Rail is right
The train stories were not posted online. To see the spreads in all their glory, pick up a copy of Groove Korea or take a look at the PDF. — Ed.
Fly and miss everything; take the bullet train and miss a lot. If seeing a country and meeting its people is what you have in mind this summer, there is no better way to do it than on the rails. Korea’s network of train lines is extensive and cheap, so do yourself a favor and skip the tour bus.
Travel is about discovery. Go slow and meet more people, see more sights, smell and taste more foods. Between the super-fast KTX and the steady-as-she-goes Mugunghwa, I prefer the latter. This is how our Destinations editor Josh Foreman paints this train from another era: The Mugunghwa, or the Rose, is how people got around Korea before the KTX came along in 2004. When you compare the two side by side, the Mugunghwa has more dents than the KTX, more rusty spots. Its orange and red color scheme seems dated. “Mugung” means eternity in Korean, and true, sometimes a trip on the Mugunghwa can seem to go on forever.
But there are tricks to riding the Rose. If you can unlock its potential, a trip on the Mugunghwa is more rewarding than a short, quiet ride on the KTX — the windows on the Mugunghwa are much bigger and the dining car of the train is its heart.
Get off the beaten path and board a train on the Gyeongjeon Line that straddles the southern coast between Miryang and Gwangju. Most people, Koreans included, don’t know this train exists. In fact, you won’t find it on most Korail maps.
Chris Backe writes that the slow-moving Mugunghwa is a great place to meet people — like-minded travellers and Koreans. Train travel, he says, implies a common purpose, or at least the start of plenty of conversations. Read more on his adventure and the Gyeongjeon Line on page 36.
With the amount of time it takes to get from Point A to Point B on the Muhunghwa, you’ll probably learn something about yourself and the country you’re visiting. That’s what happened to a couple of our writers.
Jenny Na took the Gyeongbu Line to her orphanage in search of information on her adoption. She came to the realization that a previous trip to that orphanage with her adoptive mother years earlier, which she had been loath to take, was one she needed the most. Read more on her personal journey and the Gyeongbu Line (Seoul-Busan) on page 38.
Romin Lee Johnson took the Gyeongchun Line bound for Chuncheon to get to a weeklong meditation retreat. It turned out that the journey was all he needed. Romin felt a sense of clarity for the first time since a mental breakdown a month before his son was born six months prior. Read more on his moment of rejuvenation and the Gyeongchun Line (Seoul-Chuncheon) on page 40.
Finally, foodies will find delight in the Metro Market, or Jangteo Yeolcha. Hop on board at Cheongdam Station in Seoul to sample Korea’s regional delicacies. This train won’t leave the station, but Ryan Noel writes that this is a great place to get your hands on fresh produce from around the country, even gifts for the upcoming Chuseok holiday. Read his story on page 48.
Instead of taking a lame tour bus to where you want to go this August and September, take your time on the train. You might just discover something about Korea — and yourself.