Monday, May 31, 2021

Welcoming Summer with a Long Weekend on Korea's East Coast

We made it out to Sokcho, Seoraksan, and Yangyang this weekend! And I don't think I've been more sore coming back from a trip in a long time. It really feels like summer is coming, and we were lucky enough that the forecasted rain didn't come and ruin any of our outdoorsy plans. Our friends (who are also N&M), the same ones who joined us in Busan, came along for this trip, too.

First, we rented a car and drove from Seoul to Sokcho. I read reviews online that traffic can be terrible, so we waited until late (departing around 8:30pm on a Friday) and it was fine. I had my podcasts all queued up and the time flew. The next day, we went exploring in Sokcho. We tried chunbbang (춘빵), apparently a signature treat of the region, at a cute chain called 함's Bakery. It was delicious, with a crusty, sugary topping and a soft glutinous rice filling.

Then, we went up the Sokcho Expo Tower. I thought this one was way better than your average skydeck because it was positioned perfectly between majestic Seoraksan towering over the city and the glimmering sea with Sokcho's signature red bridge below. I paid 500 won (about 50 cents) to use one of the viewfinders in the tower, but I'm glad I picked the once facing the mountain because when we descended and continued our walk we found multiple free ones alongside the bay.

The weather was wonderful and we walked along the water for hours until we got hungry and grabbed lunch at a place called Getbae (갯배), which included a food court, shops, a cafe, and a vibrant terrace (the first photo of this post). It wasn't crowded at all, so we took our pick of foods and places to lounge. The whole vibe of the place was very industrial and hipster, and best of all for exhausted foreigners: you could order on screen kiosks in English and pay with credit card. We spent a good amount of time there enjoying the breeze and lack of other people. We even found a motion sensing video game that M seemed to have a knack for outside of the cafe.

We passed Sokcho market along the way, and I highly recommend swinging by if you want to try traditional food or buy snacks to share with others. There were a lot of people and more unique foods than we could possibly try on our short visit. There was everything from alcohol cakes to sweet and sour fried chicken to dried herbs and seafood. The four of us tried a local delicacy, squid blood sausage (오징어 순대). Apparently I was the only person who knew that it was blood sausage cooked inside of squid rings instead of intestine lining, since everyone else thought it was sausage made of squid meat. I made the horrible mistake of informing everyone what it was as we were eating, which did not go over well. Regardless, we made a good effort and almost cleared the entire plate. (The only thing I couldn't stomach was the intact squid head, which dripped a mucus-like white gooey substance when I pulled it off the blood sausage stuffed inside. Even I have my limits.)

After that, we had to book it back to the Airbnb. Our friends N&M needed a nap and we needed to head to Surfyy Beach for a surfing lesson I'd booked. We were running late and there was some traffic, so it was pretty stressful until we got there. Once we finally connected with our English-speaking surfing instructor and learned we had a private lesson instead of a larger group class, we were so relieved. We rented extra thick (5mm) wetsuits, boards, and boots, got changed, and spent the next three hours practicing our surfing technique. We've tried surfing once before in Hawaii, and somehow I felt like it was much easier there. I was happy that in the three-hour lesson I was able to stand a few times. It was a killer workout, though, and I was already tired just 30 minutes into the lesson.

After we finished surfing, we sat at Surfyy's sunset bar and met up with our friends for dinner. We enjoyed eating and chatting while enjoying the ocean views and relaxing after a long, intense day. Especially because we followed that up immediately with another long, intense day...

The next morning, we grabbed early breakfast at McDonald's (yes, I do love a good sausage egg McMuffin from time to time) and went to Seoraksan, South Korea's most famous mountain. We wanted to get there as early as possible to beat the crowds and make sure we could reserve cable car tickets. It turned out the cable car was a little crowded for my taste, but at least it earned us some spectacular views at the top.

After we came back down, we started on a pair of back-to-back hikes I had planned based on blog reviews I'd read of hikes that could be done in less than a day. First, we hiked up to Biseondae (비선대) Rocks, which was a moderate path and pretty pleasant: it was mostly shaded woods and there were multiple spots to stop by the river, splash our faces, and refill our bottles with fresh mountain water.

The second hike was where everyone else's positive feelings for me as a person really got tested. The distance wasn't too far, but the trail was considered one of the most difficult on the mountain due to the seemingly never-ending steep rock steps. I'd read online that there was a small cave called Geumganggul (금강굴) at the end with a woman who may give you a piece of fruit to congratulate you on completing the hike. That really struck me (and reminded all of us of a videogame), so I was determined to make it there.

At various points, I think everyone else questioned whether joining me was the right call, but we eventually did make it to the top! And in the cave there was a beautiful Buddhist Temple-like space and a Buddhist monk waiting with a treat for us! (He was a man, not a woman, and he gave us wrapped candies, not fruit, but it was close enough.) He was so nice and encouraged me to take a bunch of photos. He even shared some of the photos he'd taken from his cave of the mountain outside.

It was one of the most intense hikes I've ever done, and the feeling of accomplishment and the endorphin rush was divine. It took us way less time to get back down the mountain than it did to climb it, and soon we were back on our way. We grabbed a Korean barbecue lunch and dessert at a cafe, and then we made our way to our final destination: glamping.

I'll admit my expectations were different from reality on the glampsite. The pictures online made it look like it was in a forest, when actually it was right by the beach. Plus, for the price we paid I actually expected the facilities to be a little nicer. At the end of the day, the site did its job and we enjoyed a relaxing evening grilling (there's something I just love about grilled onions in particular), chatting, and resting our exhausted selves. That night, M and I went for a romantic stroll on the beach, people-watched beach campers, and enjoyed the view of small fireworks some launched over the crashing waves. Next time, though, we'll probably just camp on the beach for free or stay somewhere else for much less.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Seoul. We came back home, dropped our friends off, and decided since we still had the car for a few hours that we would try to go to a restaurant we've had our eye on for a while that was just a little too far to take public transportation. Let's just say that excursion was an absolute disaster, the restaurant appears to exist no longer, there were many language barrier miscommunications with strangers along the way, and we ended up ordering takeout the last night of our long weekend. I add that detail to say not everything goes perfectly when you decide to venture outside of your comfort zone, and that's okay! Even those horrible, stressful experiences are worth it because they pale in comparison to the wonderful adventures we have when we go out, explore, and try new things.

I'm sure it won't be our last time on Korea's east coast. (I'm already planning our next surfing vacation!) We're so thankful for good company, great friends like N&M (we're like N&M^2!), and such a beautiful country to experience. What other joys will our first summer in South Korea bring? I look forward to finding out.

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