Groups of adults sit around plastic camping tables littered with grilled meat and soju bottles. Children run between neat rows of orange and green tents, blasting each other with water guns.
But in among the guitars and the cicadas you can hear the roar of an 11-lane highway, and skyscraper peaks rise up behind the tree line. Welcome to camping, Seoul style.
Opened in 2009 as part of the Hangang Renaissance project, Nanji Camping Ground is the city’s largest public camping site, situated at the end of Hangang Park within throwing distance of the Hangang River. Before my friend and I departed for a night at the campsite, I was curious to know what would compel people to camp within walking distance of a subway stop. My friend was outright worried.
“It’s next to a highway. How on earth do people get to sleep?” he asked.
It turns out that Nanji’s 165 camping plots spread across three connected sites are a favorite weekend destination for young families and university students, who said that they came for a camping experience with the convenience of a city location. Outdoors enthusiasts with their own tent can pay 15,000 won ($14.50) for a four-person campsite, but we chose to rent one of the pre-pitched tents which cost between 29,000 and 60,000 won a night.
If you don’t wish to sleep over you can pay an entrance fee of 3,750 won (2,000 won for those under 7) to enjoy an alfresco meal under a summer night sky.
And eating is definitely where it’s at among Nanji’s patrons. Despite the lure of the idyllic sunset over the Hangang River, most people flocked to the camping ground for one reason: barbecue. Nanji Camping is set up to facilitate all forms of grilled gluttony in the great outdoors, and everything needed to cook up a feast can be rented or purchased on site.
If, like us, you don’t own barbecuing equipment, then you can rent anything from humble gas stoves (3,000 won) all the way to monstrous charcoal burners (26,000 won), as well as tables, chairs and lamps. In fact we showed up with barely any supplies at all, and instead made use of the well-stocked convenience store which sells basics like gas, charcoal and chopsticks, as well as enough food and drink to satisfy even the most vigorous outdoor bacchanalia.
My friend and I managed to burn a few slices of samgyeopsal on our gas grill, but more competent campers whipped up veritable banquets of meat and seafood. Luckily, we could wash away our inadequacy in the site’s 24-hour shower and bathroom facilities. Extra bedding can be rented by those wanting more than the standard foam mats, but don’t come expecting an early night: when we went, all the fun of barbecuing and sing-alongs continued until well past midnight. The campsite is located near wetlands and the riverbank so mosquitos could also be a problem, but we managed to avoid bites through a combination of the tent’s fly screen and bug spray bought from the store.
Nanji Camping Ground also serves as a perfect base to explore other features of the Hangang Renaissance Project. A short walk down the river we rented bicycles (starting at 3,000 won for an hour) to enjoy riding along the dedicated bike path. A riverside swimming area opens up during the summer months, and those looking for a bigger splash can visit the Mangwon Outdoor Swimming Pool at the foot of Hangang Park. The area also features baseball fields, a skate park, the interactive Water Plaza and abundant grassy fields to sit and enjoy the river breezes.
Reservations for the Nanji Camping Ground can be made in both English and Korean at www.nanjicamping.co.kr. Check-in begins at 11:00 a.m., and checkout is at 10:00 a.m. The site has paid parking facilities off Gangbyeonbuk-ro, and a shuttle bus operates on weekends and public holidays between the campground and Hapjeong Station, Exit 2. Otherwise, the site is a short taxi ride from Mangwon Station. For more information, visit the Nanji Camping website, or call (02) 304-0061~3.
By Nicholas Gowland (email@example.com)