Hooray for public holidays and Buddha and his birthday… especially when you want to go somewhere far away in Korea and use public transport to get there! This day off in May was welcomed with open arms as it gave us the opportunity to make the seemingly endless bus trip from Busan to Sokcho on a Saturday morning. Giving us almost two full days in this seaside town.
Things started off a bit rocky though as we couldn’t book tickets for an overnight bus online while using the English website only to figure out too late that we needed to use the Korean site to make payments, by this time all the tickets were sold out. When we eventually got to Sokcho and wanted to check into our ‘confirmed’ guesthouse, only pay when you arrive no deposit needed, we were told our room had been given away as it was a long weekend and he had called our friend who made the booking and she hadn’t answered. We did eventually find a motel who agreed to house all 5 of us in single room with 4 beds. Was a bit squashed but manageable. (the owner/manager was also really friendly and gave us rice cakes)
Dinner that evening consisted of the famous, dakgangjeong (sweet and sour chicken). As for most famous things in Korea, this involved lining up in a queue at one of the many stores in the market, all selling the same style chicken! It was pretty damn good, though! This was followed by production line sandwich making for our hiking trip in the morning. We planned for an early start in the morning to head out to Seoraksan National Park (SNP).
The day started with a local bus to the park gates, we got there at about 7am. Surprisingly enough there were already lots of people!! We had scanned blogs, websites and brochures and decided on a hike up to Ulsanbawi rock for the morning. The 4km hike up takes roughly two hours to reach the peak. You can see a large amount of the park as well as all the way to the coast and the seaside town of Sokcho if it’s clear enough. This was quite a strenuous hike to the top and there were loads of stairs to climb up the rock face. The views at the top and the sense of achievement were well worth it though. This was also our first ‘real’ hike in Korea and we were very surprised at the amount of walkways, stairs and bathrooms along the way. As well as the beer/drinks/snacks for sale at the Buddhist temple halfway up and right at the top! Hiking in South Africa is very different.
After we made our way back down we needed some ice cream to recuperate and sort out the jelly legs!! Suitably refreshed we decided we hadn’t had enough for one day so we would attempt another hike, to Biryong Falls. A much less strenuous hike, but still scenic. It was quite an easy walk along a river running through the park and up to two waterfalls and back down again along the same route. Of course at the top we joined the rest of the hikers in taking off our shoes and socks and dipping our feet in the somewhat freezing pools. The scenery along the way was beautiful and I was constantly stopping to peer into the pools along the way to see how many fish I could spot.
After this we went and waited for our bus back to Sokcho and headed to the beach for a swim, the water was freezing though and we didn’t last very long even though the day had turned out quite warm. That evening we went for Shabu Shabu, which we felt we deserved after all the strenuous hiking. This was also our first introduction to SoMek (beer and soju mixed) which went down rather well.
Our bus back to Busan the next day was only in the afternoon so Kayley and I rented bicycles and rode around the Yeongnangho Lake for an hour or so. This is a naturally formed lake, with bicycle paths, walking bridges, sculptures, foot baths etc running just about all the way around the 7km perimeter. We were quite surprised to be stopped along the way by a Korean family who then handed us some juicy tomatoes to snack on. Since then we’ve experienced this kind of hospitality on countless occasions and find it to be a very endearing cultural trait!
The furtherest we had been away from “home” in Korea at this point. But what a great trip. WE have a little policy about not visiting a place more than once (only because there is just soooo much to see in this beautiful world) but we couldn’t get Seoraksan out of our heads, and had to try it again in the fall.