Having only 10 hours to spend in Sokcho on Sunday, I had to quickly make up my mind about what I wanted to see and do before I had to go back to Seoul. I purchased the return ticket for the bus first thing in the morning, because I was worried about the traffic situation going back into Seoul. I wanted to make sure that I would get a seat on a bus back to Seoul around 6 pm. Then I wandered out of the express bus terminal a bit unsure of whether I wanted to explore the city of Sokcho, the beach or a nearby temple. Luckily the lady inside the tiny tourist information spotted me and helped me out. I decided to take a city bus (no 7) out of Sokcho into Seoraksan National Park (설악산국립공원) and take a look at Sinheungsa (신흥사), a buddhist temple right at the beginning of Seoraksan National Park. The bus leaves across the street from the express bus terminal, costs 1200 KRW (less than 1 Euro) and the Park is the last stop. Depending on the traffic situation, the trip up into the mountains takes about 20 minutes. Don’t expect a quiet drive up a hidden valley. The closer you get the the entrance of the National Park, the more motels for hikers and restaurants you are going to see. The main parking space next to the entrance was that packed, that it took the bus 15 minutes to drive up the last 500 metres to the bus stop. It’s almost fun to see the busloads of tourists, decked out in colorful hiking gear, hurrying out of their busses into the Park. Having been to National Parks in the mountains in France and Europa, I was a bit worried about not being able to find much to eat for breakfast, but once again I was forgetting that this is Korea. There are about 4 coffeeshops, 3 restaurants, souvenir shops and various food stalls in the first 500 metres behind the entrance gates. In order to get access to the National Park and the temple, you have to pay 3000 KRW at the main gate. I got myself an iced latte and a sandwhich, then headed for Sinheungsa temple. On the way, you will see a bronze Buddha statue, which is way over 10 metres high and is supposed to express the wish of the Korean people for reunification of their divided country.
Sinheungsa temple is a lovely place, nestled behind a rocky creek. According to visitkorea.or.kr it was first constructed around the year 650 and has since been destroyed and rebuilt many times.
After looking around the temple area, I figured that I wasn’t actually prepared to hike further into Seoraksan National Park. I wasn’t sure how easy the trails to the famous waterfalls or other places of interest would be, so I decided to at least take the cable car up the mountain. The cable car station is very close to the entrance of the Park and the round trip up and down costs 10.000 KRW (about 8 Euros). You get a ticket for a time slot, so if you visit during peak season, you might have to wait for a few hours to be able to actually go up. However, if you have time, definitely go up. The views are stunning.
Once I left the cable car station, I followed a trail up the mountain. I am not the best hiker, so when the trail got steeper and a bit more difficult I started to worry. However, after about 10 minutes alternating rocky ground and artificial steps,the trees were opening up and I saw the top (Bonghwadae). I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.
What struck me the most (apart from the amazing beauty of place I had basically stumbled upon), was that there were no fences, ropes or any security measures in place. The rocks on the ground are quite flat and it’s relatively easy to make your way up towards the top, but as someone who is actually quite afraid of heights, I was getting quite anxious. Meanwhile, the Koreans next to me were fearlessly stepping on rocks and getting as close to the edge as possible to get the best pictures. Not to be outdone by toddlers and grannies, I managed to “climb” halfway up the rock and I have a selfie to prove it.
This was also the first time I had a bunch of “Hellos” thrown at me since arriving in Korea. It seems like the communal experience of braving a mountain makes people much more talkative. Or they just wanted to be nice to the sweating, anxious looking foreigner.
Anyway, the views were spectacular and Seoraksan National Park has so much more hidden away. I am planning to go back during fall foliage season and dedicated a whole day to exploring the trails and valleys further inside the park. Hiking doesn’t sound as bad when I can take an iced latte with me 😉
A bit more to come in Sokcho – part III