Posted by: Matt Kelley | 4 June 2009

Han River Cruise

20090603_hangangcruise

On this week’s show, how about we take a cruise? But this isn’t just any cruise, but a boat ride through the center of one of the world’s largest cities. Surely anyone who has visited Seoul knows of the mighty Han River (한강). Originating on two mountains, one in South Korea and the other in the North, the Hangang, as it’s known in Korea, winds along peacefully for over 500 kilometers before passing through Seoul on its way into the West or Yellow Sea.

20090603_hangangatnightA nighttime view of the Banpo Bridge with N Seoul Tower in the background.

Despite being over one kilometer wide in places, the shallow Han River isn’t fit for deep-hulled boats, which limits its navigation to flat-bottomed barges and pleasure craft. Fortunately, since 1986, a small fleet of cruise ships operated by the C& Hangang Land company has ferried passengers on one-way and roundtrip tours from seven docks along the riverfront.

course C& Hangang Land operates several different one-way and roundtrip routes along the scenic Han River.

Seeing Seoul from its main artery is a great way to get your bearings in this huge city. My friend and I took the cruise from Jamsil, in Southeast Seoul to Yeouido Island in the west. Along the way it was fun to see the 1988 Olympic Stadium, and neighborhoods like Apgujeong and Yongsan from the water.

But probably the best part of the cruise was passing under many of the city’s 27 bridges. In fact, anyone who’s taken a cruise since this past February has enjoyed the colorful fruits of a just completed, 3-year project.

20090603_motionbridgeHere I am trying to make poor photographing skills look pretty.

Since 2006, Seoul City has worked with lighting designers to create new illumination systems for the bridges that span the river. The result is a diverse array of bright and beautiful pieces of light art that paint not just the bridges, but the surrounding river as well in a colorful glow. On our tour, we saw “White Sea” and “Korea in the World,” the titles of the displays on the Hangang (한강대교) and Dongho (동호대교) bridges, respectively.

20090603_banpodaegyoStarting this month, the Banpo Bridge in southern Seoul puts on quite a show.

To conserve energy, only half of the bridges are illuminated at any one time, and low-wattage, energy-efficient bulbs and cold cathode lamps were installed. In fact, the daily cost for illuminating a bridge is just 33,000 won, or about 25-bucks.

In addition to the standard sightseeing cruises, the boats can also be chartered for special events and parties. There’s an especially tacky “Pirates of the Caribbean”-themed boat, if that’s your thing.

20090603_riverrocksAt over 1 kilometer wide in places, the Han River puts other famous big city rivers to shame.

But whichever route you choose, here are a couple of tips: Although you’ll probably also want to spend part of your cruise on the decks outside of the cabin, when you board the boat, make a beeline for one of four seats located on the top deck at the ship’s bow. Also, keep in mind this isn’t Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor! This cruise is more peaceful and romantic than thrilling.

And just one more suggestion: Although the night cruises are popular, why not take a daylight cruise? The afternoon cruises also afford great views and a refreshing breeze on these hot summer days.

20090603_badcruisepicEach of the yachts in C& Hangang Land’s fleet has its own personality.

Getting There:
map_hangangcruise→ C& Hangang Land’s cruises depart from seven piers along the Han River: Yangwha, Sangam, Jamdubong, Yeouido, Seoul Forest, Tteukseom and Jamsil. My friend and I took the 1-hour one-way route between Jamsil and Yeouido (with one stop).

Tickets start at 11,000 won (USD $8.28) per person for the approx. 50-minute courses, and 16,000 won for the 80-minute live music cruise. There’s also a Monday-through-Saturday buffet cruise that runs adults 50,000 won plus VAT and 30,000 plus VAT for children.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on April 15, 2009.)

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