When I think of South Korea, I think of hyper-modern ginormous metropolis, Seoulites in shades Gangnam-style and kimchi. And that would be correct, but it is also a stunning country for outdoor activities full of great nature spots like Seoraksan National Park in the North-East. Hiking is a national past time here and, well, when in Korea… Today I’m hiking in the Outter Seorak National Park, just a short bus ride from Sokcho. See you at the top of Ulsan Peak!
Step 1: Get to Sokcho! From Dong Seoul Bus Terminal in Seoul, just hop on a bus to Sokcho and 2:40 hours later, you’re on the coast. It’s that simple. No online pre-booking or Visa card needed, no passport or Korean-English dictionary needed either. There’s a few buses every hour, so that’s handy. You can just turn up at the Bus Terminal on the day and buy a ticket for the bus leaving in… say 20 min, would that be okay? Getting on a Seoul-Sokcho bus is the easiest, most hassle-free thing to do so … Whatcha waiting for?
Step 2: Get around Sochko. From the Express Bus Terminal in Sokcho, take pretty much any bus going to Sokcho City Center (or walk 2km) among the main street. I took bus no 9, paid 1.200KRW and the adorable older bus driver – who spoke English! – dropped me smack outside my hostel. Kamsa Hamnida, my good sir!
Step 3: Stay with James in his homey Blue Hostel. Cheap, quiet hostel with heated floor, comfortable beds and excellent free WiFi. The owner, James, speaks great English, knows everything there is to know about Sokcho and Seoraksan. He gave me a map of Sokcho and Seoraksan National Park and a couple of tips I am now sharing with you:
- If, like me, you and your bank card don’t always see eye to eye, you’ll find a Global ATM on Main Street inside NH Bank across from the Police Station.
- From JBH, the Intercity Bus Terminal is a 5 min walk away, which is pretty cool if, like me, you’re going to Gangneung. Buses run every 30 min and are, according to James, faster than the Express Buses.
Step 4: Get to Seoraksan National Park. Leave the hostel, go left on the main road and walk back towards the fish market where you’ll find a few bus stops on the right-hand side of Main Street. Every 15 min, buses 7 and 7-1 take you through the countryside to the entrance of the park in about 30min for 1.200KRW. Last stop: Seoraksan National Park.
Step 5: Time to hike, fellas! And what a glorious day it is! The feeling of being in the mountains by a clear sunny sky on this warm spring day is like a whirl of happy colors flowing around and through me Pocahontas style, but in post-winter Asian Narnia.
Glad to be hiking in the woods, away from the crowds and the ridiculous pastel umbrellas. From the moment I get off the bus I’m surrounded by delicious scents of nature in the spring, pine trees, warm stones polished by the footsteps of hundreds of avid hikers and the sun playing in the branches.
The last kilometer from the monastery to the top of Ulsan Peak are a hellish succession of stairs, rocks, boulders, pines and fantastic views. A certain someone with a questionable sense of humor set up wooden signs along the path to let you know you’re almost there. 0.6 km to go, come on! Humph. Now 0.4 km to go… Wait. What? Was that seriously only 200 m? #dying
But the view from the top is absolutely worth it! A sort of mini Asian version of the Rocky Mountains over a forest of pine trees with every now and then some cherry blossoms. And a stream. Sure your legs are going to hate you, but it’s all worth it.
Some random facts:
- The entrance ticket to the park is 3500KRW per adult
- Buy some water and some snacks!! The hike is no picnic.
- The hike up to Ulsan Peak (Ulsanbawi) is about 4km long and should take you between 3:30h and 4hours return. It took me 6 hours but I lingered and had a nap in the sun at the top.
- Have a break and some free hot tea at Heundeulbawi Monastery before the last big leg up.
- From Heundeulbawi Rock (Monastery) be ready for 880 regular stairs and 700 irregular boulders, rocks and stairs to the top of Ulsan Peak. Save some water and strength for that last leg.
- If you like waterfalls, skip Ulsan Peak and head West to Yukdam Falls, Biryong Falls or Towangseong Falls.
- The hike up to Biseondae Rock should take about 1:30, unless you want to take the cable car to Gwongeumseong Fortress.
- You can do Ulsan Peak and the cable car in one day, but you might want to start early.
Step 6: Explore Sokcho. Before you leave onto your next destination, take a few hours to stroll on the Main Road and get a taste of this small fisherman town. Try the Fisery Market for a cheap meal on-the-go, albeit a bit… fishy. Go for a walk around the lake in the evening, the view from the Cheongchojeong Pavilion is quite the luminescent show. Check out the observatory rooftop for a spectacular view of the city. Beware, it closes early!
The salty smell of the sea, the fish market, the Seorak National Park and not a tourist in sight, thanks Sokcho and Seoraksan. I’m glad we met.