Korean Reality TV isn't just entertaining, it's also a great way of finding out all the coolest things to do in the country. Once anything worth visiting turns up on the radar, whole teams of celebrities will be sent to scope out the place. There's no doubt that the added drama of the television format can make these places seem far more appealing than they might actually be, but most of them are still worth a visit. This trip, M decided she wanted to us all to try something exhilarating she'd seen on one of these shows: the zipline that runs from Gapyeong to Nami Island (Namiseom, 남이섬 종합휴양지, named after a famous General).
The Visit Korea website, run by the Korea Tourism Organization, is a treasure trove of useful information, and M used it to do some reconnoitering before we set off. She found that the most direct way to get to Namiseom from Seoul was via a shuttle bus that departed from Insa-dong each morning, but somehow managed to miss the footnote at the end stating "Advanced reservations necessary". It's always a challenge taking public transport in a country where you don't speak the language, and even more of a nightmare when it turns out to be some kind of holiday. All the buses for the day were fully booked, so we were waved towards the general direction of the train station.
I broke out my very best travel mime, and we were finally able to get tickets to Gapyeong Station, where we'd be able to catch a cab to the island gateway, about a five minute drive away. We were standing near enough the boarding area that we felt quite confident of getting seats for the hour-long journey, but we hadn't counted on the swiftness and determination of everyone else on the platform, who mercilessly pushed past us once the train arrived. We were so impressed we couldn't even be annoyed. The only real downer was the overcast sky, which rather marred all our pictures of the day.
Imagine therefore, clear blue skies and much brighter images when you look at the rest of my pictures here. There was, thankfully, absolutely no issue getting a cab once we exited Gapyeong Station, and soon we were pulling up by the Nami Skyline ZipWire Platform. At 80 metres tall, it stood head and shoulders above all the other buildings around it, and there was really no mistaking it for anything else. The next tallest structure was the bungee jumping platform, which looked rather small in comparison.
4 ferries ply the route between Gapyeong and Nami Island, transporting a majority of the 2 million visitors who make their way to Namiseom each year. But if you want to arrive in style, ziplining across is obviously a lot cooler than being packed in with everyone else on a boat.
The Nami Skyline ZipWire is run by ZipRider®, which operates similar experiences throughout the world. This particular one opened in November 2010, and is apparently unique thanks to being one of the biggest ziplining experiences in Asia, and the first of ZipRider's offerings to be almost entirely over water.
Riding straight from the top of the platform to Nami Island, you get to soar over the Han River, before descending through a wooded grove on Nami Island, and coming to a gentle stop further inland. The whole ride is 940 meters long, and they claim that you can reach speeds of up to 35 mph on it. (That's 56 km/h for all of us who wisely use the metric system. I don't really get why they switch around between the two, it's really strange.)
The package to Namiseom (38000 won) includes your entry fee to the island, as well as a return ferry back to the mainland. Unfortunately, there isn't yet a return ZipWire.
There's also an option to take the ZipWire to Jara Island, an uninhabited and undeveloped plot of land in the opposite direction. The Jara Island package costs the same, but also includes a ferry to take you from Jaraseom to Namiseom on top of the Nami levy and a final boat ride back. The wire cable to Jaraseom is steeper, with riders able to hit speeds up to 45 mph (72 km/h), and they recommend it for the more thrill-seeking customer.
Before you ride, you need to be deemed tall enough, and then you have to go stand on a rather arbitrary scale. I was obviously heavy enough to take the line directly to Nami Island with M and D, but apparently the yes on the scale wasn't good enough for the receptionist, who imperiously decreed that I had to wait an extra half hour after M and D crossed, and take the next line to Jaraseom instead.
Nothing I said would move her. I was in the clear! Not good enough. Could I carry all our bags to add extra weight? Apparently not. Didn't the video they were playing on loop show a starlet obviously smaller and thinner than me taking the ZipWire directly to Nami Island? No film crew, no dice. Turns out, the prevailing winds were blowing against the line, and there was some concern I might get stuck halfway through the ride. The cables to Nami Island aren't very steep as it turns out.
There was nothing I could do but wave a solemn farewell to M and D as they took the lift up without me. With half an hour to spare, I ended up taking myself out to a nice, simple lunch of bibim naengmyeon (비빔 냉면) at one of the restaurants near the tower.
I returned in good time, only to find out that the rain had caused further delays. When I finally ascended to uppermost platform with the rest of the people in my timeslot, we had been delayed by almost half an hour. We completely understood why all operations ceased when we made it to the top, and we were met by bracing winds.
While the harnesses were being set up, a member of the crew gave us a safety briefing, which consisted of how exactly we ought to sit, where to put our hands, and a reminder that cameras were strictly discouraged. You're over water after all, and it's easy to drop things when you're whizzing through the air at high speeds. All of us solemnly took note.
80 metres up, the ground looks very, very far away, especially if you're standing on an open air platform. In front of us, one of the staff began practicing what looked like a vicious looking shove. When they asked who wanted to go first, everyone politely volunteered someone else.
Our jitters were also being fed by screams from the bungee jumpers nearby. We knew, logically, that both activities were completely different, but their platform was so small and ours was so much taller...
The greatest moment of terror came after I was trussed up in my harness, and instructed to bend my knees and brace my feet against the metal door, which would swing open when it was my time to go down the wire cable. I'd already witnessed the first two batches before me go down shrieking all the way, and for a moment I deeply regretted everything.
Once the ride started though, I calmed down immediately. It was a smooth descent that turned out to be far, far slower than it looked. The taxi ride we went on later that afternoon to Petite France (쁘띠프랑스) was a lot faster, and a lot more frightening.
I had 90 seconds to slowly look around at the scenery, and once again I thought it was a shame we'd come on a rainy day. All the mountains in the distance were hazy blurs on the horizon. As my harness came to a stop, I realized I still ought to have whipped out my phone to take pictures of the view since the ride down was so tame. Ah well.
As I expected, taking the ZipWire via Jara Island was quite a hassle. You had to wait for everyone in the batch to get down before the small boat at the dock would set sail for Nami Island with all aboard. Thankfully, I'd managed to make friends with a group of girls who were in Seoul for a study-abroad program, and we spent the time chatting about the best places for bingsu in the city.
The Nami ZipWire wasn't quite as hair-raising we'd been expecting, but it was still a pretty thrilling experience overall. Another bonus: Saying you went ziplining in South Korea will also never not be cool. (No one has to know it's a ride suitable even for the faint of heart.)