Exploring Gangwon-do: Destination Sokcho

2004 marked my first stay in Korea. During that time I made friends with a Korean co-worker, Judy, and that friendship has lasted to this day.

Reunited after years apart.

Reunited after years apart.

Soon after I left Korea, Judy moved to America for university and has lived there ever since. 10 years and 2 trips to the US to visit later, Judy was coming back to Korea! Not for good – just for her brother’s wedding but 2 weeks was better than nothing. We discussed our reunion for months, like school kids going to their first sleep over. After 6 years apart, Judy and I would be romping through Seoul and later, the neighbouring province of Gangwon (or Gangwon-do. “Do,” said like doh, means province).

I mentioned that I wanted to see Gangwon province, an eastern coastal region known for it’s beautiful mountains and fresh seafood. I was wondering if Judy had time to make a trip there with me. Little did I know, she already had a trip planned for Gangwon-do as her mother’s hometown is there, in the city of Sokcho. Judy has lots of family living in Sokcho and they were all eager to see her after a decade away. Judy’s mom was gracious enough to invite me along so off we went! ROAD TRIP!

No springtime trip is complete without cherry blossoms!

No springtime trip is complete without cherry blossoms!

One of the most famous attractions in Sokcho is Seoraksan (or Seorak Mountain,”san” means mountain). Seoraksan stands over 1,700 meters high and is the tallest in the Taebaek mountain region. Surrounding the base of the mountain is Seoraksan National Park and that’s where we spent our day.

The gang about to enter Seoraksan National Park. Two aunts, Judy's mom, Judy and myself.

The gang about to enter Seoraksan National Park. Two aunts, Judy’s mom, Judy and myself.

At the base of the mountain, Seoraksan National Park.

At the base of the mountain, Seoraksan National Park.

The park spreads across four cities: Sokcho, Yangyang, Inje and Goseong. At the base of the mountain you’ll see the huge Bronze Buddha that sits over 10 meters high and leads the way to multiple temples further up the mountain trail.

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Near the Bronze Buddha.

Near the Bronze Buddha.

Inside the base of the giant Buddha, a small temple adorned with prayer papers.

Inside the base of the giant Buddha, a small temple adorned with prayer papers.

Entrance to the park is free but a ride to the top of the mountain in a cable car will cost around $10 CAD.

Awaiting the cable car.

Awaiting the cable car.

The view from the top of Seorak Mountain.

The view from the top of Seorak Mountain.

The cable car takes trips up and down the mountainside every 15 minutes from 7am to 6pm but visitors are welcome to grab their gear and hike to the top for free. For those who want to spend more time on Seoraksan, overnight camping is available seasonally as well. It got pretty foggy as our elevation increased which made for haunting photos of nature at its finest.

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As our mountain trek continued closer to the water’s edge, the fog turned to drizzle, only adding to the mystic vibe of our journey.

On our way up to Hong Reanam temple, built into the rocks above the water on the mountain side.

On our way up to a Buddhist temple, built into the rocks above the water on the mountain side.

Jang-Mi's uncle, our gracious host and wonderful tour guide in Sokcho.

Judy’s uncle, our wonderful host and tour guide in Sokcho. Also my new best friend.

A peaceful pagoda sits on one of the many mountain ridges facing the Sea of Japan.

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After visiting the temple built above the waves (people were praying so pictures seemed rude – sorry guys!) we headed further up Seoraksan to the next temple.

Entering the Botajeon Buddhist temple.

Entering the Botajeon Buddhist temple.

Temple bell tower at Botajeon.

Temple bell tower at Botajeon.

Another large Buddha at one of many peaks of Seoraksan.

Another large Buddha.

The foggy courtyard pond of Botajeon temple.

The foggy courtyard pond of Botajeon temple.

Temple statues inside Botajeon.

Temple statues inside Botajeon.

A look at the courtyard from the steps of Botajeon.

A look at the courtyard from the steps of Botajeon.

After our mountain temple tour, it was time to head back to even footing and have some dinner. Reservations were made at a top seafood joint on the strip known for amazingly fresh and delicious fare. We had a three-course meal fit for a king.

My first taste of Korean sushi, called "Hweh." On the right is seafood and vegetable tempura.

My first taste of Korean sushi, called “Hweh.” On the right is seafood and vegetable tempura.

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Second course: A ton of the freshest crab you’ve ever eaten. No big deal.

Fish soup with every part of the fish inside. EVERY.

Third course: Fish soup with every part of the fish inside. EVERY.

The next morning we woke up early to check out the Sokcho traditional fish market.

At the Sokcho traditional fish market.

Fish heads: For all your culinary needs.

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After the market we went to a restaurant famous for its soft tofu soup. The entire region of Sokcho is actually well-known for premium tofu.The soup was so good that I barely got a picture before I inhaled it all.

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Soup in belly, it was time to leave. With my pocket full of memories and my stomach full of amazing food, it was truly a weekend I’ll not soon forget. Being away from own my family for over 2 years now, I can’t express how good it felt to be included with Judy’s gang for the weekend. Just sitting in her uncle’s living room, laughing over bowls of fresh fruit made me happy to be in the moment. Despite the language barriers (with everyone except Judy), her family welcomed me like one of their own and it was incredibly good medicine for the soul.

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I’ll be exploring more of Gangwon province in May so stay tuned and be well!

6 thoughts on “Exploring Gangwon-do: Destination Sokcho

  1. Beautiful pictures Karli.
    Amazing shots of the landscape.
    P.S. that soup looks amazing

  2. Thank you for the beautiful heart touching story of us! :)
    And Hello Heather! How’s everything?

    We will have more fun when I come back soon.
    I love all the writings in your blog. Thank you for sharing your stories and good memories through this blog.
    I cherish our friendship 4ever!
    Love you,
    Your Harry

  3. This post should be called, If you weren’t hungry before, you will be :)
    The beauty you have seen….wow. I can only imagine that these sights must be a million times more beautiful. Pictures can only capture so much. I feel like my eyes wouldn’t even know how to handle all of it. The food looked so amazing and fresh. I would like some crab now. What a beautiful way to spend time with a friend you haven’t seen in so long.

  4. Hey Karluch:
    What a wonderful reunion with Judy and the welcome you received from her Family. Obviously very gracious people.
    I’m not sure Nana and I would walk a country mile to share in that fish head soup. Some of the dishes look scrumptious.
    Guess I’ll just fry up some pickerel with thick bacon and home baked beans!
    lotsa luv to youse!!
    nana and gramp xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxooooooooooooooooXO

  5. I’m so happy you got to see Judy again – she hasn’t changed at all! I went to Sokcho in 2001 but after seeing your pics, I realize I didn’t see ANY of that!? Of course, I didn’t go with Korean people so we had no idea what to see or how to see it. Even so, I have great memories of Sokcho :)

  6. Hi Karli,

    What a heart-warming story! I’m so glad that you got some ‘family time’ to rekindle the warm and fuzzies. Unbelievable pics, too! Keep up the great writing and reporting. love and miss you, Aunt Boo xoxo

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