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Sanggodae: Chuncheon’s icy winter phenomenon

Jan. 20, 2024 - 16:01 By Lee Si-jin
Sanggodae (Chuncheon City)

CHUNCHEON, Gangwon Province -- From its regional delicacy dakgalbi -- spicy stir-fried chicken -- to the Legoland Korea Resort, Chuncheon does not disappoint as a top Korean tourist destination.

The city, located some 100 kilometers from Seoul, has almost everything travelers of all ages could want -- popular cafes, restaurants, the country’s renowned Soyang River, lakes and mountains.

Among both professional and amateur photographers, Chuncheon is a much sought-after spot, especially in winter, for capturing “sanggodae,” or rime ice.

Sanggodae is white-colored ice formed by water droplets in fog freezing to the outer surfaces of objects.

Chuncheon’s iconic sanggodae is visible when four major conditions are met: The temperature falls below minus 15 degrees Celcius, there is 80 to 90 percent humidity, water is released from the Soyang River Dam and there is no wind.

“The water droplets are created by the temperature difference between the cold air and relatively warm water. And no wind means the droplets stay attached to the surfaces of trees and leaves, among other things. It is best if it is a snowy day, because it will keep the humidity high,” Jeong Kang-joo, director of the Photo Artists of Society Korea Chuncheon, told The Korea Herald on Monday.

Jeong, a Chuncheon-born photographer who has been featuring sanggodae in his photos for the past eight years, said that Chuncheon’s iconic winter phenomenon is slowly disappearing.

“Sanggodae was not a rare sight for Chuncheon, a city accustomed to extreme cold in winter. But now, it appears mostly in December. Over the last three years, people have not been able to see sanggodae in January or February,” Jeong said, adding that he is still waiting for this winter’s first sanggodae.

Chuncheon is not the only place to witness sanggodae in Korea, as this winter phenomenon can be found atop many of country’s renowned mountains, like Sobaek Mountain in North Gyeongsang Province and Deogyu Mountain in North Jeolla Province, among others.

However, Chuncheon is a place where you can witness rime ice without having to climb a mountain.

Chuncheon’s rime ice is considered more dramatic than that of other areas, as it slowly becomes visible with the rising sun.

The tranquil scene of a foggy river with its stunning reflection also adds a mysterious atmosphere.

Fog and sanggodae in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province (Kim Kwang-soo, Chuncheon City)

Among the six bridges over the Soyang River, Wudugyo Bridge and Maekgukgyo Bridge, more widely known as Soyang 3-gyo and Soyang 5-gyo, respectively, are the most popular sites to capture the stunning winter scenes.

“Because of the steep drop in temperature in recent days, I thought I might be able to take pictures of ssangodae today. But, I guess I was not lucky enough,” a retired retail company worker in his 60s, Kim Hyun-woo, told The Korea Herald on Jan. 9.

The temperature was expected to drop to minus 13 degrees Celsius on that day, but the humidity reached only 70 percent.

Kim, who came from the nearby county of Hongcheon, shared that it is not difficult to see a line of cars and photographers, sometimes from as early as 6 a.m, at areas near the bridges, all of whom have come to witness sanggodae.

“After I saw there were not a lot of cars as I approached Soyang 3-gyo, I realized that today was not my lucky day,” Kim said.

“Even if you are not a professional photographer, you can easily capture the beautiful winter moment with a smartphone camera. I think Chuncheon’s sanggodae is something that you can call a ‘true winter wonderland,’” he added.

A few hours after the sunrise at 7:17 a.m., Chuncheon was under heavy snow, just as the meteorologists had forecast last week for the whole country.

The snow gently piled up on the walking trails, tree branches and different areas of the bridge, making the place look as if the sanggodae had formed.

Another Chuncheon resident, Lee, who wished to be identified by his surname, explained that sanggodae is nothing like a snowy landscape.

Trees and a walking trail near Soyang 3-gyo are covered in snow on Jan. 9. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)
Sanggodae (Chuncheon City)

“I am not a professional photographer, so I don’t know how to express the difference properly. But, if a snowy day in Chuncheon is coloring the city white, I feel like sanggodae is something that epitomizes a frozen world, adding a more mysterious vibe to the city,” Lee said.

“Sanggodae is without a doubt a must-see winter scenery in South Korea,” she added.

Though light snow is expected in Gangwon Province next week, a relatively warm winter (with temperatures of around minus 4 to 10 C) will continue until the fourth week of January, making it difficult for people to see sanggodae, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration.