It happened to be the Korean Chuseok holiday when our ferry docked at Donghae and we spent our first few days in country enjoying very quiet streets as most people were spending time with family. But with the arrival of the weekend and after a couple of hours bus ride north to the coastal city of Sokcho, things picked up a bit.
Amber and I have had the chance to visit mid-sized coastal towns on several continents, facing several oceans and we have noticed they all seem to have some things in common – whether you are in Portland Maine, Bellingham Washington, Vladivostok Russia or Sokcho South Korea! You can always find great sea food of course, both in the markets and the restaurants. There will be cafes and pubs with aquatic views, names, decor and themes. There are lots of public outdoor areas for events or just for people to gather. And there will be this good energy – a good vibe – as Amber puts it. It is as if the people who live in these places understand they have something special and that knowing just radiates into the place and everything they do.We strolled all along the waterfront area, visited just one of the three major beaches and perused as many markets as we could. At a nice little restaurant on a side street we had a very traditional meal, sitting on cushions next to a table that was about one foot off the floor. We each had an order of ginseng chicken soup (in Korean, samgyetang). It consists of a bowl of broth with a whole small chicken stuffed with sticky rice, ginseng, garlic, and jujube. It was delicious! The meal also included all the little bowls of side dishes (banchan) that accompany every Korean meal – things like kimchi, pickled vegetables, radish strips in a spicy fermented bean sauce (much tastier than it sounds) and pickled garlic, among many others. On the streets we also saw lots of people carrying flat boxes with various take out from their favorite vendor. Dakgangjeong, a sweet and spicy glazed chicken topped with peanuts, is very popular and we picked some up to take back to our hostel to go along with the Tteokbokki, rice ‘cakes’ smothered in a delicious, spicy, comically red, sauce, and this giant slice of steamed bread we bought at the Tourist and Fishery Market. I have never seen so much fresh seafood for sale! It was in huge tanks all over the markets with sea water being constantly pumped up from below the dock to keep it fresh. And it was in smaller tanks at the entrance to many restaurants. Like these crabs – you could just point to the sideways walking one you want and your server will snatch it out with a little hooked pole. I tried a type of crab cake they serve here that has been rolled to about the size and shape of a corn dog. But unlike a corn dog, it is not served on a wooden stick but rather with a little crab leg sticking out for a handle! It worked great.
Also very abundant in the markets and at small shops all over town is dried fish and squid – bags and bags of it!
One of the town’s main shopping areas is called Rodeo Street and the street’s centerpiece is a popular spot for posing for photos, apparently. What we did not figure out is if the bull is here because the street was named Rodeo or if the street was named Rodeo because there is a bull here.Sokcho is just down the valley from Seoraksan National Park whose list of sites includes numerous waterfalls, multiple granite peaks, a fortress, a temple, a large Buddha statue, a human carved grotto hermitage and a cable car! We could have easily visited the park every day for a week and still not seen it all. We only had time to spend a short day there so we were limited to, two water falls, the “observatory” (huh, a really, really high overlook accessed by climbing metal stairs through the wilderness for about an hour!), a grotto hermitage and 875 meter high Ulsanbawi Rock.The hermitage grounds are a great place to rest a while before climbing the rest of the 875 meters.Heundeulbawi Rock sits just outside the entrance to the grotto and is the subject of much pushing and rocking by the park’s visitors.Amber assures me she did see it move as a result of my efforts!
After conquering the route, this climber signaled encouragement to his party still laboring below.After the climb we spent plenty of time just sitting and cooling off with the other successful hikers. In addition to the view from the summit we enjoyed a nice lunch of kimbap (steamed rice in a little triangular shape, stuffed with veggies and meat and wrapped in seaweed paper – similar to sushi but different!) and quail eggs in soy sauce! (Mmmm, it seems like we have done a lot of eating so far in Korea…)On our trip down the mountain I captured a little video of the stairs and Amber leading us across the suspension bridge so you too can share this spectacular pathway in one of the world’s great places! (Be sure to watch for the joyful looks on the faces of the last two hikers we see as they are climbing the mountain with their children. They are obviously also enthralled by this spectacular route and scenery.)
Coming up, Seoul! So much to see!