Korea's east coast
a year ago

When I left Daegu's extremely nice hostel behind me, I had a decent plan set up to spend the whole day travelling, but end up in Gangneung, a city on the Eastern coast of Korea. Getting to less popular towns, especially when they're behind a mountain range, means getting there usually includes one transfer. As route planners usually aren't really account for backpackers, this means it takes quite some effort to figure out the route. But I knew I had to get to a small town called Samcheok, before 3PM, and from there I could take a nice scenic train ride to Gangneung.

I got to Daegu's bus terminal, and bought a ticket for a 5 hour busride leaving at 12.30. After about 30 minutes I finally realized 12+5 isn't 15. No worries I thought, I'll just spend a night in Samcheok and take the earliest train the next day. When I finally arrived in Samcheok, I rushed into the tourist information center (which was only open for another 20 minutes). There I was helped by an extremely kind lady, who booked me a guesthouse, and got me tickets for the train the next morning. She also explained which bus to take to the guesthouse, and that there were only 2 more buses leaving today. I missed the first one in favor of dinner, but then ran into a problem: I was out of money. In Korea, very little ATMs actually take foreign cards. I franticly rushed from bank to bank in order to get some money before the very last bus left. Luckily, I made it with about 10 minutes to spare. When I finally arrived at the guesthouse, I was completely worn out from a full day of travel.

Waiting for the last bus to take me to the guesthouse.

The next day, I took the scenic sea train. Unfortunately, the train wasn't as nice as I was lead to believe. It had some nice scenic views, but 90% of the time it just drove through tunnels or industrial terrain. To make matters worse, it didn't end in Gangneung, as expected, but in Donghae, about 40 kilometers south of Gangneung. So another afternoon was spend getting bus tickets, finding bus terminals, etc. Meanwhile, a national week of holiday had started in Korea (or all of Eastern Asia really), and guesthouse were filling up quickly. Luckily I managed to get the last bed in a Gangneung guesthouse not to far from the bus terminal, but just for 1 night.

The interior of the sea train. The windows and seats allow all passengers a nice view.

The next day I left early, after a good breakfast, for my main destination along the eastern coast of Korea: Seorak-san national park. I managed to get to my (quite) expensive hostel at 12, which meant I could spend the day hiking the park, and so I did. The hikes were quite intense (as I had gotten used to in South Korea), and I was starting to get a cold, but it was a beautiful experience regardless.

Hiking in Seorak-san national park.

The next day it was raining, and all of Korea seemed to go to Seorak-san to spend their holiday. So instead I went to see the DMZ, the border between North and South Korea. As the main 'tourist attraction' on this border is located near Seoul, it was hard to find any English information regarding the border near Sokcho. However, I managed to figure out which public bus to ride (a 1.5 hour ride, all the way to the northern most point in South Korea). I found out that there should be a shuttle bus taking you through the military checkpoint, but once I got to the ticketing booth they informed that no such bus existed, and I needed to get a car. However, the staff was extremely kind and asked other visitors if they were willing to take me with them. In no more than 2 minutes I got a ride with a young Korean family.

Although there wasn't much to see by the border itself (it's not like North Korea build a model village for tourists to stare at), the experience of being so close to the most isolated country was still extraordinary by itself. The weather had cleared up a bit bythe time we got to the viewing platform, so we could see quite a bit of the North Korean coastal mountain ranges.

Even 15 kilometers south of the border with North Korea, barbed wire lines the coast.

Unfortunately, I had to spend the next day in my hostel with a cold. It wasn't too bad, as the park was extremely crowded and the weather wasn't too great. The following day (my birthday!) I headed back for Seoul. And apparently, so did everybody else! The 190 km ride from Sokcho to Seoul took almost 7 hours! Once in Seoul, I found a nice hostel in a steel-workshop-turned-art-house district of Seoul. My hostel itself used to be a recording studio, and had one of the most relaxed atmospheres so far.

As this was my third time in Seoul now, I spent the majority of my time just wandering around the city and revisiting some places that I liked. On the last evening, I met up with Matthieu (from Daegu), and we belatedly celebrated my birthday!

this hostel in Seoul was build in an old recording studio.