The sweet aroma from the pine forest and fresh ocean air hugs your nostrils like a big burning incense stick. The unsung dramatic landscapes; lush valleys and rivers take your breath away while the Taebaek Mountains tower to the heavens above and waves crash on the golden beaches below…not an inch is left untouched.
Gangwondo – the north eastern province of South Korea – is one of those places that allows you to utter “I love it here” within the first few minutes. Only three other places had the same in-a-few-minutes-I-will-love-you effect on me: Lovina in Indonesia, Luang Prabang in Laos and Nieu Bethesda in South Africa.
I’m not exactly sure if it was the blue skies, the bustling seafood markets, the calm ocean, the dried fish hanging everywhere, the seagulls hungrily wailing or just the views from the train- and bus window that added Gangwondo (especially the coast) to my “In-a-few-minutes-I-will-love-you List”, but there was just something magical.
Gangwondo is one of the provinces truly embracing the Korean-four-seasons-pride with beach activities during those piping hot summer days, striking sceneries in fall, exclusive ski resorts for winter and cherry blossom festivals from shores to mountains in spring.
The picturesque east coast of South Korea offers a magical short route of about 100km bursting with a plethora of sites to see, things to do and places to kick off your shoes, unwind and relax. Between Sokcho and Samcheok lies Gangneung, Jeongdongjin and Donghae; each with its own captivating charm. While the majority of South Korea flocks to Busan during the summer season, the stretches of golden sand of the east coast are not a close second best; it’s without a doubt some of the best and most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in Korea so far.
The best way to experience this magical short stretch of 100km is by train. The railroad warmly winds along the coast and trains stop every few minutes at some small beachside train station buzzing with vacationers with big sun hats and children running around with excitement. The views of the Pacific are magnificent, the horizon reaches for eternity and the rock formations are geological wonders.
As you stroll along the small town streets where the elderly sit outside resting a wrinkled hand on a cane, the Mugunghwa flowers bloom in all shades of pink while the Cicadas screech their songs in the hot humid air somewhere high up in the deep shadows of a tree. Here, pollution is only a myth and the clear skies fill your lungs therapeutically – you get intoxicated and overwhelmed by tranquility; it puts you in a dreamlike state and you melt away with nature.
It’s here at the East Coast where Korea’s second name, The Land of the Morning Calm, comes to life when the ocean shore gets the first warm kisses from the sun. It’s here where you can hit the pause button on the never-ending rapid Korean lifestyle, where you can close your ears when you shut your eyes. It’s here where you can find your inspiration, your muse and even a little piece of yourself.
Going Somewhere Slowly Tip:
The “Sea Train” is quite popular and during the summer season tickets get sold out quickly. The best part of this train journey is from Gangneung to Jeongdongjin, but you can get the same views from the normal train for a lot cheaper (check for train times on www.korail.com).
The “Sea Train” is ₩15 000 for the full ride from Gangneung to Samcheok, but it’s definitely not worth the steep fee. The Mugungwha train from Gangneung to Donghae is only ₩2800 – the “Sea Train” will charge you ₩10 000 for the same journey, on the same tracks with the same views.