On a late hot and humid summer Friday evening in Korea me and my boyfriend visited a small satellite city neighboring Seoul named Gwangmyeong. For those unfamiliar Gwangmyeong is located between Seoul and Anyang and accessible via the Line 1 KTX subway/train. Having heard of the city due to the debut of Korea’s first IKEA store being located there I had always wondered what else the city of Gwangmyeong had. To my surprise I learned from my boyfriend one of Korea’s closest and deepest (former) mining caves nearest to Seoul was located there.
Once a former coal/metal mining cave the Gwangmyeong Caves (광명동굴) were constructed & excavated in the early 20th century during the Japanese colonial period. After Korea’s re-claimed independence the caves still excavated for gold, silver, copper and zinc until the early 1970s when it was abandoned, for decades, until it was renovated by the city to become a local and tourist cave theme park and living museum, which now holds an underground art center for festivals & special events, outdoor concert area, an outdoor restaurant & underground winery cave, an underground aquarium & observatory area, an underground history & geological exhibit, a mining helmet & gold panning workshop, and packed salted shrimp storage rooms(*supporting local agricultural businesses).
Being an underground cave with featured attractions makes the Gwangmyeong Caves (광명동굴) quite appealing to visit during Korea’s hot summers. Deciding to make a trip out there one Friday evening after work me and my boyfriend hopped onto a Gwangmyeong direct KTX train from Sindorim train station toward Gwangmyeong. Upon arrival at Gwangmyeong station we checked out the local buses via exit 8 and waited for bus 17, which was bound for the Gwangmyeong Caves. From the station to the cave theme park grounds was just a short drive. Along the way we were able to spot the large IKEA department store in blue situated beside a few other department stores and a Costco. Once we arrived at the park grounds we disembarked from the bus and followed other passengers up a hillside toward the Gwangmyeong Caves entrance.
At the time we visited there were no on-going festivals or special events. Yet, still there was a bustling crowd of Koreans waiting in-line for cave entry. After taking a few photos together outside me and my boyfriend purchased our tickets, moved to the line, and started our descent. Upon entering the mouth of Gwangmyeong Caves you are guided down the dark tunnel by multi-color floor light displays shining against the cave walls. After some minutes you will be greeted by an employee who will usher you to follow the cave pathways for entering visitors as the other route was the exit route for departing visitors. Walking along the course route me, the BF, and a dozen other visitors walked through the art center, golden cavern rooms, an underground aquarium, and continued to descend down to the 2km base (out of Gwangmyeong’s 7.8km length) to the observatory area where the golden statue of Aisha, a goddess of legend is located along with other attractions.
Escaping from Seoul’s humid summer air by spending an evening at Gwangmyeong Caves was a breath of relief. It was nice to also get away from bustling Seoul and explore a new area together. After taking time to see most of the base floor attractions we began to make our ascent back up to a mid-level where the Gwangmyeong underground winery was located. Noticing a sign for free wine tasting we made our way in to the winery, received free samples, and took a stroll around to see what sort of wine collection was stored in the 12 degrees Celsius cave. After returning to the free wine sample table for more samples we made our way out.
Once back outside we could tell that our bodies were chilled due to feeling cool even in the humid weather. But, soon enough we were hot again. Thankfully, by the time we exited the caves it was already past dusk and the sun was setting. Walking around the park grounds we descended the hillside back to the bus stop where we originally disembarked from. From there we were able to board the same number bus, which was heading back to the station & shopping area. From Gwangmyeong Caves we rode the local bus to the IKEA/ shopping area bus stop. Our evening plans after our cave visit entailed home window-shopping together at IKEA and having dinner at the IKEA store restaurant.
Having never been to an IKEA in the U.S. (*due to plenty of American furniture stores such as Macy*s, Sears, Raymour & Flanigan, Bob’s, etc.) I was excited to see IKEA’s home display room set-ups and house items. My boyfriend felt the same. Starting in kitchen sections we played house and took some photos before moving onto the living-room and bedroom set-ups. While relaxing on a really nice grey lazy-boy sofa we talked about room colors and room aesthetics we liked to see in a future home. Afterwards, we toured the children bedroom section, played catch with some large plush balls, and made our way down to the exit where the dining hall was located.
The dining hall on the Friday evening was packed with visitors, mostly IKEA shoppers. After looking at the menu on display my boyfriend grabbed a food cart and we waited in line with everyone else. The menu items varied from some tradition Korean foods to many Western-type dishes (i.e. pasta, meatballs, etc.) Deciding to go Western we each chose a different dish to share once seated. After dinner we left IKEA and decided to stroll around the shopping area and walk to the station as it was not too far away. Once back at Gwangmyeong station we walked around while waiting for a KTX subway/train to take us back to Sindorim station in Seoul.
Overall our short after-work Friday evening trip to Gwangmyeong was a perfect escape from the heat & date-night combined. My boyfriend & I really enjoyed touring the Gwangmyeong Caves, and receiving those free wine samples. Our tour of IKEA was also fun due to our boisterous & somewhat childlike personalities getting the best of us while touring some of IKEA’s room set-ups. Gwangmyeong, is majorly known as a residential satellite city of Seoul, however, with the debut of IKEA and also the enticing events hosted by Gwangmyeong Caves the area receive close to 1 million visitors annually. If you ever happen to be in Seoul, especially during the summer months then be sure and check out the Gwangmyeong Caves to escape Korea’s heat even if just for day +.(*’v`*)+
Have you ever been to a naturally made or human excavated cave before? If so how was your experience? If not would you like to?
(*Information for visiting Gwangmyeong Cave)
Admissions to the Gwangmyeong Cave range from 1,500 won to 4,000 won. The cave is open all-year round, except for Mondays and national holidays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission at 5 p.m). Guided tours run every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 10 to 20 minutes on weekends and public holidays.
For additional information, visit www.gm.go.kr