Posted : 2014-07-09 11:12
Updated : 2014-07-09 16:25

Sunrise haven beside the sea

Visitors ride on the newly-built rail bike which runs along the beach.

By Yun Suh-young

Jeongdongjin, a beach town near Gangneung city, Gangwon Province, is one of the most popular travel destinations known to Koreans.

It had long been something of a ritual among college freshmen to visit the easternmost city with friends after starting university. Travelling to Jeongdongjin is seen as a sort of coming-of-age ritual in which students express their freedom, away from home and the "control" of parents.

Then why was it Jeongdongjin, in particular, that students frequently sought, among the many travel destinations? The two major reasons were cost and convenience.

Travelling to Jeongdongjin was the cheapest options for students looking to save money on lodging expenses, if they take the night train to see the sunrise and head home the following day. It takes about five hours from Seoul to Gangneung, so it is an option that made overnight travel possible minus a room charge.

Jeongdongjin also carries a "symbolic" meaning ― it was a place to see the very first sunrise in the whole country. Students brace themselves for a hopeful future gazing at the rising sun.
The Sea Train has unique seats that allow passengers to enjoy the outside view.

How Jeongdongjin rose to fame

Those now in their 30s and 40s who grew up watching the "Hourglass," (1995) a drama broadcast on the SBS channel that visited Jeongdongjin the most. The show was a huge hit at the time and scenes were shot at Jeongdongjin Station.

Jeongdongjin wasn't a well-known destination until the drama became a hit.

Jeongdongjin station, which is the station closest to the beach in Korea, opened in 1962 and its main role was to transport passengers and freight. But when the coal industry began to prosper, it started transporting anthracite coal from a nearby mine and due to this industrial usage, the number of passengers plummeted and people started moving to other cities.

In 1996, the station halted operations as there were not enough passengers to continue the transportation service.

It was the "Hourglasss" drama that revived the station. The popularity of the drama gradually drew in people to look at the site where the drama was filmed.

Riding on the back of the drama's popularity and with the increased demand of visitors, the railroad corporation started operating a "sunrise train" from Seoul to the coastal city in 1997.

The "sunrise train" was the first night train that ran for the sole purpose of taking visitors to see the sunrise at Jeongdongjin.

The train was a success. It has attracted an explosive amount of passengers since the launch of the service. By 1999, 2 million visitors had traveled to Jeongdongjin to see the sunrise. The town's popularity was, in part, due to luck. The coastal town catapulted to fame during the financial crisis of the late 1990s ― a timely coincidence. As seeing the first sunrise at Jeongdongjin was symbolically equated with hope and success, many unemployed workers laid off during the financial crisis visited Jeongdongjin to find peace of mind and hope for a better future.

As sunrise is associated with "time," Jeongdongjin has several structures that symbolize this. Other than the "Hourglass" drama site, there's the "Jeongdongjin Time Museum" which is located next to the beach and within walking distance of Jeongdongjin Station.

The Time Museum features antique clocks, from sun, water and oil clocks to the most advanced nuclear clock. There are also fascinating pieces such as the "seven-men clock" where seven man-shaped iron figures power the clock to move, the "mega ball clock" where dozens of balls roll to strike the hour, and the "Titanic clock" which is an original remnant from the Titanic bought by the museum's owner at the Sotheby's auction.
The Sea Train awaits departure at Jeongdongjin Station.

New additions at Jeongdongjin

The "seven-men clock" inside the Jeongdongjin Time Museum
Thus, for young people unfamiliar with the "Hourglass" drama ― feeling no nostalgia about Jeongdongjin to trigger a visit other than to see the sunrise ― there are new additions in the town providing ample reasons to visit.

The first is the "rail bike" which was recently created next to the beach.

The 5-kilometer-long trail takes about 30 to 40 minutes in total to take a round-trip ride. The trail is constructed in vicinity of the beach, offering a great ocean view while riding the rail bike.

The bikes, with two-passenger and four-passenger options, are powered by both pedals and motors. Passengers can pedal either using feet or hands or can choose to operate it by a motor engine which allows the bike to drive automatically if passengers click on the "auto" switch.

The rail bike runs from "Hourglass Park" to "Jeongdongjin Station," and just before the "Time Museum" where it makes a u-turn back to where it started.

The rail bike, which is temporarily closed, will officially open to the public in August.

Another delightful addition to Jeongdongjin is the revamped "Sea Train" which recently underwent interior renovation.

The train, which began operations in 2007, added another compartment to the original three-compartment train and decorated the interior with ocean-related images.

Three of the compartments have seats that face the windows, allowing a full ocean-view and the new compartment offers family seats where passengers can face each other.

The Sea Train runs from Gangneung to Jeongdongjin and on to Samcheok Station. The one-way journey takes about an hour and 20 minutes. Passengers can get off at the in-between stations such as Mukho, Donghae or Chuam to take a tour around nearby sites.
A sun clock situated near the beach

How to get there:

A direct train from Cheongnyangni Station in Seoul heading to Jeongdongjin operates five times a day. However, the direct train takes five hours to reach its destination. The night train departs at 11:25 p.m. The Sea Train is available from Gangneung Station. Tickets are 15,000 won per person. A quicker option to travel to Jeongdongjin from Seoul may be to take a bus from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal which takes three and a half hours.
A view of the Jeongdongjin Time Museum

What to eat:

daegu meorijjim
Jeongdongjin is famous for Daegu meorijjim which is translated as steamed cod head dish. The spicy dish is one of the specialties of Gangneung. Yet Carnation is a restaurant that boasts of being the first to specialize in the dish in town. (033-641-9700)

Jangan Hoetjib, a raw fish restaurant in Sacheon Port, is also a popular destination for foodies. Cold raw fish soup called "mulhoe" is its specialty. (033-644-1136)
A night view of the Sun Cruise Resort

Where to stay:

The Sun Cruise Resort, situated close to Jeongdongjin Station, is the largest hotel in Jeongdongjin and the most authentic in design. The hotel is built in the same size and shape of a real cruise ship and located on top of a hill. The scene is quite peculiar and looks like a ship is hung upon a mountain. (

For a unique lodging experience, trying the Haslla Museum Hotel could also be an option. A little further away from the beach, but also close to the station, the hotel is a design-friendly space which has unique rooms filled with furniture which are also artworks. The owner of the hotel is an artist so taking a look at Haslla Art World she built next to the hotel could also be interesting. (

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