Sokcho, the DMZ and Seoraksan National Park


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Asia » South Korea » Gangwon-do » Sokcho
October 1st 2016
Published: October 31st 2016
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On our final morning in Danyang we awoke to steady rain which didn't look like it would let up anytime soon. We packed up our room, had breakfast and then set off towards Sokcho, via Gangneung.

The majority of the trip from Danyang to Gangneung was on rural roads; it took about three hours and along the way we passed farms, mountains and industrial estates... We drove straight through Gangneung and headed on towards Unification (Tongil) Park which is just outside the city on the coast.

Unification Park houses the North Korean submarine which was captured during the 1996 Gangneung Infiltration Incident. The submarine was used to transport a reconnaissance team to the South, but it all went wrong when they tried to collect the team and the submarine ran aground. The 25 North Koreans abandoned ship (after destroying sensitive material) and all but one were eventually killed after a 49 day manhunt which also resulted in casualties on the South Korean side.

Fortunately there was a break in the rain when we arrived so we parked our car, grabbed a hard hat and headed inside the submarine. Neither of us were inspired to become a North Korean submariner; it was very cramped and was likely a hot and smelly place to work.

The other attraction at Unification Park was a US war ship which was donated to South Korea. After entering the war ship we walked through a very random jewellery shop and then explored the rest of the ship. The ship was not as interesting as the submarine and is actually in fairly poor condition; it seems that they're not taking care of it very well at all.

From Unification Park we headed to a convenience store to grab some lunch and then continued on our way to Sokcho in the far north east. The rain continued for most of our drive so we didn't get the best impression of Sokcho as we drove in; it all looked very dreary.

After checking into our guesthouse we settled in for a lazy afternoon reading books and watching the rain. For dinner we visited the top rated Sokcho restaurant on Trip Advisor; an Italian restaurant which was conveniently within walking distance of our guesthouse. While waiting for our food to arrive I wondered if we'd regret breaking our 'don't order Italian food in Asia' rule, but it was actually quite acceptable. The chef / waiter was very entertaining as he served as if he was working in a very fancy restaurant.

The following morning the rain had stopped so we set off for Seoraksan National Park which is about 15 minutes from the centre of Sokcho and one of the busier parks in Korea. We parked our car, paid our entrance fee and set off to do one of the many walks...and then the rain started! We sheltered underneath the eaves of a cafe for about 20 minutes while we waited to see whether the rain would let up but it definitely didn't seem like it would. Eventually we decided to give up and ran through the rain back to our car.

We decided to head into Sokcho to check out a market which was undercover. We found the market, parked the car and headed into the market. It was pretty smelly with lots of dried and fresh seafood so we didn't spend long there. It was still pouring when we left the market so we decided to concede to the weather; we grabbed some lunch and headed back to our guesthouse where we spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing.

That night for dinner we went to have Korean BBQ. Not being a big meat eater this was definitely not my favourite meal; I tried a little bit of chicken whilst Scott ate just about every other animal. On the way home we got some cakes which made up the bulk of my dinner.

The following morning the rain had cleared and looked like it would stay away! As visibility was pretty good we decided to head up to the Demilitarized Zone which is about 70kms from Sokcho. As the DMZ is within the Civilian Control Area which spans about 20km south of the border we needed a permit. We had read that the turnoff to get it could be easily missed...it definitely was as we drove straight past it and arrived at the checkpoint. The MP's (who were obviously doing their national service) gave us some directions and we turned around and headed back to buy the permit.

After purchasing our permit (we had to pay for the car first, then fill in a form and then pay for people separately...so silly) we headed back to the checkpoint. We were shown the rules (no photography until you reach the viewpoint etc. etc.) and then waved through.

After a short drive we arrived at the car park for the observatory. We parked our car, walked through the souvenir shop, climbed up the stairs and headed over to the edge of the viewing deck to check out the DMZ.

There wasn't quite as much to see at this observatory as there had been at the Dora observatory but it was still interesting and visibility was good. The mountains which are in the North are pretty obvious as they have been stripped of much of their vegetation (it was used for firewood). We paid to use the binoculars and spotted a few military installations in both the North and the South, but that was about all we could see.

After the observatory we visited he museum which was on the other side of the car park. We then hopped back in the car and drove to the main museum. This museum was quite good; the displays were well presented and there were lots of English descriptions.

From the museum we headed back into Sokcho to have some lunch. Along the way we picked up some ingredients for dinner. We then decided we had enough time to fit in one of the shorter walks in Seoraksan National Park. The Biseondae trail took us from the information centre past the giant Buddha statue, then alongside a crystal clear rocky river until we reached a bridge. The walk was very easy and enjoyable with gorgeous scenery (and cute chipmunks!) along the entire length. It took us about an hour to reach the bridge where we turned around and headed back home along the same route. We would have liked to do the next sections of the train which followed on from Biseondae but we didn't have time unfortunately.

That night we cooked a Korean chicken curry for dinner using the ingredients we had picked up at the supermarket earlier in the day. It was quite similar to a Japanese curry but a bit more peppery.

The following day we set off to Seoraksan National Park again to do another walk, this time from the information centre to Ulsanbawi. The first section of the trail was rated as moderate and consisted of trails through the park with some quite steep sections. The second part of the trail was rated as advanced so was very steep; the final 600m of this section consisted of stairs which wrapped around the side of the rocky mountain.

By the time we reached the top we were both looking forward to a bit of a rest. The view was quite impressive though unfortunately it was quite hazey. After admiring the view for a while (and letting our legs recover) we headed back down the mountain along the same trail. It took us about 4.5 hours to do the round trip.

When we reached the bottom we decided to do another one of the shorter walks to Bi-ryeong Falls. This walk was quite flat; eventually we reached a bridge and some gorgeous waterfalls. We could have continued on a bit further but both of us decided that we had done enough uphill walking for the day!

That night we went out for another set menu for dinner. The waitress was very pushy and only gave us about 20 seconds to look at the menu before making us order. The food was quite nice though it wasn't as good as the
Buddha, Seoraksan National ParkBuddha, Seoraksan National ParkBuddha, Seoraksan National Park

About 2 minutes before the rain set in
other set menu's we had throughout Korea.

The following morning we slept in before packing up our luggage and hopping in the car to travel to Incheon Airport. The drive took us about 4 hours; we were quite glad that we weren't travelling in the other direction as the roads as the traffic heading out of Seoul was incredibly heavy with some sections looking more like a car park than an expressway.

On the way to the airport we stopped for a very late lunch of fried chicken which was delicious. We then continued on our way to the airport where we were to meet at a designated spot in the car park to return our hire car. Navigating to that spot was quite tricky; but eventually we found it. Unfortunately no one from the hire company arrived, so after spending about half an hour calling various numbers we eventually had to leave the keys with the very kind parking attendant who had tried to help us. So far we haven't had the cost of a brand new car charged to our credit card so we assume the hire company got it back!

After checking in we headed to the Asiana lounge which was very very busy and not as good as the Qantas lounges. Our departure was delayed, which meant we missed our connection in Sydney and were put on a later flight. We arrived home in Melbourne about 27 hours after we had left Sokcho the morning before. Needless to say we were both pretty happy to be home by the time we walked through the door!


Additional photos below
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The DMZThe DMZ
The DMZ

The bare mountains in the distance are in the north


13th November 2016
Ulsanbawi trail, Seoraksan National Park

National Park
Beautiful

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