Day trips in Korea for as little as $10 a day
An online club offered a weekend getaway to the western coast of Dangjin in South Chungcheong province, known for its beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
For a full day of fun there, the club’s site said, all you needed was 10,000 won ($10).
Ms. Kim felt the same way.
“Travel agencies ask for at least 30,000 won for an outing to the suburbs,” she said, explaining she has been on similar trips many times before.
But the offer was irresistible. She was also curious as to what the online club had to offer for a single “green bill.”
So she deposited 20,000 won for herself and her five-year-old son. The following Saturday, they were aboard one of 15 buses the club rented for the trip to Dangjin.
That was in 2004. Since then, Ms. Kim has became one of 36,000 eager members of an online club named “Sanbada,” or “Mountain and Ocean” in English, literally describing where the members try to go every weekend.
“Together with my son, I went fishing one week and made pottery at a craft village the next,” Ms. Kim said proudly. “All for 10,000 won.”
Sanbada started as an ordinary online “get-together” club in 2001. Kim Yeong-un, 40, currently head of the company, said the Web site was originally a personal blog he opened to ask online friends to plan weekend getaways. The site was open for anyone to come and sign in. He posted stories and the pictures he took at his weekend trips and exchanged ideas for the next week’s destination. There was one basic rule: It had to be cheap and fun at the same time.
“Why go on expensive tours abroad when there are plenty of beautiful places to visit inside Korea?” Mr. Kim said.
He knew that entrance fees to most national parks and mountains are less than 1,000 won. Museums charge less than that. Seashores are free to walk along ― if you don’t use the parking lot.
Outside of Seoul, food is always the best at restaurants that serve local dishes, he believed. If you don’t mind a homely and rundown restaurant interior, which most of them are, a hearty meal is possible for less than 5,000 won.
The idea started well. But he and his friends, all salary earners, had to strain their wits every week to save money. What started as a hobby sometimes became as hard toil, Mr. Kim said.
Despite the wobbly management, a “friend of a friend” would sign up for the online club. The next week, that friend brought another friend along. Apparently, many people were interested in going on a trip for less than 10,000 won. Mr. Kim decided he could have fun and make some money from his pastime.
But when the number of travelers grew too large, Mr. Kim was in trouble. Because he had promised the newcomers they would only spend 10,000 won on the trips he was guiding, he realized he was often making up any financial loss the trip had.
“Now I know not to rent a bus for the trip unless there will be at least 30 people traveling,” he said. If the number is below 30, he cancels the trip and returns the money.
That’s what happened last week. He had planned two weekend trips: one bound for Yangpyeong for 10,000 won and one for Anmyeondo island for 11,000 won. People lined up for the latter and the trip to Yangpyeong was cancelled.
Mr. Kim said it took about a year for 10,000 people to sign in on his Web site. That was when he was finally able to make ends meet. He quit his job to concentrate more on traveling, which he loves very much, on the cheap. He now runs two blogs on Korea’s popular portal sites, Daum (http://cafe.daum.net/sanbada12) and Cyworld (http://sanbada12.cyworld.com). The less Web-savvy can dial (02) 739-4600.
“I was browsing through Cyworld when I found the Sanbada blog there,” Lee Gye-su, 38, said. She was a regular visitor to Cyworld and said she liked the name “Sanbada” and immediately signed in.
On the left corner of the Cyworld blog, there are bulletin boards filled with dates and the schedule of when and where Sanbada members will be traveling. Applying is simple; leave a note on the board that you are going, deposit 10,000 won and wait for one of the Sanbada staff to call and confirm the travel schedule. (Mr. Kim now employs four people.)
“The trip to Imjingak was really nice,” Ms. Lee said. “Who would try going there near the military demarcation line by themselves on their own free time?”
Ms. Lee, whose hobby is painting pictures, said she enjoyed the trip because she got to meet many people who were traveling alone like herself, while the Sanbada program gave her a lot of free time to draw pictures.
Mr. Kim explained that three of the most popular travel packages are those bound for Yangpyeong, Pocheon and Dangjin.
In the Yangpyeong package, the bus leaves from Gwanghwamun or Jamsil at 8 a.m. bound for Dumulmeori, a riverbank that was once used for ferry crossings. The day-trippers can enjoy the view of a Joseon Dynasty-styled sailing boat floating on the South Han river. There is also a 400-year-old zelkova tree, which became famous after it was used as the backdrop of many television dramas and advertisements. The next stop is Semiwon, a 1,322 square-meter (1,581 square-feet) traditional flower garden near the riverside. At 1:30 p.m. lunch is provided at the Yongmun service area. (Lunch is included in the 10,000 won but you are free to use your own money to eat something else, Mr, Kim said.) The next stop is the Freshwater Fish Institute, where the travelers can look around until 4 p.m. By 7:30 p.m. they are back in Seoul.
The Pocheon package includes a bus trip to Pocheon Herb Island, a theme park filled with outdoor and indoor gardens and shops that carry herb-related books and crafts. It also has a coffee shop and bakeries that sell herb bread and cookies, and aromatherapy facilities. The admission to the Pocheon Herb Island is included in the 10,000 won fee.
Mr. Kim is proudest of the Dangjin package because he claims he developed the site as a tourist spot. As he was traveling around the country looking for hidden places to visit, he found Gongseri Cathedral, which was used as a backdrop in the film “Taegukki.” Mr. Kim boasts that it is the most beautiful church in Korea.
The nuns and the priest there did not at first like it when Mr. Kim said he wanted to bring “hundreds of travelers” to visit on weekends.
“But now they even let us take pictures inside the church if we promise to be really quiet,” Mr. Kim said winking.
What can you do with 10,000 won without help from Sanbada?
Here’s what couples with a low dating budget suggested on the Internet site Naver.
1) A romantic date on Seonyudo Park
* To reach the park, take subway line No. 2 or 6 to Hapjeong Station and use exit 1.
10,000 - (900 x two persons) = 8,200 won
* From there, it’s a cab ride of about 1.5 kilometers (one mile).
8,200 - 1,900 (taxi fare) = 6,300 won
* Walk along the bamboo tree forest and enjoy the view of the Han River.
6,300 - 0 (free) = 6,300 won
* Dine in the cafeteria.
6,300 - ? (as you wish) = ?
2) An exhilarating date at the Race Track in Gwacheon
* The entrance fee is 2,000 won for two people
10,000 - 2,000 = 8,000 won
* Each bet can range from 100 won to 100,000 won.
8,000 - / + (as much as you lose or win) = ?
* Next to the race track, there is a horse museum.
Admission is free.
3) A relaxing date at a jjimjilbang sauna
Most entrance fees to jimjilbang are less than 10,000 won.
In there, you can enjoy hot charcoal rooms, miniature ice-houses and clay and stone rooms. Most have movie and television viewing rooms and gymnasiums also.
by Lee Min-a