Sokcho City

Trip Start Sep 20, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
What I did
Abai Village
Fish Market
Hwanseongul Cave

Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Sunday, October 6, 2013

The next segment of my journeys took me to Korea.

After a long flight to Seoul I was hoping for an easy bus ride to Sokcho which is about 2.5 hours by bus outside of downtown Seoul.  After the bus ride into downtown Seoul, I needed the help of a very kind stranger who walked me a block and a half across 3 intersections and around a subway station to help me find the intercity bus terminal.  If it weren't for him I’d still be wandering around the streets of Seoul looking for the bus terminal. 

I arrived late in the evening at The House hostel in Sokcho.  The owners were there to greet me and were incredibly nice and helpful throughout my stay.  So here is a plug for The House…if you’re ever in Sokcho, stay at The House.  Ask for a room with a private bathroom and you'll get the benefits of a hotel with the benefits of personalized service of a hostel.  The location is within 5 minutes walk from the train station, the local bus stop is 1 minute away, and, most of the sites are within walking distance of the hostel.  The folks I met at the hostel were all very friendly, travel savvy, and happy to swap travel stories and advice with you.  Ok, enough plugging The House.

My first day was spent visiting Naksansa temple.  This temple has been burnt down or destroyed numerous times over the centuries.  The temple was last rebuilt in 2009.  Nonetheless, it's still quite an impressive site and I was surprised by how large the grounds were and how many temples and shrines there were.

In Sokcho city there is a very nice and rather long shopping street with all sorts of shops and restaurants.  Adjacent to the shopping district is the old shopping district and seafood alley which made for a nice stroll.  I also visited Abai Maeul (Abai Village) which is a tiny island accessible by a floating platform that is powered by pulley system.  Tourists and riders are encouraged to help pull the platform.

Many of the residents of Abai Maeul fled to here from North Korea during the civil war and were not able to return home.  This where I had Abai Sundae which is not ice cream but is squid stuffed with blood sausage and who knows what other goodies, and is and then fried.  It actually tasted just fine, though, I apparently was allergic to something inside the stuffing because I later broke out into a mild, though itchy, case of hives. 

Sokcho is the homebase for people visiting Seoraksan National Park.  I was hoping to time my trip with the autumn colors but I think I was about 2 weeks too early as only a few leaves had changed color.

It was rather warm and humid during my stay in Sokcho.  The temperature hovered around 80F and humidity was rather high.

There are some very nice hiking trails in Seoraksan park.  But, be forwarned that although most trails start off paved or packed gravel, don’t be fooled.  The trails will become very steep with large, slippery rock steps that sometimes require scrambling over.  And when it gets too steep for rocks, you’ll encounter steep stairs that never seem to end.

Ulsan Bawi was my first destination in the park.  I got there early to beat the crowds, and I’m glad I did, because it becomes super crowded especially with all the tour buses.

Ulsan Bawi is not easy to hike to.  Once you get past Heundeul Bawi which is the giant rock that you can move, the trail gets steep and eventually reaches a slope of 30.8 degrees.

You’ll find a couple clusters of restaurant/souvenir shops along the hike.  Have you ever wondered how supplies are brought in to these shops?  Well, it’s all done by human labor.  Be glad you have an office job.

I also took a day trip to visit Hwanseongul Cave.  It took about 2.5 hours to get there one way, but, that was ok since it rained steadily the entire day and evening.  This is one of the largest caves in Asia with only a small portion open to visitors.  From the park entrance, it’s a 1 mile hike to a gondola ride which takes you to the cave entrance itself.

The caves are enormous and this is only a small portion of the caves.  There were underground waterfalls and pools.  What was surprising was I didn’t see large stalactites or stalagmites as I was expecting.

I found it nice that you have to take a gondola ride to the cave entrance because I was able to see the caves on my own pace letting my gondola group go ahead while staying ahead of the next group. 

I enjoyed the cuisine of Sokcho, despite coming down with a mild case of hives. 

On my first night I had all you can eat Korean BBQ, and, you guessed it, I ate all I could!  For the price of 10,000 won, which is about 9 USD, you can’t go wrong.

I also tried a seafood place recommended by the hostel owner.  In fact, the restaurant is so specialized there is only one item on the menu.  So it was easy.  You walk in, sit down, and then a clay pot of seafood shows up in front of you in no time.

For me, this was a new adventure because I’ve never had live abalone before.  I also never had sea squirt before.

You have to mix up the items in the clay pot to make sure that everything cooks.  One of the workers saw that I had little clue as what to do so she came by and removed the clams and mussels from their shells to make room to submerge the still moving abalone.

Then she came by again a minute later to remove the abalone and abalone innards from the shells, and to cut the abalone into strips.

I have to admit that I that I am not a fan of abalone innards, nor am I a fan of sea squirts.  The sea squirt has a hard, rubbery shell to it.  You bite down on it until the inside of the sea squirt shoots out.  I gagged for second but managed to keep it together and swallow the sea squirt.  I ate 3 more of them but left 2 in the bowl.  So at least I tried!

Another item I tried is fried chicken that was in a spicy, kim chee based sauce topped with garlic.  Absolutely brilliant!!!  I went to another place the next day but hoping for something similar but ended up with fried chicken in a spicy sauce, no hint of kim chee and no garlic on top.  Bummer!

I met some very nice travelers from around the globe during my short stay in Sokcho.

I met a nice couple from Spain while we were waiting for the bus at Seoraksan park to take us back to Sokcho.  He writes mobile apps for iOS and Androids.  I happened to run into them again the next day at the bus station as we were leaving for our next cities.

There was a retired couple from Canada, David and Mary, whom I met while waiting for the bus after visiting the Hwanseongul Cave.  They’re in Korea for month and then will be off to Japan.  They love to travel and during our conversation they gave me some tips on Nepal, Annapurna trekking, and India.  They spent 4 months in India last year…that’s a LONG time.  They sent me the name of the person they used to organize their trip and to organize a driver for them.  Let’s see if I make my way to India during my mid-career "retirement".  In exchange I gave them suggestions and tips on what to see and do in Japan. 

It seems everyone has been to Nepal!  I met a Malaysian couple at the hostel who had visited Nepal last year and trekked Annapurna.  I got some good tips and pointers from them that I can use next month!

I also met people from Singapore, Greece, Germany, France, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, but no one from the States.

I enjoyed my stay in Sokcho tremendously.  From the hostel owners, to the sights, to the fellow travelers I met, to the food, I found my stay in Sokcho to be thoroughly enjoying and rewarding.
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Cathy Langridge on

Amazing to follow your travels! Keep the stories coming Carl! and be safe...

Chris Griffith on

Looks like you are having a great time! Thanks for sharing

Wendi on

Hey Carl - how are you communicating with people when they are all speaking different languages? Did you buy a Rosetta Stone for each language/country you are visiting?!

Wendi on

Oh, and live abalone and "sea squirts"??? Ew!

Pam Goddard on

Some great experiences and interesting food options. I don't know if I could literally stomach some of them!

Looks like you are having fun, though.

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