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.
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!
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 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.
Entrance to the park is free but a ride to the top of the mountain in a cable car will cost around $10 CAD.
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.
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.
A peaceful pagoda sits on one of the many mountain ridges facing the Sea of Japan.
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.
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.
The next morning we woke up early to check out the Sokcho traditional fish market.
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.
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.
I’ll be exploring more of Gangwon province in May so stay tuned and be well!