Being on a boat is fun. Fishing, canoeing, ferrying across the sea or relaxing in a punt, it doesn’t matter. Last year Seokjin arranged a couple of white water rafting trips and I went on the second of them. That was my first time rafting. With the rainy season underway again and the rivers rising, and under the banner of Adventure Korea, he arranged for another thirty foreigners to take a ride out to Hantan River for a day of rafting rapids, jumping off rocks and mucking about on the river.

Sunday 27, 8am we met at the Express Bus Terminal. The coach was almost full, people were in good spirits and chatting away. It took about two hours to get to the rafting start point which was fine by me; I was in Sincheon until 4am that morning and was woken by my friend telephoning at 7am saying she was waiting at the subway station – luckily I’d packed my stuff the previous day. To add to my shaky start I’d foolishly got into a punching contest with an Army guy that morning (while worse the wear for booze) and my right wrist was swollen and still very painful (when I say punching contest btw, I’m referring to the arcade games lining the streets where you can kick and punch variously shaped objects which then display how hard you are in three digit numbers. All for about 300 won).

So … where was I? We arrived at the rafting start point and were straight off the bus, kitted out in helmets and life jackets and being instructed in Konglish about the basics of getting wet and paddling an inflatable boat through fast water strewn with rocks. There were about eight or nine people per boat and I was the team leader of mine. Which meant I got to stand at the front of the line. We all ‘bonded’ by sinking into the water together then boarded our rafts and headed out down the river. We got to our first rapid and, after a few confusing moments – “does he mean turn left or just those on the left should paddle?” – rode it out. Wheeeee!! Great!

The river between the each set of rapids was unbelievably calm so we drifted and relaxed and took in the scenery between our moments of frantic paddling through each rapid. Our guide and steerer (pilot? Rudder man? Raft teaser?). Decided that we should head backwards down the next rapid section. So we did, completely trusting his judgement. Turns out he just wanted to wind us up and get us screaming but since we didn’t know any better we just went along with it. Anyhow a few meters from the fast water he swings the boat back round and we go down front wards.

We got to the cliff jumping place and moored up and climbed the sandy and rocky bank. It was pretty busy up there but soon we had all jumped including my friend who was very brave since she can’t actually swim! Hmm. Anyway I remembered to hold my nose this time and only swallowed a thimble full of river water compared to last year’s litre and a half that went up my nose, forced its way down my throat and blocked my ears from the inside for the rest of the day. Live and learn.

This part of the Hantan was between 70 and 100 metres across and ran through what is know as Korea’s Grand Canyon! Indeed a few clicks downstream and the sides rose straight up about 100 meters or so (I guess anyway). Very imposing. There were trees actually growing out of the canyon walls and the dark rock and lush green contrasted nicely. Seeing the roots systems of trees coming out of rock leaves you wondering how its possible. As the water was calm again we started to play some games which mostly consisted of jumping up and down trying to get the paddlers on the opposite side to fall in. And of course every time we met another raft we had to have a splashing contest. Even the polite Koreans waving and smiling as we come along side – lulling us into a false sense of security – were at it so we soon learned to be pre-emptive. My proudest moment was leading the attack on a group of ten year old school kids. Hah! That’ll learn ’em!

A note about the difficulty of rafting these rapids. I’m no expert but those looking for extreme rapids probably won’t find this particular stretch of water challenging. Its ideal for beginners, but for an experienced rafter would probably need something rougher. There are wilder places to go (probably upstream) but you’ll have to enquire about those because I don’t know where they are. Next time I go I’d like to try something a little more hectic.

After few more sets of rapids, some more games and some swimming it was time to get out and head to our lunch point. We walked to an old shack to take a shower then got on the bus (which was waiting for us – no we don’t have to take the rafts back) back to the starting point where our buffet lunch was waiting for us. Quite nice too and a change from bibimbab! The scenery around there is very pleasant and we spent a long while eating relaxing and chatting. Since it was late we skipped the trip to the old Labour Party building and started straight back to Seoul.

Another great day out, so thanks again to Adventure Korea, Seokjin and Sieun.

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