Since arriving in Korea, we have planned to visit Seoraksan National park in the north eastern corner of the country. Relatively accessible from Seoul, Seoraksan is one of the best known parks in Korea, but is quite a long trip from Gwangju. We have been to Gangwondo once before to visit our friend Mica in Yeongwol and we planned to include a trip to Yeongwol in our itinerary this time to visit D. Because it was a long weekend and we knew that things would be pretty busy, we planned to leave Thursday as soon as Tamara finished camp a little after lunch. As things transpired, a homework assignment and a few other little setbacks meant that we didn’t get out of Gwangju until after 2:30. And that’s where the first little hiccup began.
Because we were two hours later than expected reaching Seoul we discovered that all the tickets to Osaek, our intended entry point for Seoraksan, were sold out and we could not get a ticket to Sokcho, the main entry point for Seoraksan until after 11:00 at night. We grabbed a bite at a Turkish/Indian fusion place across from the bus station while we waited. It was actually really delicious so anyone stuck at Dong Seoul for a while, give it a look. Place is called Galata and it’s on the second floor in the building to your left as you leave by the front door.
We didn’t get to Seoraksan until after 1:00 AM and, in our sleep deprived stupor, made a terrible decision about which motel to stay in. FYI, there does not appear to be any good accommodation near the intercity bus terminal.
Friday morning we were a little late getting up moving, so our plan to catch a bus to Osaek and then hike from there to the peak fell through and we headed into the park from the Sokcho side. There are several hiking options from the Sokcho entrance. Most people who are pressed for time hike up to Ulsanbawi which is just over 3 kilometres. We chose to head for the highest peak in the park regardless of our late start. Daecheongbong is over 1700m high and roughly eleven kilometres from the park entrance. We had some idea that we could hike over the peak and down to Osaek on the far side of the summit. The Osaek route is a much shorter and steeper way to Daecheongbong, which is why we had originally planned to take that route.
The map of our proposed route into Osaak – map taken from the Korea Parks website.
The buses out there from Sokcho are pretty simple, so we walked past the gigantic Buddha near the start of the trail a little after 9:00. The first four kilometres or so is quite easy walking with much of the trail made up of pavement or carefully laid rocks on a pretty minor incline. This is because up until about 3.7 kilometres there are semi regular places where you can stop and buy food and beverages and all the supplies for these places come in up the trail. Most of this trail quite closely follows a small, beautifully clear river full of amazing looking swimming holes. Of course, swimming is strictly forbidden in the park so all we were able to do was look longingly at the water.
Although it appeared that the sun was trying to break through the clouds when we started out, the clouds rapidly won that battle and by the time we started to seriously climb we were pretty well surrounded by mist. Scattered along the trails are various shelters where hikers can overnight on their way through the park. As we understand it, some of these can be reserved and some appear to be drop in. Either way, they serve as good landmarks to judge your progress and take necessary breaks along the way.
Starting to wear down.
By the time we passed Hulungak shelter and started the final ascent we were hiking through thick fog and were pretty well beat.
Taking a break on an observation deck just before Hulungak shelter.
We decided to abort the full hike and just go to the first peak. By this time we knew there would be no view anyway. We were hiking through mist so thick it was almost like it was raining. We were completely drenched.
Heading back down through the fog.
The higher we got, the thicker it got. It was pretty though.
Socheong peak was about what we expected – white. However, from the looks of it there would be a heck of a view on a clear day. Of what, we don’t know, but there is a decent looking viewpoint.
The wonderful view from the peak. 1550 metres high.
After a few minutes break on the peak we headed back the way we came. The descent was relatively uneventful. By the time we got off the steeper sections, it was starting to turn dusky and we were nearly the only ones on the trail. Figuring this for the perfect time, Tamara opted for a fully-clothed quick dip in one of the oh-so-tempting pools. Fortunately nobody happened along. Of course, who knows – it might be on CCTV. It wouldn’t be the first waterfall we have encountered complete with video surveillance.
Tamara taking a quick dip in a waterfall pool.
Note the mischievous grin.
We hiked the last five kilometres with a pair of Dutch summer students who were just touring the country before heading home. Because it was completely dark when we reached the bottom, we opted to share a cab back into Sokcho rather than wait for the buses which may or may-not have still been running.
The Buddha lit up at night.
All-told, the trip to the express bus terminal came to 17,000 ₩ for those who are interested. What we had not counted on was the fact that the national holiday coupled with the major celebrations taking place on Sokcho beach would make a room nearly impossible to find. When we finally found a place that still had a room available we were clearly being gouged on the price. It was insanely high for a love motel – and of exceptionally low quality. But by that time it was after 9:00 PM and we had hiked over 20 kilometres throughout the day. Anything with a bed would work. As a side note, we learned over the course of our search the when motels are full, they turn off the light-up signs.
Saturday morning we sorted out transport to Yeongwol. Even though it is in the same province it is a nightmare to get to from Seoraksan. We went through Gangneung where we had a three hour lay-over waiting for the bus to Yeongwol. Rather than hang around the really busy bus terminal, we opted to catch a cab to Namhangjin beach where we had an ocean-view bite of lunch at Love Letter Café followed by a smoothie from Annabel Lee Café and a beach swing.
Namhangjin beach. Apparently there was a music festival over the weekend.
We finally arrived in Yeongwol just after 4:00 after an admittedly scenic, but rather long bus ride through the Gangwondo countryside. D met us at the bus terminal and, after dropping our bags at her place, we headed out to join in the going-away festivities for a bunch of the local foreigners. Dinner and drinking followed by drinking games at the CU (convenience store) and Noraebang. A great time was had by all and by the time we got back to her apartment we only had time for about four hours of sleep before catching the only bus back to Gwangju at 7:00 AM.
Despite the many setbacks, it was great to get up to Gangwondo again. It really is a gorgeous part of the country. We highly recommend it to anyone staying in or visiting Korea. It is a pain to get around though, so day trips are probably out.