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). We know how hard it is to find English tours that are off the beaten path here and that’s why Trazy appealed to us. Occasionally, Trazy invites travel bloggers to review select tours or events in Korea. Last weekend, we were invited to experience (or survive) a digital detox program coinciding with the 10th anniversary of Healience Zen Village.
Healience Zen Village is a wellness retreat, located in the lap of the mountains, in Gangwon Province. The word ‘Healience’ is coined from two words: ‘Healing’ and ‘Science’; effectively implying a healing of the mind and body through scientific techniques. The visual stimuli is provided by the seemingly endless mountainscape and thick forests that engulf this secluded village retreat. Obviously, there’s a catch to all this beauty, isolation, and peace. Once you enter Healience Zen Village, you can say goodbye to your phone. There’s no Wi-Fi (except for select zones) or network connectivity in the village. It could be a bitter pill for anyone who’s plugged in to their phone or lives a virtual life.
Getting There: Healience Zen Village is pretty easy to reach from Seoul. We boarded bus 7000 outside Jamsil Station (Exit 5) at 1:20 pm. The bus stop is a 2 minute walk from the exit. It takes roughly 40 minutes to reach Seorak IC. From there, we were picked (along with two other expat bloggers) by Mijin — our tour guide. After a winding 20 minute car ride, we finally reached the village retreat. We checked in at 3 pm and were given an hour to rest in our allotted rooms.
The Room with the View.
There’s a deliberate attempt to make things slightly more challenging here. The walk to our rooms, in the Forest Villa, involved a short and steep climb up a curvy path. I had just recovered from a bad cold (a week earlier) and I was out of breath by the time we reached our room.
The room offers a panoramic view of the mountains and even has a skylight above your pillows — to literally sleep under the stars. The outer deck has two chairs for drooling over those gorgeous views. Sadly, it was too cold to sit outside and we changed into our uniforms (a modern take on traditional Korean clothing) for the duration of our stay.
Fall: Welcome Centre, Workshop, GX Room, & Cafe
We all assembled at the Welcome Centre at 4 pm. Younji, the marketing manager, gave us a brief introduction to Healience Zen Village before proceeding to the tour of the facilities in the village. Each building complex is named after a season or nature.
The workshop area is a free zone that is located above the welcome desk. You can colour mandalas (for stress relief) or the kids can do some hobby craft on the outer deck.
The yoga class looked packed and I was surprised to see so many people. When you walk around the facility, you get a feeling of being alone. Interestingly, the village was booked to full capacity and we barely saw people until we attended a scheduled activity. I thought it was a perfect way to enjoy solitude without feeling isolated.
The cafe is located on the topmost floor of the ‘Fall‘ building. The cafe has recliner chairs facing glass walls and you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee whilst soaking in the views of Mt. Jongak. It also doubles as a performance venue in the evening. A Korean TV personality was scheduled to give a talk on public speaking later that evening.
We attended the musical concert at 9 pm. The trio played Beatles’ hits such as ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Let it Be’, and ‘Yesterday’. Instrumental music never fails to relax me and I was beginning to see how each program tried to soothe the mind and body.
We walked outside and had to climb an uphill path. This path will be landscaped on a poem of four seasons by a famous Korean poet. Each section will have flowers representing a particular season. This year, winter has arrived early and fall was cut short by mid-November. While most of the trees were bare; red berries and silver grass stood their ground.
Self Meditation Room
The self meditation room was calming. I hoped to come back but couldn’t because of our short stay. There’s a pebbled path on the floor and it’s believed, if you don’t experience any pain when you step on the stones — you’re in good health.
Winter: Gallery & Garden
The gallery had an interesting exhibition on ‘Moon Bears’ (native to South Korea) by renowned Korean sculptor, Koh Jeong Soo. I was surprised to learn (from Mijin) that Korea was home to the ‘Asian Black Bear’ species and these bears once roamed the mountains. Today, black bears are endangered and efforts are being made to reintroduce them into their natural habitat.
