Posted : 2013-03-28 16:53
Updated : 2013-03-28 16:53

A heart-thumping ride on a retro tour train


By Yun Suh-young

The lure of travel is irresistible. If you can't feel your heart thump packing your backpack, setting out for a mysterious journey away from your usual domain, then something is probably wrong with you.

For those who can't imagine a life deprived of exploration, a simple, old-fashion ride on the train could be deceptively enthralling.

Passing the beautiful scenery and humming to the songs of Paolo Nutini, your mind is cleared of the mundane details that have been eating into your soul on weekdays. The sound of the train clattering along the tracks is so comforting you find yourself falling asleep like a baby. You abruptly wake up after the engine stops and find yourself staring at a delightfully strange environment outside of the window.

Unlike in Europe where touring on a train is considered the most cost-efficient and popular method among travelers, in Korea, trains have been considered a commuting device mostly for business purposes.

Passengers look out the window from the V-train, a train from which travelers can enjoy stunning canyon views.
/ Korea Times photos by Yun Suh-young

But a new rail track was built recently in Korea for travelers to enjoy a relaxing ride around the mid-central region. The Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) already operates a handful of tour trains across the peninsula, but this one's quite different as it is a circular trail stretching across three provinces— Gangwon, North Gyeongsang, and North Chungcheong provinces — stopping at 15 stations.

There will be two new trains — the O-train and V-train— running along this track starting April 12. The O-train benchmarked Japanese and European tour expresses, is equipped with four different themed carriages, and moves at 165 kilometers per hour. The V-train, is a train where visitors can poke out their heads from windows to view the outside scenery.

Here's a first-hand experience from a trial ride.

The course

The ride begins at Seoul Station where the O-train, which is a circulation train, takes travelers all the way to Danyang, North Chungcheong Province. The first train which sets off at 7:45 a.m. arrives at Danyang at 10:15 a.m.

Danyang is traditionally famous for its "eight best scenic spots," the "Danyang Palgyeong," one of which is Dodamsambong, a collection of three rocky islets standing in the middle of upstream South Han River. On the middle one stands a small pavilion which was built by Jung Do-jeon, a scholar who helped Lee Seong-gye establish the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).

A stove in the middle of the carriage where visitors can grill sweet potatoes.

A 20-minute walk up a hill next to Dodamsambong will lead to the "Stone Gate," a naturally arched stone, another of the eight scenic sites, from which visitors can get a good overall view of the islets of the river. Another place worth visiting while in Danyang is the Danuri Aquarium, known for its wide variety of freshwater fish species.

After moving through Danyang, the train takes travelers to Buncheon Station where they can transfer to the V-train. This train runs from Buncheon to Cheoram Station. The ride lasts an hour and 10 minutes.

The V-train is an exciting addition to the trains in Korea. It's a retro-style train designed by French designer Felix Boukobza, colored in pink and also with stripe patterns representing the tigers that had roamed in the Baekdudaegan mountain range until the earlier part of the 20th century.

From the inside of the V-train, travelers can enjoy the outside view through wide windows that stretch across the carriage. They can open them up to poke out their heads to see the scenery outside. Also, a stove lies in the middle of one of the carriages for visitors to place potatoes and sweet potatoes or even dry squid and leave them to cook. This part brings back nostalgia for those who lived before the 1980s when students grilled their snacks and lunch boxes on similar stoves in classrooms.
A view of Dodamsambong, one of the "eight best scenic spots" in Danyang.

The train moves at 30 kilometers per hour, making it comfortable for travelers to enjoy the beautify scenery outside. It stops by tiny stations such as Yangwon (the first private train station in Korea), Seungbu and arrives at Cheoram where visitors must end the exotic ride and get back onto the O-train.

The train moves on to Gohan Station in Gangwon Province and to Jecheon station in North Chungcheong Province and back to Seoul Station.

If you have enough time to sleep over in Gangwon Province, try visiting the Jeongseon O-iljang or five day market which opens every five days on the 2nd, 7th, 12th, 17th, 22nd, 27th day of every month. It's an old Korean market abundant with dozens of different mountain herbs specific to Jeongseon.

Try the "memil jeonbyeong" or buckwheat pancakes rolled with kimchi or the "memil bukkumi" or buckwheat cake with red beans. As buckwheat is a common plant in the region, its specialties are mostly made with this ingredient.

Additional information:
-The O-train is equipped with wheelchair accessible toilets and has seven wheelchair seats.

-Its four carriages have four seats designed for couples, four sections and 48 seats for families along with a children's playroom, and a snack bar. Each seat has electric sockets for travelers to plug in battery chargers.

-A round trip on the circulation train from Seoul Station and back takes 4 hours and 50 minutes.

-Tour packages are currently being developed by KORAIL and will be available by the end of April.

-For more information, visit

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