Samcheok, located on the east coast in the southern part of Gangwon-do, is a beach city very popular with domestic travelers in summer. Other than its beaches, the two attractions it is most well known for are two caves located in its mountains and Haesindang Park, otherwise known as “Penis Park” among foreigners.
I had hoped to visit Samcheok in the summer, as the coolness of it’s caves and it’s beaches make it a popular summer holiday choice but never got around to it then. Samcheok’s main cave, Hwanseongul, was on my bucket list of places to visit in Korea before leaving so I made the trip recently in late November.
Getting to Samcheok was quite time consuming. Although, getting to many places can be time consuming for me since I live in a really small town, but Samcheok took more time than other cities on the east coast I visited, like Sokcho and Gangneung. This is because the bus from Chuncheon makes a stop at Gangneung (an hour north of the city) and Donghae before stopping in Samcheok. Usually a bus from Chuncheon to the east coast takes about 2 and a half hours, but for Samcheok it took almost 4 hours each way. Then after Chuncheon I have to transfer buses for my small town in Gapyeong.
I spent one night in Chuncheon Friday night to cut the trip in half the first day, so I could have more time to see the caves on Saturday. Samcheok has two caves, Daegeumgul and Hwanseongul. Daeguemgul can only be seen by riding a monorail for 90 minutes and is typically booked in advance, and the booking is only in Korean so most foreigners only visit Hwanseongul. I didn’t make a reservation for Daegeumgul but I thought I might try to buy a ticket straight at the office if possible, since I went in the off-season. However, I didn’t end up having the time.
Both caves are about 40 minutes outside Samcheok city in the mountains. The scenery is really quite beautiful here:
The buses to the caves leave right from the first platform in the Samcheok terminal but the buses are really infrequent, only 3 a day. I narrowly missed the 10:30 bus and ended up waiting for the 2:20 one, so I only had time to see Hwanseongul. The woman at the Samcheok tourist office is very helpful and speaks English. She gave me a schedule of the bus times for the caves and for Penis Park.
Hwanseongul requires either a trek up a steep hill or a monorail to reach. I took the monorail for 7,000 won round trip. Since it wasn’t peak season the line wasn’t long.
I haven’t been to many caves (before this one, I’d only been to the lava tube on Jeju) so it was amazing to enter a huge limestone cave like Hwanseon. It was massive with a stream flowing throughout. Visitors walk up and down metal stairs. The cave is very wet, so I held on to the rail closely. It was cool but actually not as cold as I expected. I was wearing a large down jacket so that may be why.
Some of the neon lights are a bit garish, but the descriptions of the cave formations in English are rather amusing. Many of the cave formations have names of things they supposedly look like such as “the Great Wall of China” or the “Virgin Mary.”
After about an hour, I finished walking through the cave. I managed to catch the next bus back to Samcheok without having to wait for long.
There are plenty of motels near Samcheok terminal. The woman in the tourist office will call motels to ask if they have a room. I stayed in a place called Moon Motel which was really nice. It’s 50,000 won during the weekend, 40,000 during the week. It comes with the standard amenities of love motels: shampoo, conditioner, TV, computer, fridge with drinks, toothbrush, a condom, etc. Apart from getting a free condom, the Moon Motel actually doesn’t come across as much of a “love motel” as the decor isn’t gaudy like most. Also, I noticed a Korean family with a young child was staying there. There’s an actual door to the bathroom in this one unlike most love motels which usually have a clear bathroom door. The lady at the front desk was nice and they will store bags before check-in.
The next day, I was up early to check out the infamous Haesindang Park, which will be a later post.