Jeongseon is the name of both a small town and a county, and is famous for the origin of the classic folk song "Arirang." First sung as a lament for the former king and homeland as the country was moving from the Goryeo Dynasty to the Joseon Period, the song became very popular during the Korean War, when families were split up, never to see each other again. Declared an intangible cultural asset in 1971, it is the Korean version of the blues, and there are more than 1,500 lyrical variations. The Jeongseon Arirang Festival happens annually in the fall, but free performances are held at the Jeongseon Arirang Performance Hall from mid-April to late November. If you time it right, visit the Jeongseon O-il Jang (5-Day Fair), which is held on the 2nd, 7th, 12th, 17th, 22nd, and 27th day of every month. What started as a 5-day market has grown into a local event, with folk performers, artisans, and the usual vendors selling dried herbs and products cultivated from the nearby mountains.
Buses run from the DongSeoul Bus Terminal 13 times a day, from 7am to 6pm, and take about 3 1/2 hours. Two buses run daily from Chuncheon, 6 from Wonju, and 11 from Gangneung. Located on the Taebaek Rail Line, Mugunghwa trains run from Seoul's Cheongnyangni Station, from Wonju, Jecheon, Yeongwol, and Jeungsan. On the Jeongseon line, you can catch trains from Jeungsan, Pyeryegok, Seonpyeong, Jeongseon, Najin, and Auraji. The website for Jeongseon is www.ariaritour.com.
The Jeongseon area has gotten famous for white-water rafting, but most of Jeongseon's attractions are concentrated in the Hwaam Tourist Area, which includes the pretty river valley of Sogeumgang (Little Diamond Mountain). It includes 12 waterfalls, fun-shaped rock formations, and nice scenery.
Nearby in Gurim Bawi forest is the Hwaam Yaksu (Mineral Spring Water), which emerges from the rocks there. Full of iron, calcium, fluoride, and other minerals, the waters are supposed to help cure minor ailments like eye infections, stomachaches, and skin problems. The water is naturally carbonated and has a bit of a sour and sweet taste.
One of the most popular sites is Hwaam Dong-gul, a natural limestone cave. The caverns were discovered between 1922 and 1945 during gold-mining operations. The abandoned mine has been redeveloped into exhibits on mining, a history of the cave, and ore and geological processes. There are artificial lights that highlight the stalactite and stalagmite formations. There are a small folk museum and a replica of a mining camp below the cave's entrance. Entrance to the cave is W5,000 for adults, W3,500 teens, W2,000 children with additional fees to ride the monorail.
Located on the road to Taebaek is the temple Jeongamsa, about 350m (1,148 ft.) down from the peak of Mahangjae, toward Gohan. The temple was founded by Monk Jajang in A.D. 636, during the fifth year of the reign of Shilla Queen Seon-deok He built the Seoknamwon, the former shrine of Jeongamsa, by building a gold, silver, and Sumano pagoda 9 years later. The most interesting relic is the Sumano Pagoda, which stands on the mountainous slope above the temple. It is said that the Monk Jajang brought the stone on a ship from China. Unfortunately, there are no buses that run to Mahangjae. You'll have to take a taxi from Gohan or Jeongseon.
For a different form of transportation, spend the afternoon biking on railroad tracks, specifically the Jeongseon Auraji Rail Bike (tel. 033/563-8787, Gujeol-li, Buk-myeon, Jeongseon-gun). For W18,000, you and a friend can pedal a two-person "rail bike" from Auraji to Gujeol-li, an easy 7.2km (4 1/2-mile) ride. You get to rest your legs on the free train ride back. Four-person vehicles cost W26,000 and the rail bikes are available 9am to 6pm. From the Jeongseon Bus Terminal take a bus to Yeoryang (they run 21 times daily). From Yeoryang, take a local bus to Gujeol-li, where you'll find the boarding platform (you can't miss the Grasshopper Dream cafe, which is shaped like its namesake bug).
Where to Stay
The most upscale and fun place to sleep in the county is Gangwon Land Casino and Hotel, San 1-139, Gohan-li, Gohan-eup, Jeongseon-gun (tel. 033/590-7700; fax 033/590-7330), which is closer to Taebaek than Jeongseon-si. Opened in 2000, it is the only casino in the whole country open to South Korean natives. The casino hotel has 199 rooms, while the adjacent large Gangwon Land Hotel has 676 rooms. The casino has 960 slot machines and over 100 tables, where you can play blackjack and other games. The hotel is part of the High 1 Resort Complex (tel. 02/1588-7789 or 033/590-7811; 1-139 Gohan-li, Gohan-eup, Jeongseon-gun; www.high1.co.kr), which has other accommodation options. The resort has steep slopes for skiing and snowboarding, an 18-hole golf course, and the usual luxury amenities like fitness centers and indoor swimming pools. Standard rooms start at W157,300 at the ski resort and W242,000 in the main hotel. Discounts of up to 50% are not unusual. There is a W5,000 admission fee for the casino. The shuttle bus from the Gohan Train Station takes about 10 minutes or you can get a cab from the Gohan Express Bus Terminal, a 10-minute ride that should cost about W5,000.
Lower-priced yeogwan and other accommodations can be found near the Jeongseon Train Station and Hwaam Cave. Standard rooms go for about W30,000.
Where to Dine
The specialty of the area is gondre rice, which people relied on during times of famine. Today it's a popular local dish, made by boiling rice and gondre (a type of thistle that grows in the area) with perilla oil, sesame, and a spicy sauce. You can get it at Jeongwong Wangjang (tel. 033/378-5100), in the small town of Yemi, which is on the way to Hambaeksan.
Another good restaurant in the area is Jeongseon-gol Hwanggibossam, 359-3, Bongyang 1-li, Jeongseon-eup, Jeongseon-gun (tel. 033/563-8114), located about 25 minutes from the Jeongseon Terminal (about 5 min. by taxi). The specialty is hwanggi bossam, a special sliced pork dish in which the pork is marinated with ginger, and served with cabbage leaves for you to wrap and eat. A small order is W15,000 and the larger order W20,000. Don't miss the bossam kimchi (a special kind of kimchi made with chestnuts, pears, and pine nuts). The place is open daily, but the sign isn't in English. Just look for a white sign with black and red writing.
If you're in the mood for meat, one of the best (and largest) places in the county is Wonju Shikdang [val], 330-7, Bongyang 1-li, Jeongseon-eup, Jeongseon-gun (tel. 033/563-0117), which is within walking distance from Jeongseon Terminal, in front of the county office. You can get boolgogi baekban (marinated sliced beef) for W10,000, or ssamgyupssal (sliced pork belly) for W8,000.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.