City life, as interesting as it can be, gets a little weary after a while. Time to step off the pavement and hit the trails!
The one location we were most looking forward to in our whole South Korean itinerary was Sokcho. Until we started planning the trip I had never heard of the place, but after completing a couple of incredible hikes I wish we had booked another couple of days in!
Sokcho is located on the coast in the far north east of South Korea (check out our itinerary map for more info) and the two most popular nodes of transport to get there from Seoul are either car or bus. As I was too chickenshit to tackle Seoul’s streets in a rental (and with good reason in hindsight!!) we took the bus option, getting on at Dong-Seoul bus terminal. There’s no need to book ahead as there are plenty of buses throughout the day. Just rock up and book your tickets for the next available bus.
The drive to Sokcho was short and sweet (the recent album ‘Atlas’ by RÜFÜS is sensational driving music…very disappointed we missed their live show in Hobart). It’s pretty mountainous so all we got when looking out the windows was short glimpses of farms in the numerous valleys that we crossed. Unfortunately it was a little drizzly as well, so we didn’t really get to see any of the mountains very clearly, but I’ve read numerous reports from other bloggers that they look pretty good in the sunshine!
We had already teed up accommodation with Casa Seorak, one of the few hotels in town that we knew had someone in charge that could speak English, and Mr Juha was there waiting to greet us at the express bus terminal right on time! We were quickly on our way, driving through central Sokcho, along the waterfront and then through Hadomun village (an agricultural suburb on the outskirts of Sokcho) before pulling up out the front of Casa Seorak. Mr Juha gave us quick a quick and informative debrief and we soon found ourselves walking through the doors of our exceptionally pretty room, fit for a princess!
Each of their rooms have a different theme, and they are all fabulous darling. Click here for a sneak peek at them all.
(They also happen to have four awesome dogs, giving them at least one million bonus points)
While Sokcho is pretty famous for its squid and other seafood delicacies (more to come on this shortly!), its other massive draw card is Seoraksan National Park. Only 15 minutes up the road from Casa Seorak, we made this our very first destination on our first full day in Sokcho. Again, if you’ve got a car then that’s the way to go, alternatively you can take a taxi for around W10,000 (~$10AUD), or as we did, take the local bus (#7 or #7-1) for only W1,200 each.
While there are numerous gorgeous national parks in Korea, Seoraksan stood out for one reason and one reason only…Ulsanbawi Rock. The first photo I saw of this six-stone behemoth just took my breath away, and when I realised that you could actually climb it in a day, I was sold! Karen didn’t much convincing either and it went straight to the top of our list!
But…unfortunately the weather on our first day was also pretty average, with a bit more drizzle and grey skies. As the forecast for the next day was looking a little better, we decided to postpone Ulsanbawi and instead hike up to Bisaondae and the Geum-gang-gul Cave.
Hiking is like a national sport in Korea and the facilities have been built to match. Wide well made paths (for the most part), more toilets than you can poke a stick at, and sign posts everywhere…albeit not always in English! The first half hour or so of our hike was like walking on a freeway, before we finally hit the dirt and started getting some glimpses of the river, cliffs and mountain tops.
I won’t mince my words, the section between Bisondae and Geum-gang-gul Cave was ridiculously steep! Eventually the trail got so steep that they had to bolt a steel stairway into the rock face, and even the stairs were steep! How the original Buddhists that utilised the cave got up there in the first place I will never know… To make thing even more surreal,the mists started closing in on us the higher we climbed. Very spooky!
I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from the cave to be honest. These ‘attractions’ are often a lot duller and mundane than the promotional literature suggest. In this case it was the complete opposite. It takes quite a bit to get there, but the effort is well worth it!
The only downer on the day occurred as we were returning from Bisondae when I went to take a photo from the bridge over the river, only to drop, almost recover, but ultimately lose my lens cap between the planks…
We grabbed some lunch at the restaurant that was set up by the river’s edge at Bisondae (Aussie national parks really should get their act together!) and while eating I made some off-hand comment to Karen questioning how they supplied the food and drinks to the restaurant, considering it was so far up the valley.
On stepping outside we saw the answer…
If our second hiking option had proved this good, how amazing was Ulsanbawi going to be…??
(A note to anyone thinking about hiking up to Oryeon or Cheondang Falls, in summer you’ve got to be back to the junction at Bisondae by 2pm, otherwise they’ll shut the gate on you!! The signage is all in Korean, and it only dawned on us what we suspected we had just read when we were already 10 minutes up the valley! On returning, we saw the park ranger and he confirmed our suspicions.)