Our next stop for our group birthday festivities was Herb Island, which is also in Pocheon. We had lunch downtown at a Chinese restaurant where we were the only people there. There was a man directing traffic up to the upper level of Herb Island parking. My friend had to drive up a big hill and then through some of the paths the pedestrians were using and the winding road seemed confusing but she figured it out. Then in the parking lot of the herb island we ate cake and strawberries before heading in.
I suggest to give yourself the day to do herb island. There’s a lot of ground to cover and starting in the afternoon, while doable was exhausting. By the time we left we were all rather hangry and tired and ready to be in our respective homes and beds. One of the first things you should do when arriving is to head to the tourist information building. Here you can get a map and find out when shows are performing. One of my friends got excited at the prospect of belly dancing and so we made sure that we were in the right space at the right time for the performance.
There are three suggested routes, a dating route for couples, an experience route for families and a healing route with herbs. We didn’t do any of these. We started with wandering around near the tourist information and checking out the potent shops. Almost every shop was filled with herbs, essential oils, candles, bath bombs and salts, teas, and so many more scented things that it was nice but overwhelming. A lot of the shops were also filled with ceramic tchotchkes I hadn’t seen a lot of in Korea before.
Our first main stop was exploring Street to the Past.
Street to the Past is a look back into Korea in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The coolest part, in my opinion was the section that looked like an old pharmacy. It was a lot of dried herbs, plants and spices in bowls. Which was really nice to see however with a strong gust of wind some of it would fly off.
In this area there is also a restaurant called Herbs Gukbap in the area. Herbs Gukbap is suppose to feel like stepping into a rice and stew restaurant of the past. Their specialty is what the shop is called. Herb Gukbap which is hot soup and rice for 8,000 won. They also make kimchi pajeon. 5,000 won and Makgeolli which ranges from 5,000 to 9,000 won depending on how much you want.
Our next stop was the Hyang-gi Shop (Aroma Shop) 향기가게. Tourist information told us to make sure we didn’t skip the shop because we could get a free sample of mint tea. It was sweet and minty and refreshing. The shop was also delightfully decorated.
They sell the tea that you get to sample however it doesn’t look like any tea I’ve seen anywhere else. It came in pellet shapes. The shop is big and sells a little bit of everything from regular souvenirs to all sorts of aromatic things like bath bombs, teas, herbs, infusers/diffusers, candles, bath salts, essential oils and more. Please make sure to smell things before you buy them or sample things. Because they had very cheap bath bombs that I found exciting but when I went to pick one out for a friend I didn’t find a single one that I liked their scent. But make sure to pace yourself because there is a lot of stuff. And there isn’t any coffee beans for resetting your sense of smell when it gets dull from everything.
But at the very least the shop is a great way to get out of the weather and rest and relax. There’s plenty of staff around happy to be of help too and talk you through things or help you sample.
Our next stop was the Venice Village which was where the belly dancing was suppose to take place. It was outdoors on a bitterly cold February afternoon. The area surrounding the stage was filled with snack vendors and tables with various forms of heat. Most of which produced a ridiculous amount of smoke that made me relieved to be wearing a mask but made my eyes sting after awhile. At first the performance seemed to be mostly pop style dances similar to what one might see in a Kpop routine and I felt like I was at one of my schools talent shows. However it did eventually turn into belly dancing and the costumes matched the dance style. I felt so bad for the performers and also in awe of their fortitude to be dancing outside in February on a smoke filled stage. They did really well. Though it ended with the MC inviting some kids onto the stage to do Kpop dance routines which brought me right back to that school talent show vibe. They also did really well, but at that point I felt like I was intruding on a family gathering.
The Venice village I think is probably best enjoyed in the warmer months when the little waterways aren’t frozen over. You can go for a gondola ride in this area. You can also do lots of photos shoots in the area. There’s a shop on one end, the Venice or Venetian shop has all sorts of costumes and masks. Some things are for sale others are for rent, like various princess costumes.
If you want to do a fairy tale costume photo shoot I would suggest visiting this spot first before exploring the rest of the Venetian area. The clothing rental is from 2pm to 8:30pm during the week, except on Mondays. They’re closed on Mondays. On the weekends the rental service is available from 11am to 8:30pm.
Even if you choose not to dress up it’s still a fun shop to explore. But it goes well with the other themed spaces nearby.
A lot of these spaces are upstairs. There’s no other way to get to them. While we were there in February it was a little daunting since the steps looked like they were caked in ice. Thankfully we were fine.
At first I was expecting everything to be a little off-kilter. The paintings with cut outs for a photo opp was cute but very hand made and I was expecting similar stuff up the stairs. What I got though surprised me.
A cute carriage with blue pumpkins nearby for a Cinderella inspired photo shoot. On the opposite side I burst out laughing at the perfect couple/cosplay set up.
