Sokcho is a relatively small coastal city in Korea’s Gangwon province. This place was recommended to me heavily by friends who had lived in Korea. From them, I heard a lot about this place and it was one of the places I wanted to visit most after coming to Korea. I had a few days off and wanted to use that time to unwind. I decided that a few days in Sokcho in January would be a good idea.
Sokcho From Changwon
I got up in the morning and packed my backpack. It felt good, but unusual to be a backpacker again as it has almost been 12 months without backpacking. Sokcho being located quite far from Changwon made it a bit of a difficult journey. First, I had to take the KTX train to Seoul. This is one of the longest KTX routes in the country and the ticket only cost about 30 quid!
The train journey took about 2 and a half hours and once I arrived, I had to make my way through Seoul’s subway. If you’re wanting to get to Sokcho from Seoul, it’s an absolute breeze. Just head to East Seoul bus station and you can buy a ticket on the machine in less than a minute. By the looks of things, there are bus services to Sokcho every 10 minutes, so you don’t need to worry about waiting for one.
The bus journey is about 2 hours and once you get out of Seoul, you are mostly going through tunnels. It was also 5 o’clock, so it was too dark to get any decent views of the rural areas of Gangwon.
Sokcho’s Best Hostel
I was looking at booking a hostel in Sokcho, but it looks like there aren’t many decent options for backpackers. I was hoping to stay in a hostel dorm room, however I didn’t seem to have the option while looking on Booking.com. However, I did manage to find a place called The House Hostel which has previously been voted the best hostel in Korea and deservedly so.
For about £22 a night, I managed to get my own room. Not only that, but I also had my own bathroom and TV! This is a fantastic deal considering that I’ve sometimes paid more to stay in hostel dorm rooms. It’s also a 2 minute walk from the bus station where I arrived.
When I arrived, I was greeted by Yoo, the very nice owner who told me that he had been to Edinburgh. He gave me a free map of Sokcho and told me about the best places to visit. The place also had a lot of Tintin memorabilia which reminded me of my childhood. The hostel didn’t seem to have anyone else staying there, but that might have been because it was low season.
Feasting on Korean food
The owner of the hostel told me about this place which stays open late into the night. As I had arrived at about 7, most places were starting to close which seems to be normal during low season. The place can’t be found on Google Maps, but is located on the main street opposite the Starbucks.
The people here don’t speak English, however I was handed an English menu and decided to order gimbap, dongaseu and mandu. I was hungry after a day of travelling as I didn’t have lunch. It was the first time I had ever eaten dongaseu and mandu and I wasn’t disapointed. Dongaseu is very similar to tonkatsu and mandu are Korean dumplings.
The whole meal cost about 11 quid which is an absolute bargain. I didn’t think the portions would be that bag and by the end of it, I was so full.
Naksansa – The Temple by the Sea
A place I was told about was this temple complex just outside of Sokcho. Getting there from Sokcho is straightforward as you just have to take the 9 bus and you’ll be there in 20 minutes.
This temple complex is very interesting to walk around and looks very authentic. What’s amazing about Naksansa is that has its history all the way back to 671. Moreover, one of the most scenic parts of the place is the meditation area located just by the sea.
At the top of the hill, there’s also quite an impressive Bodhisattva statue, as it’s on a hill, you can get some incredible views of the mountains in the background.
Sokcho Fishery Market
If you’ve been to Korea, you’ll know that markets are a big thing here and Sokcho is no different. This market has a large area selling seafood which makes sense as it’s very close to the sea. Expect to see a lot of crabs inside tanks and seafood being prepared, so it’s certainly not for the squeamish.
I managed to find some rather interesting Korean food at the market. Not knowing what it was, I handed over 2000 won. There was some confusion as I still barely understand korean, but they were friendly nonetheless. Asking, what it was, I was told it was gamja-jeon. I also had some fried squid which was very good, I’m not mad about seafood, but I feel like trying some is a must do here.
Braving Ice at Seoraksan
Seoraksan National Park is one of the greatest national parks in Korea, however, it might not be a good idea to visit it in winter. You can easily get to Seoraksan by taking the 7 bus and you’ll be taken from Sokcho to the entrance of the park.
Once you enter, a short walk can take you to Sinheungsa Temple which has been in the area for more than 1000 years. It’s one of the most important temples in Korean Buddhism. The temple has a big statue of the buddha outside of it and across a bridge is the temple itself.
January is definitely not a great time to hike at Seoraksan as ice is everywhere. I was dangerously unprepared with a pair of running shoes. The hiking route I attempted to do was to Biryong Falls. However, the path was almost completely covered in ice. I was 400 meters away from the waterfall and ended up slipping and sliding down the ice. After that, I figured the risk was not worth it and headed back. When it’s no longer winter and the pesky ice is gone, I’ll definitely attempt to hike this place again.
If you don’t feel like hiking, you can still enjoy Seoraksan by paying 10000 won and be taking up to a mountain peak by cable car. The views are absolutely incredible, especially with the snow on the peaks and you can even see Sokcho from there.
Relaxing at Cheoksan Hot Springs
After hiking in Seoraksan, it’s definitely a great idea to head over to Cheoksan hot springs which you can take the bus to in Sokcho. It costs 11000 won, however I was very confused when I was there. All I had to do was put my shoes in a locker and then my clothes in another locker. Going to hot springs may be jarring if you are a foreigner and this is because you are fully expected to take your clothes off. Despite that, it’s a really relaxing experience to go into the hot springs, sit in the sauna and then go into the cold pool.
Great Pizza at Getbae Pizza
I was hungry for something big after a day of hiking and saw this trendy looking pizza place. I was skeptical at first, because the pizza I’ve had so far in Korea has been mediocre. However this place had the best pizza I’ve eaten in Korea so far. They also have decent craft beer on tap, but I wasn’t in the mood for drinking.
The Abai Village
Just by the sea across the bridge is this place known as the Abai village. It is an area populated by refugees who had fled from the north during the Korean War. Walking through this place can give you an insight into how some people in Korea live. Moreover, there’s also a lot of seafood eateries which all look the same. I also enjoyed some coffee in a place which had excellent views of the harbour.
The Pavilion by the Sea and Observatory
At the end of a pier on the coast is a pavilion where you can get some nice views of the seaside. Nearby, there is also a hill I walked up which has an observatory where you can get decent views of the whole area. I really wish I was up for the sunrise, however there is always the chance I can come back to Sokcho when the weather is better.