Nami Nara - The Somewhat Sovereign Island on the Han River

Nami Nara - The Somewhat Sovereign Island on the Han River

Located northeast of Seoul in the town of Gapyeong, Nami island is near enough to the metropolis that people can conveniently travel using the subway, but far enough that it feels like new terrain. When taking public transportation, the journey lasts between 2-3 hours from central Seoul. A standard T-money subway card will suffice for the entire journey to the nearby town, but you will have to pay extra to board the ferry to the island. This gives you a great amount of time to catch up on your K-dramas!

Called Namiseom (남이섬) or Naminara (나미나라), this small slice of land in the middle of the Han River has an interesting history. As a quick Korean lesson, "Seom"/섬 refers to a small island that is uninhabited (unlike "Do"/도, seen in "Jeju-do"/제주도, which is a significantly larger island that has a population). "Nara"/나라 means nation and similar to an embassy, Namiseom is a sovereign territory within the jurisdiction of South Korea. The island was named to honor General Nam I who is believed to have fought against Japanese invasions and to have put down an internal rebellion in the early 1600s, but was alleged to be falsely accused of treason. Legend states that his body was buried on the island in a tomb made of stones, and the island has a replica to honor him.

When my friends and I exited the subway at Gapyeong station, and we arrived just in time to have lunch in the surrounding neighborhood. We then decided to go by taxi to the ferry dock, and this location is difficult to miss. On the banks of the river, there is a bungee jumping tower, zip lines (that appeared to provide transport to the island), upbeat music on speakers around the parking area, and a waterslide. We were eager to get to the island, so we headed for the ferry. In order to gain entry, you must get a "passport" from "immigration." This is essentially your round-trip ferry ticket from the banks to the island. Children under the age of 3 are admitted free of charge, children aged 3 to 13 are charged 4,000 KRW (roughly 4 USD), and the rest of us are charged 8,000 KRW (about 8 USD). The ferry runs every 10-20 minutes, so you don't have to worry about rushing to catch one! Much like the United Nations, the ferry is covered in flags from all over the world. In a short amount of time, you exit port and the island awaits!

The island is actually bigger than it looks, and contains an ostrich farm, a ropes course, a variety of restaurants, bike rental locations, and many photogenic scenes of nature. One of my favorite places was the mysterious row of straw huts that surrounded a field and an open-air stage. The most recognizable scene is most likely the row of trees seen in the drama Winter Sonata.

Statues during winter.
photo by: Bry D. (2012)

In 1966, the island was bought by a tourism development company, and in 2016, was reporting 3,300,000 visitors annually. The island has since become host to artists, environmentalists, and anthropologists to hold programs and have a venue for their passions. Although the island is not the permanent residence for anyone (other than perhaps the park rangers), visitors can call themselves "Naminarians," and there is even a sign on the island proclaiming that "We are all Naminarians."

When walking around the island in the summertime, you can find many island-goers enjoying water sports on the surrounding Han river! If you visit when the weather is hot, you might want to bring along a swimsuit just in case – the inner tube boat drivers are not messing around! We also saw people on jet skis and speed boats, enjoying the sunshine. Make sure to protect your skin from the harsh rays with SPF, because the sun does reflect off of the water from the river.

If you are spending more than a week in Seoul, this destination is definitely worth the trip on a nice day at any time of the year. Which location around Seoul are you interested in visiting? Let us know!