Summer: Business Centre & Spa
We walked towards ‘Summer‘. The business centre has classrooms and few of them have Wi-Fi. Some companies use the village for corporate off-sites. The spa has a unisex sauna and a jjimjilbang (a traditional Korean bath house segregated by genders). We tried the unisex sauna after dinner. The sauna was virtually empty. You can keep your clothes and valuables in lockers and change into another pair for the sauna. The temperature was quite comfortable and it was a great way unwind.
Spring: Restaurant, Library, & Music Area
The library has comfy chairs, dim lighting, and is perfect for reading. I didn’t check if there were any books in English though. On the lower level, there is a music room and you put a record of your choice; sit back, and relax.
The restaurant is literally encased in glass windows and offers a seamless experience of being one with nature. Every meal has a prescribed portion, per item, on the buffet and a sample plate with the desired serving is kept for reference. It is suggested: chew your food 30 times and try to eat at least for 30 minutes. Now, we were so hungry with the walking tour and none of us remembered the rule until we finished our meal. The meal was simple and healthy, and strangely quite appetising on the first day. The novelty begins to wear off on the second day and by your third meal — it might be hard to ignore those cravings.
We were really late for our scheduled activity for the day. Fortunately, our instructor (Mr. Hongkyu Kim) came back to hold a quick lesson of Herberium for us. The underlying principle, of the activity, is to keep a part of nature close to you. Traditionally, you’re not allowed to use any kind of instrument to cut the stems of the dried flowers. However, an exception was made in our case. Basil turned out to be quite gifted in arranging flowers in the empty plastic bulb and won praise from the teacher. Once the flowers are arranged, you can pour paraffin oil in them.
Watch Day One transition into Day Two
The night sky was beautiful and I was hoping to see the Milky Way. The ambient light was too much and we could only see a couple of stars in the sky. I kept waking, through the night, to admire the skylight above me and watch the stars. The next morning, we missed our stretching activity (optional) and woke just before sunrise. No matter how many times I see the sun rise and set, every sighting feels like the first.
After breakfast, we explored a short hiking trail with Mijin. The trees had lost their leaves and the forest looked empty and bare.
It was snowing in the morning and the trail was deserted. Maps (in Korean) are printed, at different intervals, and you can choose the trail that works best for you.
The trail downhill was shorter and pretty steep. We were in bit of a rush to reach the yurt — in time for our meditation session.
Dr. Yu Doyen was our teacher for meditation. I expected a typical meditation session. Instead, the session turned out to be a traditional Korean exercise routine coupled with rapid and slow breathing techniques. After the hike, I was low on energy, but the exercise rhythm helped me feel invigorated. It had concepts that were similar to yoga.
The teacher constantly spoke about a certain ‘energy’ called Gi (Khi). During the exercise I didn’t feel the energy he was talking about. I was skeptical. I asked the teacher more questions and he called me to give a demonstration. Now, as a skeptic, I didn’t want to let go, so he tried hard to move me backwards (without touching) with his energy. The translator kept telling me to relax. It came to point where I could feel my head heat up, but my body wasn’t moving. And then, as strange as it sounds, the minute I stopped fighting him (mentally); I bent backwards. And I wondered if one could control people like this and to answer this question, he called me once again. He explained: this was the energy from our bodies and not him ‘controlling’ my mind. This time, I moved in the opposite direction and it’s strange when you feel a force (very weak) that you cannot understand or explain. It’s also tricky what you can do with a knowledge of something that hasn’t been understood by many people. He tried to give Basil (above) a healing session, but we ran out of time.
Staying in Healience Zen Village makes you aware of your dependancy on the digital/virtual world. It wasn’t too hard for me because I prefer nature and could look at the sky forever. For Basil, it was a challenge to learn how to use his phone without the internet or do nothing during the free moments. Modern living is designed for comfort and the price is a stressful life. Living a simple life might be hard initially, some might find it boring too, but the peace you feel and the effect on your health are unparalleled.