Pedaling the rails

What do you do with disused railway lines, apart from not closing them in the first place?

Turn them into trails for bikes?


In Korea, they have a better idea. Why not use bikes that run on the rails?

I’m sold!

The best such rail park, as they are called, is the Gangchon Rail Park at Gimyujeong, to stops before Chancheon at the end of the Gyungcheon Line. This is part of the greater Seoul metro network, although you can also reach Chancheon by ITX express.

Two changes are required before we join the crowded carriage, forced to stand most of the way.

It is an opportunity to see scenery outside of Seoul, from apartment blocks and demolished buildings, to market gardens and rice paddies, mountains, valleys and rivers.

Many passengers disembark at Gapyeong for Namiseon, or Nami Island, as featured in the Korean drama “Winter Sonata”.

Gimyujeong is the only preserved station building that is still on the line. Apparently the railway played a large role in the area, a romantic role. Further up the line is a static diesel locomotive and passenger carriages, while the Rail Park is colourfully in the other direction.

As kids fly overhead on the zip line we see that all but the last two sessions are booked out. After much debate we agree to book the 5.30pm ride.

What do we do until then? Namiseon? Legoland? A cable car up a mountain?

Let’s go get some lunch at Chuncheon and decide then.

Two stops later we are at the city of Chuncheon. The large station’s location is in the middle of empty construction lots. We ask the tourist information office where to eat and they point is down the road to a small collection of shops or 15 minutes past the construction sites to the city centre.

We’ve got time to walk.

Chuncheon is famous for dakgalbi, where chicken is substituted for port short ribs and cooked with vegetables on a big hot plate.

There are two dakgalbi alleys, we walk both and settle on the popular Myeongdong 1 beonji Dakgalbi, adorned with celebrity autographs and photos.

We choose dakgalbi, chicken thighs, cabbage, spring onions and chilli sauce with added rice cakes and cheese and the staff cook it on the big pan in front of us.

The serving for two is enough for the three of us and we all enjoy it.

With more time to spare we wander around the centre of Chuncheon, buy B a pair of walking shoes, explore the holiday closed market and grab some candied grapes and a milkshake to cleanse the palate of the strong Korean flavours.

It’s a long walk back to Chuncheon Station and a couple of stops back to Gimyujeong.

There’s some time to sit down, more to stand in queue and watch the small diesel locomotives shunt back the rail bikes from the previous group.

It’s almost time to board and it starts spitting with rain.

The bikes have shelters, so we’ll be fine, right?

Wrong, at least for us in front. The rain flies in the open sides and we are getting soaked.

No backing out now, though the bike in front takes forever to retrieve a lost passenger.

The first part of the line is downhill, no pedalling required, just rain flying into our faces and the rush of air chilling our bodies.

But gosh it’s fun!

The scenery is gorgeous, farms, rice paddies and streams flying past in the golden light of the evening sun.

When we do have to pedal, it’s not hard. Not with the three of us.

We enter a tunnel, full of stars. Another has colourful bubbles, disco lights and music. Between are views of the river and a mountain backdrop. It’s spectacular scenery and we are having so much fun. This is definitely one of the best activities we have done on our travels and that’s not just gunzel talk.

At the end is a long platform at the edge of the river with no access except for rail. There’s the photo collection point, a small convenience store and a take away kiosk.

We wait, grab a hot dog, shelter from showers while the sky darkens.

Eventually the carriages appear from the other end of the line.

The “Romantic Train” has come to take us the rest of the way. One carriage is fully enclosed, the next open sides with a roof and the leading car is only half enclosed, meaning the other seats are wet.

Though the light is dim it is still a scenic ride along the river. The bridge at our terminus of Gangchon is painted by changing lights. Then it’s all out on another bridge platform.

Most catch the shuttle bus back to Gimyujeong, but we decide to walk ourselves to Gangchon Station (the new one).

I love this walk through the quiet and lonely dark. Not completely lonely. There are many eateries and cafes lit up along the road, a run down arcade, a closed amusement park. It feels rich with potential stories.

We are trying to decide what to have for dinner.. Not here says Alex, not there says B. Eventually we settle on a stew place with English.names for the dishes on display. We have to remove our shoes to enter.

We have pork rib stew, a gas cooker at our table. It’s food, but to be honest I’m already feeling a bit over the flavours, the sweet and the spicy. The pork is tender, though.

It’s a steep climb up the stairs to the Gangchon train station, romantic stairs with colourful lights, a heart gate and a bell to ring at the top. The Moon has risen and sines through the heart. It’s dark and would be scary in some places, but not here.

Gangchon station is big and lonely and exactly the kind of place I’d be catching trains from in Japan. Thankfully there’s a warm waiting shelter on the platform.

We reverse our metro ride back to Seoul and Dongdaemun rather than wait for an ITX express service.

I love watching the lights of the shops, factories and apartments fly past outside the window, evidence of life in the night. This has been my kind of train day, but one the whole family has been able to enjoy.

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