Lakes, bikes, tofu and sunrises – Gangneung, South Korea

Our second day in Gangneung and unlike our adventures the previous day, this time we headed south from Youngjin.

The hotel did have bikes on offer for free hire, but we were a long way out of town and thought we’d make the most of our time by catching a taxi into Gyeongpo Lake and then walking or taking a bus in the rest of the way.

The great thing about Gyeongpo Lake is not only the gorgeous surrounds of the lake itself, but the fact that Gyeongpo Beach and the Gyongpodae Pavilion are right next door as well. When you’re strapped for time it’s the little like this that make planning an itinerary a no-brainer.

We were dropped off by the beach and the first thing that struck us was how similar it was to beachfronts all across Australia. Folks on bikes enjoying the sunny conditions, ice cream sellers doing a roaring trade, families sitting under the trees enjoying picnics, small stalls selling containers of fried bugs while fluorescent dogs frolic around their wheels…well…maybe not quite the same!

I think he over-frolicked himself!

Ah, ok…

We could have spent an hour or more walking the length of the beach or even going for a swim in the surprisingly warm waters of the Sea of Japan, but we were more interested in exploring Gyeongpo Lake.

Normally, we would walk, but in this instance we were provided with a plethora of options! Walk? Bicycle? Tandem bicycle? Four wheeler pedal-car…? Here’s what we chose…

You can appreciate now why she doesn’t have a licence…

This contraption was great fun and brought back some great memories of the fun we had in Japan at Moerenuma Park, Sapporo! I suspect we got charged inflated tourist prices at W20,000 (~$20AUD) for one lap of the 4km lake circumference…but hey, It’s likely we’ll never be back again.

Dotted around the lake are some fitness stations and an assortment of very odd statues. Perhaps depicting scenes from Korea’s own Brothers Grimm?? I’m not sure, but they were quite disturbing, varying from sugar sweet reindeer and flowers to farting dwarves sniffing their own filthy produce within a matter of metres! And that was only on the southern side of the lake! On the northern side there was a distinctly dark edge to the little figures, with some scenes evoking images of Dante-esque pits of fire and punishment!

That’s just nasty!!

The scenery though was really pretty, with well manicured fields of grass, lotus ponds and tree-lined paths providing a peaceful escape for both Gangneung’s residents and the numerous tourists, from the hustle and bustle of the nearby city.

After forking out our hard-earned, we decided to walk south to where our map was telling us there was a village renowned for its tofu. The district is known as Chodang (in honour of the poet that lived there in the late 1500s), and in reference to this, the tofu is known as Chodang Sundubu (Chodang watery tofu). The difference with this tofu is that it is prepared using sea water rather than fresh water. I’m no tofu expert so I’ll have to trust those that say that this gives the tofu a more refined flavour.

Half an hour later we did eventually find the village, after enquiring in a local cafe as to whether we were still on the right track. The sign-posting to tourist attractions over here seems to be a little haphazard, giving indications kilometres away that there’s something coming up, but then neglecting to give you the finer instructions as you get closer to your destination!

We figured English was going to be scant whichever venue we chose for lunch so we took a gamble and ended up being served a traditional thousand course meal by a couple of very cheerful ladies who, as luck would have it, actually spoke a smidgen of English.

That’s the sundubu in the big bowl

As I mentioned I’m no tofu expert, but Karen’s tried quite a few in her time. Both of us absolutely loved the sundubu that we were served. Tofu is usually served as either cubes or within a stew, but in this case it had been roughly broken down inside a large bowl of hot water. As instructed by the ladies, we mixed in a number of pastes and liquids from smaller bowls to add some different flavours. To be honest though I actually preferred the tofu by itself. Sweet, clean, nutty flavours with soft, salty undertones. The texture as well was so much more delicate and silky smooth compared to other tofus that I’ve tried. As a massive carnivore I’m ashamed to say that this was an incredibly tasty dish that wouldn’t have benefited from the addition of protein in any way whatsoever!

On leaving the village, we wandered a little aimlessly through the surrounding suburbs, getting our bearings and trying to find a bus that would take us the 6km into the centre of Gangneung. It took us a little while but we were successful eventually. While we didn’t really have a lot of time to explore in detail, the city centre didn’t really seem to offer all that much to tourists. We visited the central market, trying some of the free fried chicken samples they were handing out, but that was about it.

Gangneung central market

After tracking down the bus that would take us back to Hotel November we promptly got off at the wrong stop (I admit it, totally my fault!!) and spent the next half hour trying to find out from some non-English speaking locals whether we were anywhere near our destination. We gave up in the end and went back to wait for the next bus, and got it right the second time around!

The bus stop we weren’t supposed to get off at!

We had had some average weather over the previous two days, which actually prevented us from doing some hiking over at Odaesan National Park, but things had cleared up a little on our last evening so I decided to get up bright and early the next morning to walk down to the beach and watch the sunrise (Karen wasn’t up for this sort of 4:30am caper!). Youngji beach is famous for its sunrises in Korea, yet once again the ever present clouds spoiled the party. Despite that, I still managed to get some great photos of the lighthouse and docks.