Seoul, Sunday 25 March 2012. Seoul’s Express Bus terminal is rather confusing. Even my Korean companion is struggling to figure out where to buy the tickets, what the difference is between a standard and a deluxe bus, and where they go from. We eventually work it out, and I’m glad she decided to tag along with me. We have a choice: a 40 minute wait for a standard bus or one hour 40 minutes for a deluxe one. Both take the same amount of time and there’s no material price difference. We elect for the earlier one, and have a coffee while we wait.
The bus pulls into the station on time, 5:35pm, and almost without noticing how we got there we are soon powering down the expressway to Tongyeong. We’re in the bus lane, which sounds like it should be slow, but in fact most of the time we’re overtaking the cars to our right. And although this is the standard bus, it is perfectly comfortable.
The TV screen at the front of the bus is showing a soap opera starring Ryu Seung-beom interspersed with commercials featuring impossibly pretty or handsome models. I drift off to sleep, to be woken precisely two hours into our journey as we pull into a service station for a twenty minute rest stop to stretch our legs. We’re not sure what awaits us in Tongyeong, so we purchase some kimbap and listen to the ppongtchak compilations which are blaring out from the gift shop.
Two hours later we are pulling into the bus terminal in Tongyeong and climbing into a taxi that will take us to our destination: the Chungmu Marina Resort, accommodation hub for the Tongyeong International Music Festival.
Built on a promontory of Mireukdo, overlooking the site of Admiral Yi Sun-shin’s famous victory at the battle of Hansando, the Resort rather dominates the landscape. Next to it, the new Tongyeong concert hall is being built.
Infrastructure is a familiar problem for Korea when hosting big international events such as the Kwangju biennale or the Korean Grand Prix, as these venues have lacked international-standard accommodation. The Chungmu Marina Resort is designed to be the start of Tongyeong’s answer to this problem, but even this would not meet the requirements of the most demanding guests: air conditioning which doesn’t switch on, underfloor heating which doesn’t switch off, an hygienic but incomprehensible Japanese bidet / toilet in the bathroom, bath towels the size of face flannels, no bedside lights for night-time reading, or any means to turn off the main room lights from the comfort of your bed… this is accommodation which is geared towards the Korean self-catering market rather than the international traveller. Though if you are self-catering, there’s a well-equipped kitchenette complete with rice cooker to meet your needs in your room.
But the staff are very friendly and helpful, speak good enough English to meet most needs, the views are amazing and it’s not very expensive. So I’m not complaining. Tongyeong, as I was to find out, is a very special place.