Summer Vacation Part 1

You can’t always trust guide books.  If it weren’t for Sokcho’s proximity to Seoraksan National Park, I might have skipped over the city entirely.  The book I picked up before coming to South Korea makes Sokcho seem like a drab little port city with nothing to offer besides a base for visiting the extremely popular national park nearby.  On the contrary, David and I found it to be extremely pleasant and really enjoyed three nights there.  It was the first stop on our two week summer adventure.

Sokcho is a smaller coastal city in northern Gangwon Province.  We took a bus  from Seoul which took just under 3 hours and cost us each about $16.  Since summer is peak travel season in Korea, we booked a few nights at Afterglow Guesthouse prior to arriving and I’m really glad we did.  I highly recommend staying there if you ever find yourself in Sokcho.  A private room with our own bathroom, TV, air conditioner, clean towels everyday, non-fluorescent lighting and a comfortable bed was only $33 per night.  It was the coziest, cheapest and cleanest place I’ve stayed in Korea.  (Outside of Seoul and Busan, guesthouses or hostels like this are hard to come by in Korea.)  The owners are extremely kind and graciously helped us out with anything we needed, including umbrellas when we got caught in a rainstorm and walked in soaking wet, as well as hand drawn maps and weather updates.  They are a younger married couple who have done quite a bit of world traveling themselves, therefore know exactly how to make everyone’s stay as convenient and comfortable as possible.

The Afterglow Guesthouse owners were very excited to have our picture taken with them.

The Afterglow Guesthouse owners were very excited to have our picture taken with them.

We enjoyed dinner at a fish bbq restaurant on our first night in Sokcho. It was delicious.

We enjoyed dinner at a fish bbq restaurant on our first night in Sokcho. It was delicious.

A young man working at the restaurant spoke a little bit of English and was able to tell us the names of most of the fish as he manned the grill at our table. One of tastier ones was simply called "the most delicious". He was right, it was the most delicious, whatever it was.

David can hardly believe his eyes. 😉 A young man working at the restaurant spoke a little bit of English and was able to tell us the names of most of the fish as he manned the grill at our table. One of tastier ones was simply called “the most delicious”. He was right, it was the most delicious, whatever it was.

On our first full day in Sokcho, after enjoying free coffee and cheese toast provided by Afterglow, we headed out with a map to wander the city with no real agenda.  It started out as a cloudy morning and turned into a super windy, rainy day which required a pit stop at 7-11 for a rain poncho.  That didn’t stop us from having a blast exploring, however.  We took the gaetbae boat to Abai Village, a spit of land between the East Sea and a harbor that was supposed to be temporary housing for North Korean refugees during the Korean War, but it turned permanent after the DMZ was established.  It’s now filled with lots of tiny restaurants known for ojingeo sundae (a type of Korean sausage made with squid, rice or glass noodles and vegetables) so we stopped for lunch to try some.

The gaetbae boat.

The gaetbae boat.

The small man powered ferry, or gaetbae boat, taking us to Abai Village.

The small man powered ferry, or gaetbae boat, taking us to Abai Village.

Many older North Korean residents fled to Abai Village during the Korean War, waiting for things to settle before returning to their villages and farms up North. After three years and no sign of settling, the DMZ was established and they were stuck in the South.

Many older North Korean residents fled to Abai Village during the Korean War, waiting for things to settle before returning to their villages and farms up North. After three years and no sign of settling, the DMZ was established and they were stuck in the South.

Abai Village rooftops.

Abai Village rooftops.

We stopped for lumch to try some ojingeo sundae, a type of Korean sausage made from squid, rice and vegetables that is known to be the best in Sokcho.

We stopped for lumch to try some ojingeo sundae, a type of Korean sausage made from squid, rice and vegetables that is known to be the best in Sokcho.

Lunch break in Abai Village.

Lunch break in Abai Village.

After taking in views of the wild, stormy sea and exploring a few lighthouses, we decided to stop for an afternoon green tea latte and a game of cards to catch a break from the wind and rain.  It was then that we noticed how many people were carrying the same box of fried chicken (yes, fried chicken is big in Korea).  David and I decided we should probably figure out where these boxes were coming from because all the Korean tourists seemed to be carrying them.  Thanks to our friend Google and my ability to read Hangul, we were able to locate the famous fried chicken place called Manseok Chicken and decided that’s what we’d have for dinner.  To build up our appetite for this gigantic fried chicken feast, we did some more exploring and walked to the other side of the city and stumbled upon Sokcho Beach.  Unfortunately, the weather was so bad at this point we were told we couldn’t even be on the beach.  We got in a few rainy snapshots beforehand, however, and instead of enjoying a beer on the beach in our rain ponchos like planned, we found a nice park bench surrounded by trees, shielding us from the wind and the rain (there are no open container laws in Korea, by the way).

Lighthouses in Sokcho.

Lighthouses in Sokcho.

Looking down at the Abai Village ferry crossing.

Looking down at the Abai Village ferry crossing.

View of Sokcho from Abai Village.

View of Sokcho from Abai Village.

Not quite beach weather but still beautiful.

Not quite beach weather but still beautiful.

Dried squid is everywhere.

Dried squid is everywhere.

Wild waves on Sokcho Beach.

Wild waves on Sokcho Beach.

We were able to snap a few photos before being kicked off the beach. Apparently no one is allowed on the beach in really stormy weather.

We were able to snap a few photos before being kicked off the beach. I guess they “close” the beaches in really stormy weather.

Nearly all the Korean tourists were carrying these boxes of Manseok Chicken, an apparently famous chicken stand in the Jungang Fish Market. After enjoying a large fish dinner the night before, we decided we had to see what all the chicken fuss was about.

Nearly all the Korean tourists were carrying these boxes of Manseok Chicken, an apparently famous chicken stand in the Jungang Fish Market. After enjoying a large fish dinner the night before, we decided we had to see what all the chicken fuss was about.

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We opened the box to discover a large amount of fried chicken drenched in a spicy, sticky sauce. Is this much chicken necessary for two people? Probably not.

Magically, we woke up the next morning to a beautiful, cloudless day which was perfect for exploring Seoraksan National Park.  Deserving of its own post, I’ll more about that later.  In a nutshell, it was stunning and only a 30 minute bus ride from of Sokcho.  Thankfully, our third and final day in Sokcho was also gorgeous and since our bus heading to our next destination didn’t leave until the afternoon, we had time to check out Sunrise Pavilion which we weren’t able to see before due to the bad weather.  The water was the most amazing shade of aqua and the sunshine created a completely different view of the East Sea.  It was the perfect way to end our stay in the cute port city before moving on to Gangneung.

The brilliantly blue East Sea.

The brilliantly blue East Sea.

Sunrise Pavilion, looking out to the East Sea. Unfortunately, we didn't get our lazy butts out of bed in time to enjoy the sunrise.

Sunrise Pavilion, looking out to the East Sea. Unfortunately, we didn’t get our lazy butts out of bed in time to enjoy the sunrise.

Enjoying a beer in the sunshine near Sunrise Pavilion before heading to Gangneung.

Enjoying a beer in the sunshine near Sunrise Pavilion before heading to Gangneung.

Sokcho on a sunny day.

Sokcho on a sunny day.

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Next stop, Gangneung.

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