GANGWON, South Korea – Some 17 years after “Winter Sonata” was aired, the hit Korean drama still evokes memories among fans when they visit the picturesque Nami Island in South Korea where part of the drama was filmed.
“Winter Sonata,” which aired in 2002 starring Bae Yong-joon and Choi Ji-woo, became a purveyor of hallyu, or Korean Wave, to the Philippines.
Some of the most memorable scenes in the drama were shot in Nami Island and to immortalize it, a statue of Bae Yong-joon and Choi Ji-woo was installed in the popular tourist destination.
For Nami Island CEO and president Jeon Myeong Jun, there is more to the island than “Winter Sonata” and other hallyu dramas filmed here.
“Nami Island has existed for five decades and a lot of people thought that the drama ‘Winter Sonata’ was the trigger point to make this island more popular. Personally, I believe that’s not all why Nami Island became popular,” Jeon told Bulletin Entertainment and other Asian media under the Kwanhun-Korea Press Foundation (KPF) Press Fellowship program.
He said that “when it comes to hallyu, 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 little part of the elements among hundreds and hundreds of items that attract tourists.”
“We don’t have many fancy facilities, only nature environment. Small island,” he said.
Jeon said many countries have used Nami Island as filming sites including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and China. Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano’s “My Ex and Whys” movie featured scenes in Korea including Nami Island.
Nami Island, located in Chuncheon, Gangwon province, boasts an annual 3 million visitors including 1.3 million from 150 countries.
And Jeon revealed that Filipinos are the No. 3 tourist group after visitors from Vietnam and Taiwan.
“I believe 50 to 60 percent of tourists coming to visit Korea from Southeast Asia come to visit Nami Island,” he said.
When asked to name the qualities of Nami Island that attract tourists, Jeon said, “Why our (Korean) culture became popular? We believe that is the cultural content along with Hallyu. And then in Korean tourism, in general, we do want to make any tourist coming in to Korea disappointed when they have high expectation,” he said.
After traveling from Seoul, the media group including Manila Bulletin under the Kwanhun-Korea Press Foundation Press Fellowship program, took a ferry from Gapyeong Wharf to Nami Island and was welcomed by public relations assistant manager Kwon Oh Jun, who could pass off as a K-pop idol or an actor.
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. They can also visit the first-kiss site, Red Mailbox, Andersen Hall and Hotel Jeonggwanru.
Jeon said it was “Winter Sonata” director Yoon Seok-ho who came up with the idea of filming scenes in the island. Yoon visited Yongpyong Ski Resort in Pyeongchang, Gangwon and on his way back to Seoul, he stopped by Nami Island and he saw the beautiful scenery of snow.
He realized how beautiful it was and he wanted to film certain drama scenes in the island. Jeon said 80 percent of the scenes were shot in Yongpyong area and only 20 percent were filmed in Nami.
“But that 20 percent 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 it was in Nami Island especially when it snowed,” Jeon said.
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.
As people stroll around the island, they will see different kinds of animals including squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and ostriches.
There are no shortages 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 various cultural attractions 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. Just by reviving what you used to have, it’s not going to be sustainable. As we say, ‘Today is the best but tomorrow is something new,’” he said.