Seoraksan for the Lazy and Sokcho City

It’s leaf viewing season in Korea and I decided to spend a Saturday at one of the country’s best autumn destinations — Seoraksan National Park. I wasn’t the only one, of course. Seoraksan is one of Korea’s most visited parks and it has some international attention as well, so it tends to get very crowded during peak season. However, I really enjoyed the views so I thought braving the sea of people was worth it.

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The most well known hike of Seoraksan is the Ulsanbawi hike, where hikers climb across a rocky ridge in the middle of the park. Ulsanbawi has a reputation as a pretty difficult and steep hike so I decided to opt out. Instead, I walked through a valley toward Biryong falls, which is quite easy and only takes about 45 minutes both ways from the park entrance.

I also took the cable car up the mountain to get a view of the park without having to hike. The cable car had a long wait, which was expected given that it’s peak season. I arrived at the park around 9 am, and the next available car left at 12:55. The fare is 10,000 won round trip. However this worked well for me since I had time to visit Sinheungsa temple, hike to Biryong falls, and grab a bite to eat before going up the cable car.

The first place I visited was Singheungsa temple, about a 10 minute walk from the entrance. It’s well known for it’s bronze reunification Buddha, which was added to the temple complex in 1997.

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After that, I hiked to Biryong falls. The hike isn’t too long or difficult so it’s a good way to enjoy fall foliage without tearing any ligaments. Biryong falls was pretty crowded with people, but that was expected.

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Biryong falls is small, but the trek through the valley is very scenic this time of year.

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After returning from the falls, I got a sandwich from a cafe near the cable car station. Seoraksan has plenty of food choices and coffee shops around.

Then it was time for the view.

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View of Sokcho from the park.
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Ulsanbawi, which I didn’t hike.
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Big Buddha from a distance.

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After exiting the cable car, there are some stairs that lead up to a higher viewing point of the park but I was happy enough with the view where I was so I didn’t climb them. I’m lazy and not a big hiker.

Seoraksan is a beautiful park with good facilities and information in English. It’s very popular, but this fact also makes it accessible and easy for beginners. It’s only about a half hour bus ride from Sokcho city. It’s easy to get the bus back and forth, but Sokcho city buses don’t accept T-money cards, so the 1,200 won fare must be paid in cash. Local buses 7 and 7-1 go to the park.

After the park visit, I checked out the Sokcho Museum and Displaced Civilians Folk Village.

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Local buses 3 and 3-1 drop off in front of this sign.

It’s a small but interesting place that has some information about Sokcho’s ancient and contemporary history. Sokcho is home to Abai Village, a place where North Koreans from Hamgyong province fled during the Korean war. At this time, Sokcho was a part of North Korea and remained so until the end of the war when the country was divided at the 38th parallel. After the division of the Koreas the Abai residents were unable to return home.

The museum contains a replica of a street in Abai village where the refugees lived.

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The old Sokcho station is also located here. It was built by the Japanese during their rule, and then handed over to North Korea. It was used as a crematory during that time and after the war as a kitchen and later a school. It was dismantled in 1978.

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North Korean style hanok, from the folk village.

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The museum has a tower where the folk village and mountains can be viewed.

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Some parts of the museum are lacking English, though most of it has at least some translations. The fee is very cheap at only 2,000 won. Included in the price is a nearby building housing artifacts from the Balhae Kingdom, which occupied what is now North Korea and parts of China. This museum has no English translations however, so I couldn’t learn anything about the artifacts.

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Local bus schedule posted at the bus stop leaving the museum.

The next day I planned to visit Abai Village, which was nearby my hostel but I made the mistake of buying a bus ticket and not leaving myself enough time to go before the bus left. From my understanding most of the refugees have since left the village but Abai still has shops selling North Korean naengmyeon and Abai style sundae. The village was made popular largely due to the drama Autumn in My Heart which was filmed there.

Though I didn’t have time to go, I walked by the harbor and saw the boats tourists use to visit, which are man-powered boats and take a few minutes to get there.

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My accommodation in Sokcho was the House Hostel, a place that’s highly recommended on hostelbookers and hostelworld with good reason. It was one of the homiest hostels I’ve been to and the owners were very nice and informative. They have bus information for Seoraksan and other attractions in the area, and a map and pictures of local eateries. The location was perfect, right near the Intercity bus terminal and around the corner from a local bus stop, where buses to the attractions in the area can be easily reached. It’s probably the most popular of the budget accommodations in the city, so it’s best to book at least a week in advance, especially for weekends and holidays.

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DSC02780 Bus stop near the hostel. 
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It’s also right across from the harbor.

The female 4 bed dorm was small but comfortable and cheap. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the hostel to Rodeo street, which has a ton of shops, cafes, and restaurants.

If I had more time, I would have liked to check out Naksansa temple, which is a temple by the sea in Yangyang county and about 30 minutes from Sokcho on a local bus. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to return to the area before it gets cold. Seoraksan is stunning in autumn and I was happy to have visited although it was VERY busy. But the views, warm weather, and blue skies made up for the crowds in my mind.

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