Camping in Korea: Banana Boating in Ungilsan

So, we like to camp. It’s summer and this way we can see more of Korea in the best way: the Cheap Way. Because we’re cheap. And camping is fun. (And cheap.)

The best part about Ungilsan (aside from being cheap) is that it’s directly accessible on the Seoul metro. Take the Jungang Line in the direction of Yongmun for about an hour, and get off at Ungilsan. And if that weren’t simple enough, Ungilsan has only one subway exit, so it’d take some serious effort to get lost (and I would know).

Now, the reason we went to Ungilsan in the first place was because they have wakeboarding and waterskiing there, and, apparently (though we would find out later, not so obviously), places to camp. To get to the wake-dock, walk directly out of the subway station until you see a blue and yellow taxi sign on the right, just between the parking lot and the main road. There’s a number to call on the sign. Call the number. A taxi will come pick you up. Ask them to take you to “ski-jang”. And, voila, they’ll take you to the wake-dock, about a 5 minute cab ride from the station. Simple as that!

The setting is beautiful. The dock is big, with two large upper-deck lounge areas complete with recliner chairs, plastic tables, and a barbecue. You can bring your own food and drink, but if you’re retarded like me and forgot, there’s a convenience store just to the left of the dock along the main road. They don’t have much, but they’ve got the necessities.

Now Ungilsan is awesome for another reason. Not only is it easy to find and cheap to get to, it also has a banana boat available for rides. Yes, that’s right. A banana boat.

And no banana boat ride is complete without boxing helmets. Right?

Wait, what?

Yes, you’re seeing exactly what you think you’re seeing. We’re wearing boxing helmets to ride a banana boat. A banana boat.

I would recommend going there solely for this experience.

The only thing better than Cheap is Free, and the banana boat ride was exactly that! I think they were just excited to dress up the foreigners in funny helmets & striped shirts and watch them ride a giant banana. But I digress.

Camping was fun. Finding a place to camp was even more fun, and this is because we had a) no idea where we were going; and b) no desire to figure it out. So we did what any logical and rational people would do – we hopped in the back of a stranger’s pick-up truck (apparently he was an employee at the wake-dock but no one seems to recall actually seeing him work there), sat atop his garbage-bagged stash of rotten kimchi, cracked open a 6-pack, and let him decide where we were going.

This was, by far, my most favourite part of the entire camping trip. It was entertaining and hilarious riding in the back of that truck, and it’s a good thing, too, because we were riding in circles back there for the better part of 90 minutes. Ha!

When he finally dropped us off, it was at a public park. A park where no camping was allowed. Awesome! Now we had to find a real place to camp (whose idea was this, again?).

We lugged our tents and sleeping bags around town for the better part of the next 90 minutes. This was not nearly as fun as the truck but it was certainly entertaining – we passed a restaurant serving dog and five minutes later, a harmony of barking and woofing filled the otherwise quiet summer night. Sad, but this is Korea. We kept walking.

Eventually we happened upon a rather large, umm, field. I’m still not sure exactly how it happened but we somehow managed to find this big, empty, grassy park, with trees and trails and a river and everything! And no one was there. Perfect! We set up camp.

The night was spent around the campfire with a bit of guitar and an unhealthy amount of barbecued meat, followed by more guitar and an even more unhealthy amount of raisin cake, courtesy of one of my students’ moms.We passed out in our tents in what felt like a real forest, where we could hear frogs croaking and crickets cricketing above the dull moan of the dogs in the distance. I hate to throw the dogs into this but it’s a way of life here and who am I to judge their taste in domestic pets?

When we woke in the morning it was hot and sunny and we had a soccer game to get to, so we cleaned up and made way to the subway (which wasn’t easy to find, considering we didn’t know where we were in the first place). However, after walking for 20-30 minutes in what was obviously the wrong direction, we managed to find a couple cabs parked by a street market and coerced them to drive us to the subway.

Since we didn’t have time to purchase any of these delicious-looking market goods, we were starving when the train arrived. So again we did what any normal and rational people who didn’t buy live chickens at the market would do: we made a picnic lunch in the subway with all the leftovers we hadn’t devoured the night before, which happened to be sandwich ham, mustard, and a pecan pie.Perfect! Nothing like a mustard sandwich and nutty desert to start the day off on the right foot! ;)