It’s now been over a year since I moved away from South Korea, and I still find myself missing it regularly. I’ve written about some reasons why I love it in a previous post, so I won’t go into all that here. Maybe someday I’ll live there again (sorry mom!), but for now I’ll satisfy my longing by writing about it once again.
South Korea is a mecca for recent grads that have less than $0 and want to experience something new. But, you don’t just go there to teach–you go to spend your weekends exploring the country and taking it all in, cheaply (or not-so-cheaply, as it’s also very possible). Here are some of my favourite trips on this mountainous peninsula:
(disclaimer: this list is a bit Gangwon-do heavy. Not only because that’s where I lived–in Wonju–, but because it is a beautiful province with just too much good stuff to miss out on. It’s also pretty convenient if you live in Gyeonggi-do–the most populous province in the country)
5 trips for weekend warriors in South Korea
5. Lake Chungju
Cruising Lake Chungju in the late afternoon sunset is a somewhat mystical experience. The water sparkles in smooth laps and the distant hills turn to shadow. Depending on the time of year, you’ve got two options for your cruise: a shorter, scenic cruise around the artificial lake, or a two-hour journey across the lake to Danyang. Unfortunately, I arrived late in the day and found my choices limited to the first option. I’ve heard Danyang is beautiful in its own right and you can catch the bus back from there, so I was sad about that. However, the shorter cruise was spectacular in itself, the landscape opens up around you and it was a perfect springtime experience for me.
Prices vary between 12,000 to 20,000 Won for ferry admission, depending on your choice. From Chungju Bus Terminal, take bus no. 777 to City Hall (Sicheong) and transfer to no. 301 heading for the lake dock. Read Tim’s full article on it here.
4. Insadong, Seoul
I’ve spent my fair share of weekends–and one Christmas–in Seoul. I’ve been around a few neighbourhoods: Hongdae, Myeongdong, Itaewon, Sincheon, Dongdaemun, Gangnam, and passed through a couple others. Insadong takes the top for me. I get that perhaps Insadong is a bit of a novelty, but it’s fun. It’s a historical district in Seoul, and is a mix of modern art galleries and traditional tea houses. You’ll find streets lined with traditional stationary shops, and street artists and Korean street foods aplenty.
The famed Ssamzigil is a shopping mall worth checking out. It’s an open spiral structure that winds up, filled with plenty of crafts and knickknacks. I purchased one of my favourite chains there for 6,000 Won. At the top you can also find Insadong “poop-bread,” which isn’t nearly as weird as it sounds. I promise. Try one for 1,000 Won.
Namiseom Island is famous for its beauty, history, and natural landscape. It’s true claim to fame, however, is that many scenes from the popular Korean drama Winter Sonata were shot here. Now, I could never find a version of the drama with decent English subtitles (if you know of one, please let me know!) but I desperately wanted to find it after visiting this place. The gorgeous tree-lined roads and grassy field, it’s a romantic setting that feels fairy-tale-worthy. Couples ride tandem bikes, and rustic wooden bridges lead you around the island, through gardens and along the waterfront. I know I’m getting cheesy here. But, I can’t help it when I think about it. It’s too good.
Depending on where you are coming from, you can go directly to Namiseom from Seoul. However, you really should take the time to drop by Chuncheon’s Dakgalbi Street. Seriously. Best. Dakgalbi. Can’t go wrong (disclaimer: maybe you can, matter of opinion!).
2. Chiaksan, Gangwon-do
Chiak is not the most epic mountain in South Korea, but it was my first Korean mountain, and it will always be close to my heart. From Wonju, you can take a public bus for 1,200 Won into the park. It’s a beautiful steady trail to the mountainside temple. Spend an hour or so wandering here, it’s worth it.
The hike becomes much more grueling after an hour or so in. You have a couple of choices when it comes to route, but both have their very physical elements. To the top takes around 2.5 hours, back down much faster, around 1.5. The view at the peak is nice, but the real joy is in the scenery along the way, and reaching the end of the challenging path. Also, when you get back down, you can enjoy some of the best makgeolli (Korean rice wine) and mountain food. This is the good stuff. And you’ll be hungry after this hike. Promise.
1. Seoraksan, Gangwon-do
If I had trouble deciding which destinations were my top picks for this list, that trouble disappeared when choosing the top spot. I would go back to South Korea over and over just to visit Seoraksan, and I know I will (I went there already for two weekends in one summer!).
In the Northeast corner of the country, the bus ride through the mountains, valleys, across bridges, and through tunnels can be a little intimidating in itself. When you pass the granite peaks of Ulsanbawi, you know you’re close.
I didn’t reach the park by Sokcho city bus until after dark, so didn’t really experience the park until waking up in it the next morning. It is epic. The mountains, the temples, the bridges, the giant boulders, valleys, rivers–the way it is so vast and crowded and empty at once. Hiking in Seoraksan can be calming and peaceful, or rough and dramatic. You wake to the sounds of Buddhist chanting and drumming, and sleep with calm emptiness echoing in the mountains.
These are just a few short trips I was lucky enough to take during my time in Korea. There are plenty of other places I’ve visited or hope to visit someday. Suggestions welcome, as always.
How do you like to spend your weekend getaways?
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