Summer in Seoul is hot, humid and crowded. Cooling off in any community pool is out of the question for me. The crowds are too massive, and to be honest I do not find soaking in a warm pool with thousands of other people an enjoyable activity.
We were searching for a weekend destination that would hit all our points for a great getaway: relaxation, outdoor adventures, and good eats. We didn’t want to spend tons of money, nor did we want to sit on a bus for half a day. We decided on Sokcho, a little fishing city in the northeast of Korea. This decision turned out to be the best choice we have made while living in Korea.
The city of Sokcho surprised us in so many ways.
The specialty food of the city is fresh, cheap and delicious. The towering Taebak Mountains meeting the ocean are spectacular. The beaches of the East Sea welcome you with white sand and clear water. This sleepy seaside city is an invigorating difference to busy Seoul.
Spectacular Craggy Mountains
Towering over the city of Sokcho is Seoraksan (Seorak Mountain), the highest peak in the Taebaek Mountain Range. The craggy peaks jut high above the city offering views of interesting rock formations. The mountains provide a unique contrast to the white sand of the beaches.
Seoraksan National Park makes its home in these mountains. One of the most popular parks in Korea expect crowds during all seasons. Adventurers hike through the park to marvel at waterfalls, explore temples, and soak in hot springs. One of the best things about Seoraksan is the accessibility for all fitness levels. If hiking isn’t your thing, a cable car gets you 700m and 20-30 minutes of hiking to the summit.
White Sand Beaches with History and Spunk
We spent time at Sokcho Beach and Naksan Beach, both long beaches with white sand, blue water, and some unique features. Naksan Beach, a 10 minute drive from Sokcho, is home to Naksan Temple (Naksansa). Perched atop a seaside cliff, this elaborate and colorful Buddhist temple includes statues, winding paths, fresh mountain water, and coastal views.
The temple is just a few hundred meters from the beach. After a quick exploration of the historical part of this area, lounging was next. We played in the waves, watched kids take rides on a banana boat, and saw adults huddle under the safety of their sun tents. There are plenty of places to get out of the sun along the beach. Stores, restaurants, hotels and a few rides line the beach.
The other beach we explored was Sokcho Beach. Sokcho Beach has a small boardwalk with bathrooms and benches. At the end of the boardwalk is an interesting statue of a heart shaped tree. Definitely picture worthy.
By day, yellow inner tubes fill the water and umbrellas line the sand. By night, fireworks light up the sky and revelers enjoy beers and picnics in the sand.
Another unique feature to the beaches of Sokcho: barbed wire fences. With North Korea just an arms length away, these fences were built to keep out invaders.
Fabulous Fresh Food
At the Daepo Fish Market we stuffed our faces with fresh fish. Never at a fish market have we eaten so well. We picked our own fish, crabs, sea urchins and squid from the tanks. Unlike other fish markets around the country, each fish monger has their own restaurant. Here is where they cook up all their fresh seafood for customers. While our food cooked, we sat on the deck gazing at the port. For such freshness, the food was simple, tasty, and affordable.
Sweet and Spicy Chicken is the specialty at the Jungang Traditional Market. Small bites, coated in a sticky, spicy/sweet sauce, make the famous Jungang Chicken. The large box of chicken is served cold, and is the perfect blend of spicy and sweet. It was exactly what we were looking for after a night of drinking beer.
Abai Village is a small ramshackle town in the middle of Sokcho. It is unique because most of the residents are North Koreans. They got here because they fled their homes in the north during the war. They specialize in Ochingo Sundae. That would be squid sausage. A squid is used as the “sausage” casing, and stuffed with vegetables, tofu, squid and noodles. Its then coated in egg and fried.
*Be on the lookout for a detailed article on the incredible eats of the Sokcho region.
The trip from Seoul to Sokcho is do-able in a day, though much more pleasant as a weekend getaway
Hop on a bus headed to Sokcho from the Seoul Express Bus Terminal. The ride is about 2.5 hours.