Rest stops are a place where one passes through on the way to going somewhere else. They are not a destination.
At rest stops, drivers rush in to use the toilets, stretch themselves after long hours in a car and grab something to eat.
However, some of these roadside establishments have gone beyond their traditional role, positioning themselves to become new cultural spaces.
While a number of service areas have failed in their grand ambitions after installing entertainment facilities, including mini-golf zone, baseball batting cage and arcade areas, Deokpyeong-Eco Service Area in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province and the Gimhae Geumgwan Gaya rest stop in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province have successfully turned themselves into popular destinations by offering unique cultural experiences.
Deokpyeong-Eco Service Area
The Deokpyeong-Eco rest stop might look look like just another service area on a Korean highway during the day, but at night the rest stop reveals its true colors.
Walk to the back of the food plaza, and you will see a narrow trail which leads to the Ooozoo Illumination Park.
The park draws attention after sunset, when its shining lights and glowing lanterns welcome the late night visitors.
The Ooozoo Illumination Park does not offer any hands-on activities or special programs for tourists to experience, but various light fixtures, light-emitting diode flowers and a small-scale light show entertain those who stop by.
Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the park covered with colorful media art, sculptures, illuminated tunnels and more while listening to smooth jazz music and the calming sound of cicadas.
A cafe welcomes visitors who wish to escape the sweltering summer heat.
Though tickets can be bought on-site, online reservation on Naver Booking is available as well.
Admission fees are 10,000 won for those over 13 and 6,500 won for those 13 and under.
The Ooozoo Illumination Park is open from 6 p.m to 11 p.m.
The Deokpyeong-Eco Service Area is located on Yeongdong Expressway bound for Incheon in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province.
Gapyeong Service Area
The Gapyeong Service Area, a rest stop on the Seoul-Yangyang Expressway bound for Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, has become a go-to destination -- especially among those traveling with their dogs to Korea's northernmost province.
At the end of the restaurant building, a yellow-colored dog cafe called Yellow Stop is crowded with visitors walking their chihuahuas, schnauzers or beagles.
Though the cafe offers coffee and other cold beverages, the store is also filled with dog-related items, ranging from dog food and doggie desserts to pee pads, water bowls, treats and toys.
“Yellow Stop is known as an oasis for many dog owners. The dogs can freely walk in and out of the cafe. They can also stretch and have fun at the pet park next to the Gapyeong Service Area’s food court,” a game company official surnamed Kim, who was headed to Gangneung, Gangwon Province, for her summer vacation told The Korea Herald on July 28.
“I have been to other service areas that offer a pet resting area, but the Gapyeong rest stop is the nicest,” she added.
Yellow Stop has two separate outdoor parks -- one for small-and medium-sized dogs and another for large-sized dogs. It provides waste bags for free as well.
Dog owners of all ages can either freely stroll around the space or take a seat on a wooden bench with their partners for free.
Gimhae Geumgwan Gaya Service Area
Unlike other rest areas, the Gimhae Geumgwan Gaya Service Area is connected to a spot away from the expressway.
A wooden bridge next to a restaurant allows drivers to explore a vast area near Nakdong River, the longest river in South Korea passing through big cities like Busan and Daegu.
“The roads are a popular riding path for many cyclists who live in South Gyeongsang Province. Some drive to the Gaya rest stop, park their cars and start on a bicycle tour along the river,” said Park Hyun-soo, a 44-year-old restaurant owner in Masan, South Gyeongsang Province.
Non-bicycle enthusiasts can stroll around the park by the river with their favorite snacks from the service area.
Instead of taking a quick 10 to 15-minute break, visitors can enjoy quality time with the gentle wind from the river and fresh air to relieve their stress from a long ride. The stunning panoramic view of Nakdong River is a big plus.
South Korea’s 4,866-kilometer highway system boasts 206 rest areas. This article is the last in a series introducing notable rest stops, guiding travelers to unique experiences during summertime road trips in South Korea. -- Ed.