(Travelnews=William Harlow) The wife and I had just spent a fun day in the Gurye vicinity looking at temples, markets, and yellow flowers. We still had about four hours before our train left for Seoul so we decided to visit a railway theme park we had heard of near Koksong. We grabbed a bus from Gurye bus terminal and within 30 minutes arrived at the Koksong bus terminal. (You can also easily take the Saemaeul directly to the Koksong train station). Both the bus terminal and train station at Koksong are an easy walk to the theme park.
En route to the theme park we walked through a new market complex. While there was no market going on that day you could see that lots of money and effort were going into making it an excellent facility. The new market had a railway theme so we knew we were heading in the right direction for the theme park.
The railway theme park was integrated into other park facilities in the city and was really a fun place to visit. The first thing we did was go into the old turn of the century Koksong railway station and bought tickets for the steam train ride along the Seomjin river.
This was an important thing to do. They have five train rides a day; however, during off season they often cut it down to three. We had arrived late in the day and were worried about getting a ticket.
Fortunately the travel gods had smiled on us and they were running five trains that day and we booked two seats for the last train of the day at 5:30 P.M. It cost about 10,000 won for two people. We had about an hour to kill before our train left so we decided to check out the part in the immediate vicinity of the station.
Apparently, when Korean Rail was putting in the new lines in the region they decided to keep a small section of the original line that ran along the river and turn it into a railway museum and theme park. The park has many nice features.
There is a railway bike ride where you can get on a pedal car or “rail bike” and ride along some designated rails. The good thing about this is that it is a fun way to see the rails and get some exercise. The problem is it is muscle powered and you are at the mercy of the folks in front of you on the track or pushing behind you.
Like a paddle boat, it is fun until you legs get tired. Unlike a paddle boat, there are folks behind you and you can’t pull over and rest without impacting others. Unfortunately for us, the line for the rail bikes was too long and we didn’t want to risk missing our train so we just watch folks for awhile instead of partaking.
As we walked around we found a collection of old rail cars on sidings you could walk through. There were switches you could throw and get a feel for the old days of railroading. The park was also the site of some old movie sets. You could walk through the streets of an old Korean city as it was in the years before the Korean War.
The old steam train and rail cars were also used in some movies and there were displays showing how the train and sets appeared in the movies. (I had actual seen one of the Korean War movies “Taegueki” or “The Flag” filmed there so I enjoyed seeing some of the filming locations.)
We figured we would have to run to the real train station immediately after our steam train ride along the river so we figured we should eat.
They had a few food stands outside where you could get some snacks and a soda and they also had a food court with basic Korean food there as well. After a quick dinner it was time for the train ride.
The engine is a 1930’s era steam locomotive; however, for railway purists, it must be said that it has been modified to run on natural gas and is not the real thing. There is one engine on the front of the train and one in the rear so they don’t have to turn the train around.
The train has three cars that are not modern, but also not period. (You can get some snacks on the train). The train departed on time. We went slowly along the river and the scenery was great. We stopped once at Gajeong station where you can take another rail bike ride, then proceeded on to Aplok station (a total of 25 minutes) where the train stopped for thirty minutes.
There are foods and souvenir stalls there and rest facilities if you needed them. The train then returned by the same route to Koksong. This took another 25 minutes. The total train ride, with stops, lasted and hour and a half. It was great fun.
Along the way and at Aplok station you see many references to Shim Chong, a local folklore heroine who according to legend offered to sacrifice herself to the sea god in order to help her blind father. It is a long involved story; however, it is a key local legend and there are paintings and artwork that reference it throughout the area.
The park started to shut down shortly after the steam train returned and the wife and I had another train to catch. We were able to walk from the theme part to new Koksong station in about ten minutes. The train arrived on time and by 07:30 P.M. we were headed back to Seoul after a wonderful day.
I could have spent all day at the railway theme park. It is still a work in progress and there is some construction and expansion taking place. There are other railway museums in Korea.
I know of one in between Suwon and Seoul but have never been there. This place was more of a theme park than museum, but still for railway enthusiasts, movie lovers, or both, it was lots of fun.