Photos by ChiHon Kim

Photos by ChiHon Kim ()

I wanted this summer to be one of excitement and exploration. My bucket list included surfing, rafting, hiking and river tubing, but the longer-than-usual rain season (not to mention a streak of rainy days), put a damper on my plans.

Severe weather, no matter what the season, can definitely affect travel, so I had to be careful what activity of my list I chose to check off. This is why my determination to have an adventure led me towards Chungju Hwalok Donggul, or the Chungju Jade Cave in North Cheungcheong province, for an underground kayaking experience.

Visitors here get the unique opportunity to explore Chungju Hwalok’s LED-illuminated passageways both on foot and in a kayak. There was heavy rain on the day I visited, but that didn’t matter inside the cave. Getting out and enjoying a nice day trip despite the weather made the nearly-two-hour drive from Camp Humphreys through Chungju’s scenic countryside worthwhile.

Hidden gem of Chungju The cave itself used to be a mine and is now considered one of Asia’s biggest former mines. It was carved out over centuries by Korean miners and is 8.2-kiliometers long with its deepest depth reaching 711 meters. Visitors can explore the cave by foot on a leisurely stroll through the 800-meter-long passageways. The course is flat and there are no stairs, so all visitors young and old can easily navigate the cave.

I paid 7,000 won (or about $6.18) for the entrance fee and then an extra 3,000 won for the kayaking experience. Plan ahead and bring a sweater and long pants as the cave stays between 51 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Some of the passageways were pretty large like a highway tunnel, but there were other with low ceilings so watch out and avoid hitting your head on these.

Each section of the cave has a different theme. I saw many taking a rest in the portion known as the Health Therapy Room and enjoying the heated stools in the cool cave. Rusty giant mine hoists that used to drag minerals out of the cave are one of the other spectacles you’ll find after passing the therapy room.

Eventually, you’ll enter a mining-experience spot where you can try your hand at working in a mine. And you’ll notice signs pointing out the presence of bats, so look up and you’ll see these critters sleeping above.

The cave lighting and the decorations give it a magical feeling, perfect for children or the kids in all of us. I enjoyed the luminous photo-op wall spot because it made my pictures look like I was on a different planet.

Unique kayaking experience At the end of the tunnel, you’ll reach the wine cellar where you can indulge in a nice glass of mulled wine for 5,000 won (bottle wine costs 49,500 won). Across from the cellar were people splashing around on kayaks in the water, so I knew I’d finally reached the launch point.

I waited about 30 minutes before it was my turn to gear up with a helmet and life jacket and hop into a clear kayak. A clear kayak is the same as your average kayak except it is made of see-through plastic so you can see the water (and the school of fish that live here) surrounding your vessel. It’s neat!

I visited on a weekday, so my wait wasn’t too bad, but if you’re planning to visit on a weekend expect longer lines and wait times.

The kayaking portion of this journey doesn’t last very long— about 30 minutes from departure to return to the dock. The good thing is that it wasn’t expensive, and I got as many photos as I wanted while I navigated in my kayak.

Spending the day in the Chungju Jade Cave and the surrounding areas was truly a nice way to get a little adventure in before the summer is over. If you’re looking for a quick getaway near Camp Humphreys, I would definitely suggest you swing by and check out this area, especially if you’re determined to not let bad weather ruin a good time.

Things to know - Address: 26, Mokbeoran-gil, Chungju-si, Chungcheongbuk-do [NAVER map] 활옥동굴: 충북 충주시 목벌안길 26 - Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Last admission 5 p.m.) Closed Mondays - Price: • Entrance fee – Adults: 7,000 won, children under 18: 6,000 won, children ages 2 to 7: 5,000 won. • Kayaking – Adults: 3000 won, children ages 2 to18 years: 2000 won. Groups of 20 or more can get a 1,000 won discount for those over 7 years old. Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult. No experience required. (Note: Kayaking ticket sales end at 3 p.m.) - PHONE 043-848-0503

Speakin' Korean

Hwalok Donggul Café (Jade Cave Café) Outside the cave, you’ll find a café with a nod to the area’s mining history. Large machinery and mining equipment parts make up the décor of this conveniently located eatery, which is known for its ham and cheese sandwiches.

The kids will love the replica dinosaurs and other fun décor both inside and on the premises of the cave grounds. If you want something a little more involved than a ham and cheese sandwich, try the seafood ramen from the chef’s table.

Hwalok Donggul Café Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Closed on Monday

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