer weekends. It was a dull, cloudy day and the mountains were covered with fog. Although, Scott tried to slow down, it wasn’t easy to capture the beauty of the route on camera and we decided to let our eyes soak it in. On a Saturday morning, almost everybody was leaving Seoul and we did get blocked often. We had to make it to the rail bike before 11 am and were running couple of minutes late. After a tight finish, and some skillful driving by Scott, we finally made it.
Being at the tail end of the ride turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We didn’t have the pressure of pedalling fast or having our view bombed by other rail bikes. For most of the rail trail, we had to sit back and enjoy the ride whilst gravity did all the work for us. The railway line takes you through wide open spaces with picturesque views of the mountains, short railway crossings, and dimly lit tunnels. We had a bit of a drizzle on the way and an occasional gust of wind.
The highlight of the rail bike ride would have to be the cold, dark tunnels. It was fascinating to see light trickle at the end of tunnel.
After completing a stretch of 3.2 km, there’s a short rest stop at the end of the old railway line. We picked up an ice cream to beat the heat (it was slowly getting warm). Each rail bike is rotated (you need to remember your number) and turned to retrace the path previously covered. We expected some heavy pedalling on the way back, but surprisingly, it wasn’t much effort. We covered the entire stretch (6.4 km) in under an hour and I secretly hoped the trail had been longer.
It was nearing one and we chose to have dakgalbi (a local speciality) for lunch (not included in the tour cost). I think, we might have underestimated the time and our ability to cook the chicken. While the chicken slowly cooked, Domingos mixed so-maek — a combination of soju and beer (maekju). The owners of the restaurant were gracious enough to gift us so-maek measuring glasses.
Part 2: Dreamy Camera Cafe
After lunch, it was time to head to our next sight for the day — Dreamy Camera Cafe. Honestly, I had never heard of this cafe before our tour. Unlike Basil, I’m not into cafes because I don’t drink coffee or tea. En route, Anjali (a cafe enthusiast) read a short introduction to the cafe. I was surprised (mildly shocked) when I learned that it featured on Buzzfeed’s ‘25 Coffee Shops Around The World You Have To See Before You Die‘ list.
Husband-wife duo, Park Sung-hwan and Kwak Myung-hee built this quirky cafe to escape city life and spend quality time with their daughter (and dog) in the countryside. Their dream may seem simple, but it was something I could truly relate to. It mirrors our long-term dream of settling in the mountains, opening a coffee shop, and living life without worrying about the pressures of city life.
At first glance, the two storied cafe might seem like a shrine dedicated to cameras. And that’s the trap Park Sung-hwan doesn’t want the visitor to fall for. He’d rather have his guests enjoy a good conversation over a cup of coffee and chalk out their list of dreams. Visitors are given a sheet of paper (with blanks) to fill in their top 5 dreams. We laughed as we made a list of our dreams and hoped that someday they would come true.
Before we left, each one of us got a polaroid of our ‘dream list’. It would be interesting to come back after 10 years and see if any of them came true.
Part 3: Semiwon Lotus Festival
The Semiwon Lotus Festival was our final attraction of the tour. By now, the sun was out and we could feel the heat caramelise our skin. The parking lot was packed and it seemed like almost everyone (probably from Seoul) had come to visit the festival. Not surprisingly, the map of the sprawling stretch of green (inside) was in Korean and we had to use our traveller instinct to find a trail to follow. We started with the path of life — a walkway of stones, on a stream, that runs around the periphery of the first patch of green.
Eventually, we broke away from the circular path and found our way to the periphery of the first lotus pond. It was scorching hot and clicking pictures was quite challenging. I’ve never seen lotus stems grow so tall and completely cover the water below.
Getting pictures from the periphery was tricky, so we chose to cut across the bed of flowers, and walk on the walkway (ilsimgyo bridge). Sadly, the blooms were in the centre of the bed — cut off from us.
The greenhouse was next on the map. It was cooler inside and we got to see some fantastic shades of colour.
Quirky sprinklers watered the plants and I was so parched — I almost wanted to have a sip from the sprinkler. Further on, there’s a small area with a lake and metallic exhibits. We reached the section under the flyover and it felt good to be under the shade. We sipped chilled lotus tea and enjoyed our brief period of rest from the sun.
The lotus tea invigorated our spirits to explore Baedari (bridge) ahead. Coloured flags fluttered in the wind and clouds briefly covered the sun. Had it been cooler, we would have probably spent more time here.
The sun was playing spoilsport through the last part of the trip. And yet, I couldn’t get enough of the sky, bed of lotus leaves, and mountains. For a moment, I did try to forget how hot it was and tried to take in the beauty around us.
We finally inched towards the last bed of lotus blooms. Unlike the previous two flower beds, almost every lotus bud was in full bloom here. The backdrop of the blue sky and mountains made this the best part of the tour.
As we retraced our path to the main entrance, we spotted sunflowers. It took quick fingers to capture this gorgeous butterfly — with open wings.
What Worked for Us:
Scott was more local host than tour guide. We had the freedom to explore at our own pace and the small size of the tour group was definitely an add-on. Round trip transportation (from Seoul) is just what you need after a day spent in the sun. The cost covers entry fees (exclusive of personal expenses such as lunch/coffee) to each location. This tour is perfect as a day trip from Seoul, especially when it’s really difficult to travel in the summer months or extremely hard to get prior bookings because of the holidays.