Susumu Sekimoto / Marubeni Korea Corporation
The cost of living in Seoul is not low, but transportation fees are an exception. The metro in Seoul is on a par with Tokyo, including a loop line and nine lines running the length and breadth of the city. But the initial cost to get on the metro is just 1,000 won (about 80 yen), and with the T Money prepaid card, it is discounted to 900 won. Further, since the same fee system is used for buses as well as the metro, you can transfer seamlessly with just a T Money card. With an initial cost of just 1900 won (about 150 yen), taxis provide quite a nice ride even for everyday people. There is also an express bus network in Korea, which has many departures particularly from Seoul, so you can travel throughout the country at a very reasonable cost.
The inexpensive and convenient public mass transit system has been a friend to this self-appointed hot springs researcher as well, as I have decided to do without driving. Today I would like to introduce some old favorite hot spring spots that are inexpensive and close, just a short trip from Seoul.
Onyang Hot Springs
Just an hour from Yongsan station by express train, Onyang Hot Springs were famously frequented 600 years ago by King Sejong, as well as by subsequent generations of monarchs. Famous for creating the Hunminjeongeum, or Hangul script, King Sejong visited Onyang to treat his eye disease, and this auspicious visit began a long and honorable history for these hot springs. The water is 59-degree radium spring water, and although the town does not have the so called hot springs atmosphere, it is a thriving health resort year round.
There are historic sites in the surrounding area associated with the Korean hero Admiral Yi Sun-sin, and just a thirty-minute bus ride away you can enjoy a wide and rich variety of hot springs including the sulfur-spring Dogooncheon hot springs, which date back to the Silla Period, and the natrium-spring Asan hot springs which were completed through massive investments made in 2001.
Icheon Hot Springs
The Icheon Hot Springs are located 60 kilometers southeast of Seoul, a ninety-minute trip by express bus. Well known as a traditional rice-producing district that is also famous for its ceramics, this town is attracting more and more Japanese tourists as a spot to enjoy hot springs and gourmet culture as well. The hot springs facilities built alongside the singular luxury hotel, complete with the source of the hot springs, create the elegant atmosphere of an exclusive spa. While I would not go so far as to say that it is the ultimate hot spring experience, it is safe to say that with delicious rice freshly cooked in a stoneware pot and more than twenty types of side dishes, the Icheon Rice Set Meal is very satisfying in terms of portion size as well as flavor. At a price of just 10,000 won (800 yen), it is no wonder that customers come from far away to enjoy this meal.
Conversation with the driver and fellow passengers on the bus is another interesting experience. Because of the many regional varieties of the Korean language, it can be difficult to follow the conversation, and to be honest, you might spend most of the time just nodding and listening. But interestingly, looking back on my experience being flooded with Korean varieties from every direction, I remember it very fondly. Travel, after all, really is the thing to do.
* By regular taxi (as of this writing: April 1, 2008) The price was increased to 2,400 won in June, 2009.