Seoul's Incomparable Han: No City Has a River Like It

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Seoul's Incomparable Han: No City Has a River Like It

"Sunset on the Han River looks best at this time of year," says Kim Jae-il. "Watching the red, dying sun slips past the LG Twin Towers in Yeouido gives you a really different feeling from seeing the sun set on the ocean."

Mr. Kim has seen both. The captain of a pleasure boat, he spends more than eight hours a day working on the Han. He has cruised the river longer than any other local captain, and the long hours have made him an expert on the waterway. He even says he can tell exactly where his boat is at a certain moment - not by looking around, but by smelling the air.

Mr. Kim began to ride boats in 1967 when he joined the navy as a petty officer. In 1990, he became the captain of a pleasure boat, as he wanted to work on the water in the heart of a big city. In the 11 years since then, he has studied the river. Sometimes he visits district offices in Seoul to get more information about it. Spend an hour on Mr. Kim's boat and you feel you have only scratched the surface of his knowledge of the Han.

The river offers different pleasures in every season, the captain says. If you are looking for a beautiful sunset, cruise it in June or October. During the summer, you can have fun watching water skiers or windsurfers. February and March bring the sight of seagulls flapping around the boat. And in the depths of winter, especially when the river is slightly frozen over, it is exciting to watch the river ice breaking under the prow as the boat moves along.

"Once you cruise on the river, you will feel different about Seoul," boasts Mr. Kim. "There's no city in the world that has a river comparable to the Han."

But some recent developments on the Han sadden him. He is not happy about the buildup of concrete river banks. To improve the appearance of the river, he says, "there should be more trees planted in between the buildings, or at the very least, more space should be left between buildings."

He also mentions that there should be easier access to the riverside, since many people have difficulty finding a dock. "We get many calls asking the way to the dock," he said.

There are some improvements. Mr. Kim is happy that the quality of water in the Han has improved and that the bridges and buildings constructed on or along it in recent years are more beautiful than the old ones.

Mr. Kim advises that the best place to enjoy the view on a pleasure boat is the balcony on the second floor cabin. This spot on the boat is especially popular among couples, as it can hold only two people.

Pleasure Boats

In Seoul, you can catch a pleasure boat from docks in Jamsil, Yeouido or Yanghwa. You can take a round trip - from Jamsil to Hannam bridge and back, for example - or a one-way trip on the river - from Yeouido to Jamsil, perhaps. Each cruise takes about an hour. It costs 7,000 won (about $5.50) for adults and 3,500 won for children.

For more information, visit (Korean version only) or call 02-785-4411 (English service available).

Bike Trails

There's no place like the riverside to ride a bike in Seoul. There are two main bike paths along the river banks. One runs 19.7 kilometers between Jamsil bridge and Mangwon district on the north side of the river, and the other 36.9 kilometers from Haengju bridge to Gwangnaru district on the south of the river. You can rent a bike at any of the rental places located near the swimming pools in Hangang Park. In Gangnam (south of the river), you can return the bike to any of the rental places, but in Gangbuk (north of the river), you must return the bike to the place you rented it.

It costs 2,000 won for an hour's bicycle rental.

For more information, visit Hangang Park's Web site at (English version available).

by Kim Young-hoon

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