For this edition of off the beaten track, we are going to take a look at Sokcho, a small beachside city on the east coast of the Korean peninsula. While it may not be on most travelers radars it should be. It is the gateway to Seoraksan National Park which is one of the tallest and most beautiful mountains in Korea.
While you definitely have to go hiking in Seoraksan either just for a short one or all the way to the top which is a staggering 1,708 meters tall you have to see it to believe it. If you are planning to do the whole mountain, expect to wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to make it to the park in time to hike to the summit and then down again. You will want to pack some layers as it can get quite chilly. The best time to do this hike is in the spring or fall when it is not blisteringly hot.
A visit to Sinheungsa is also necessary, and within the park complex as well. It is the head temple for the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and features a massive stone, Buddha. The market is also worth wandering around as you can get boxes of spicy fried chicken to take to the beach with you or some hoddeok which are like pancakes that are stuffed with brown sugar, green tea, and red bean paste depending on what you like. At night you can also go to any convenience store and purchase fireworks to let off at the beach when night falls. Light it up!
Like most of Korea, there are ‘love motels’ all over the place for you to stay at. These are your standard budget accommodation but are called love motels because most Koreans live with their parents until they are married so this is a nice way to get away with a significant other for a weekend. There is a fantastic hostel called The House Hostel which is highly recommended. It offers affordable private rooms or dorm style family rooms and is only a three-minute walk from the main bus terminal. Plus, the staff all speaks English and loves helping you plan your time in Sokcho along with great BBQ recommendations.
The two primary modes of transportation in Korea if you do not have a car are by bus or train. The buses are very comfortable and go to all the major cities. If you are coming from Seoul then you will want to catch the bus to Sokcho. In terms of taking the train, it is less direct and you will still need to catch a bus, so choose the most direct route and go on the bus. You will enjoy your time here lounging on the beach and hiking in the mountains all while stuffing yourself with samgyupsal (barbecued pork) and kimchi.