Hakim Hayat in South Korea
Situated about 63 kilometres away from Seoul, South Korea, Nami Island – a tiny but picturesque island that spans only 430,000 square metres – attracts three million visitors from all over the world.
But how can an island so tiny and that does not boast many facilities attract such a high number of visitors? Was it because of Winter Sonata?
Seventeen years after Winter Sonata first aired, the hit Korean drama (K-drama) still evokes memories among fans when they visit the gorgeous setting where part of the drama was filmed.
The soap opera, which was often dubbed as the purveyor of Korean entertainment export that spurred the Korean wave (better known as hallyu) globally, aired in 2002 starring Bae Yong-joon and Choi Ji-woo.
Some of the most memorable scenes in the drama were shot in Nami Island and, to immortalise it, a statue of the two leading cast members in the drama was installed in the popular tourist destination.
CEO and President of Nami Island Jeon Myeong-jun during an interview with journalists under the Kwanhun-Korea Press Foundation (KPF) Press Fellowship programme in October said there is more to the island than K-dramas filmed there.
“Nami Island has existed for five decades and a lot of people thought that Winter Sonata was the trigger point to make this island more popular.”
Although he admitted that the drama did do its part to make the island more well-known, he personally believes that it is not entirely why it became popular.
“Many people believe hallyu is widely spread around the globe through K-drama and K-pop songs.
“However, we believe that these are only temporary and, somehow, rather stimulating elements and to us as management of Nami Island, it is only a very tiny part of the elements among hundreds of items that attract tourists.
We don’t have many fancy facilities, only natural environment,” he said. Located in Chuncheon, Gangwon province north-east of South Korea, Nami Island’s three million annual visitors include 1.3 million from 150 countries. “I believe 50 to 60 per cent of tourists visiting Nami Island are from Southeast Asia,” he said.
While speaking on the qualities of Nami Island, Jeon touched on why Korean culture became popular. “We believe it was because of the cultural content that came with hallyu. And we offer the highest standard of customer service in all aspects of the island,” he said.
Jeon shared that many countries have used Nami Island as a filming site including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and China.
After travelling from Seoul, the media group under the Kwanhun-Korea Press Foundation Press Fellowship programme took a 15-minute ferry ride from Gapyeong Wharf to Nami Island.
From tree-lined walking paths to sumptuous food catering to every culture, Nami Island offers a variety of attractions. For Winter Sonata fans, the walking path lined up with Metasequoia trees is a popular photo spot. Jeon said it was Winter Sonata Director Yoon Seok-ho who came up with the idea of filming scenes on the island. Yoon visited Yongpyong Ski Resort in Pyeongchang and on his way back to Seoul, he stopped by Nami Island and saw the beautiful scenery of snow. He realised how beautiful it was and wanted to film certain drama scenes in the island. Jeon said 80 per cent of the scenes were shot in Yongpyong area and only 20 per cent were filmed in Nami.
“But that 20 per cent was crucial because it showed the main characters’ love story in their teenage years. Winter Sonata had its role in promoting the beautiful sceneries.
“However, even before that, a lot of people already knew how beautiful Nami Island was, especially when it snowed.”
Nami Island also has other attractions including different gardens, the Song Museum Magic Hall, UNICEF Hall, a dog-friendly park, Nami Gallery, International Children’s Library, handicraft studio and Drama Gallery.
There is no shortage of food catering to different cultures. Dongmoon Restaurant, for instance, offers Halal food, while Nammoon provides authentic Korean food. There are many cafes including Sonata and Snow cafes.
Jeon believes that Nami Island’s will continue to draw tourists.
“There are a lot of elements that Nami can offer to tourists.
“Because I believe the key element of tourism is to renew all the cultural contents.
“As we say, ‘Today is the best but tomorrow is something new’,” he added.