It’s a fairly unassuming chair surrounded by pumpkins. But the part that makes it fun is on the wall.
A wall of high heels for you to see if it’s the perfect fit. Two in our party are married so I think they had a lot of fun with this section. Then the other section I really liked was a little Beauty and the Beast inspired library.
The stained glass is what really impressed me. While parts of the space is a little off these little spots are magical and almost straight out of a fairy tale. Below them is the Herb Museum.
This is a bit of a walking history of herbs and their uses and how they’re made combined with a store and a relaxing space. It’s suppose to be a walk from 5000 BC to now making up 7 different halls. You can rent some time in the massage chairs, read some of the books from their library, check out their artifacts on display, and enjoy the different aromas of potpurri and ways herbs are used. There are also, of course souvenirs.
The final part includes a whole bunch of scrapbooks that show the history of the park and document the building of each part and the hard work that went into it. You can also make different herb crafts or on the second floor make soap. None of these seemed to be open and available when we were there which was around dusk.
The gardens that were full of unlit things during the day were transformed as we left.
Night had begun to fall and the lights were on. And there were a lot of them. The light festival occurs on Herb island from November through April.
It was fun to explore but it was also very cold so all we wanted to do was to duck into some place warm. So we headed towards the Herbs and Plants Museum and flower shop. It smelled amazing. Everything in the dark enclosed space was a plant that gave some scent or another off. We also spent a lot of time hovering right next to the industrial heaters. Before exiting the building into…Christmas?
It’s a section called Santa’s Village. At night they do a light show over the fields in time with various Christmas music and there are somewhat creepy Santa statues everywhere. Some aren’t creepy, but others…are very, very creepy.
Beyond this space are dinosaurs that are animatronic. They move and roar and are quite fun.
There are little shops with dinosaur themed gifts and toys and beyond which is a miniature zoo with bunnies, birds and donkeys you can feed or ride. This area, from Christmas to dinosaurs to the Mini zoo seems to be the “kid zone”. While the entire place seems pretty kid friendly it feels like these locations were made specifically for kids. (According to the map there’s a dinosaur town on the other end of the park near the entrance and Trevi fountain. I don’t know if they’ve been moving it from one to the other or why there were dinosaurs near the mini zoo)
At this point we were cold, tired and very hangry and ready to go. I really don’t suggest doing two big parks back to back like we did. Herb Island can easily take a day on its own if you want to explore every corner, which we didn’t do. I also think spring would be the best time to visit. They have a flower field full of lavender that would be lovely to see. The lavender is in bloom between May and June. There is also an herb trail that sounds cool to experience during the day. One of the pluses of visiting in winter was that it wasn’t as crowded. But it was a lot of time spent outdoor in the cold without many breaks. I’d suggest pacing yourself and either taking a break at one of the cafes/bakeries or one of their restaurants. They have at least 5 different restaurants throughout the park with a variety of foods for sale so hopefully you could find something fun to try. Please note that some cafes have different times for regular guests versus groups/tours so again, check with tourist information.
Herb island is a bit easier to get to then the art valley. I think taking a car is probably the easiest route so I’m grateful to my friend for driving, however not everyone has access to a car or can have someone take them on a road trip. You can take a train to Soyosan (소요산여) station, cross the road and take bus 57-1. The frequency of the bus is once every 2 hours. Stop at Herb Island stop (takes about 40 minutes), cross the road and walk straight for about 10mins. Or you can get a shuttle from Seoul. To learn more you can check out their pick up locations and times here as well as additional ways to get to herb island. You can also e-mail them to make your reservation in English for the shuttle at firstname.lastname@example.org . You will pay at the final stop on the bus after they confirm your name.
Herb island runs on a summer (May – October) season and a winter (November-April) season. The hours for both seasons however are the same. Sunday-Friday they are open from 9am until 10pm. On Saturdays and holidays they are open from 9am until 11pm. The price for admission is 9,000 won for people over the age of 17.
Because herb island is so far from downtown Seoul you can also stay there. There are two pensions, the Secret France Pension and the Mediterranean Wonderland Experience Pension. The Mediterranean Wonderland Experience Pension’s rooms are fairytale inspired with rooms available themed like the little mermaid, alice’s adventures in wonderland, Cinderella and Snow White. Please note though that while they look like a fun adventure the rooms can go for about 250,000 won for one night and two days. (~$250) As for the Secret France Pension which themes include: Red Hat (a french fairy tale), Coco Chanel, Macaroons, Mademoiselle, Steering History, and Joan of Arc. Some of these are cheaper, the Red hat is 180,000 won while Joan of Arc seems to be about 150,000 won. I believe how much they are will depend on the size of the pension space and what’s available. All have wifi and cooking spaces but other amenities differ. So make sure to look at how much space there is and what you want out of it. You can make reservations for the pensions online here.