Nami Island (3 November 2023)

We had a couple of days back in Seoul before flying home to Australia.  It’s peak autumn foliage season, so we headed out of town to Nami Island, reputed to be one of the best places to see the leaves.

En route we stopped at the Garden of Morning Calm.

Inspired by discussions with Korean students in 1913, Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called Korea ‘the land of morning calm’.  It references the beauty of the Korean countryside, although these days it is also used sardonically to refer to the fact that nothing starts early here.  It’s often hard to find anything open before 10am!

The name Garden of Morning Calm harks back to that original meaning.  Established in 1996 by a professor from the Department of Horticulture at Sahmyook University to “embrace the natural beauty of Korea, oriental mystique and the spirit of the Korean people”, it’s an arboretum about two hours east of Seoul.

Over an area of 300,000 square metres, it contains more than 5,000 species of plants arranged in 31 garden areas.  It’s designed to be attractive all year round, but is fabulously colourful in autumn.

This area is called the Road to Heaven.

And this is the Sunken Garden.

It’s not all autumn colours.  The magnificent evergreen Millennium Juniper is estimated to be about 1,000 years old.

And there’s a nifty collection of bonsai chrysanthemums.

It was a lovely place to wander around before heading on to Nami Island.

Nami is a half-moon shaped island in the North Han River which was created when the land around it was inundated as a result of the creation of the Cheungpyeong Dam in 1944.  It’s small, just 46 square kilometres, with a circumference of 5km.

In 1966, an entrepreneur purchased the island and built a small resort on it.  Originally quite bare, he also began planting trees.  Thousands of trees.  Maple trees, cherry trees, gingkos, Korean pines and sequoias.

It remained a low key place until 2002, when a Korean TV drama series, Winter Sonata, was filmed here.  The show was wildly popular in Korea, Japan and, somewhat randomly, the Philippines.  Since then it’s become more and more popular as a day trip from Seoul for fans identifying where scenes from the show were filmed.  And for its insta-worthy scenery.

Although its reputation does mean you are never alone on Nami.

Apparently the then 30 year old male lead from Winter Sonata is particularly popular with middle aged women in Japan.  Cougars.  On his first time after the series aired, 350 police had to hold back 3,000 of them who flocked to the airport to greet him on arrival.

There’s a statue on the spot where the star-crossed protagonists shared their first kiss.  There were lots of giggling ladies taking selfies here.

The island also has some random additions like this bizarre statue.

And an ostrich enclosure.

There are a few shops and art galleries, a treetop activity complex, pedal boats, motor boat hire on the river and a zip line to the opposite bank as an alternative to the ferry.

But really, it’s all about the foliage.

Nami is often touted as the best place within easy reach of Seoul to see autumn colours, and it didn’t disappoint.  It was a nice way to finish our Korean travels.

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