Long walks on white sandy beaches, energizing plunges in crystal clear waters and sumptuous fresh fish-based meals: not the narration of an holiday in some tropical paradise, but just your typical weekend on the Korean East Sea coast!
When the summer heat hits you hard during your days spent in busy and never-sleeping Seoul, you know, at a certain point, that you need a break from all that. You need a dive in refreshing waters, lazy naps under a tree and fresh fish eaten while gazing at the stars. Koreans would add fireworks on the beach at late evening, so you can add this pastime to your list, if this is your thing. But anyway, whatever definition you give to a perfect weekend away from the city, you know that the East Coast is the place to go.
Called Dong-hae (동해) in Korean, the East Sea is internationally known as Sea of Japan. There is still a big dispute on the naming of this portion of sea between the two countries: the dispute began in 1992 and is still far away from being resolved. I will use the name East Sea because that’s how Koreans use to refer to it, but my choice has nothing to do with taking parts with one or the other country.
We chose to spend a 2-days-1-night mini-vacation in the city of Gangneung (강릉시 in Korean), one of the biggest cities in the Gangwon province (강원도 in Korean) on the East Coast.
To get there
Reaching Gangneung from Seoul is pretty easy: there’s a very frequent daily bus service (buses approx every 30 minutes) running from Seoul Express Bus Terminal (서울고속버스터미널) to Gangneung Express Bus Terminal (강릉고속버스터미널). The line that connects the two cities is called Gyeongbu Line (경부) and is operated by two different companies (Jungang 중앙 and Dongbu 동부), which are absolutely interchangeable and offer the exact same services.
There are 2 types of buses available: the regular (called 일반 “ilban” in Korean) and the deluxe (우등 “udeung” in Korean). The regular bus fee is currently KRW 14600 (approx. EUR 12) against the KRW 21500 fee (approx. EUR 17) for the deluxe bus. The deluxe bus is really nice and with a lot of legroom, so I’d definitely suggest to spend a few more money to rest comfortably during the pretty long journey (travel time 2h 50 min, for a total of 228.7 km to be covered).
There’s only one stop planned somewhere halfway at a local rest area (휴게소 hyugeso) in order to get some snacks and drinks and quickly use the restrooms.
The bus schedule can be looked up on the official Korean Express Bus Lines Association: unfortunately, at the moment, ticket purchase is not available on the English website, but only on its Korean language counterpart and requires, apart from Korean language skills, a valid Korean Citizen ID number (as per actual Korean law on online purchases). However, you can easily buy your tickets in the bus terminal booths, so no need to worry about it.
From Gangneung, we grabbed a taxi to reach the small seaside village of Gyeongpo (it’s a 20 minutes ride). There’s also the option to take bus number 202 (17 stops, approx 30 minutes journey time) that stops directly at Gyeongpo-Hyundae (경포현대).
We booked a room in a hotel called Goodstay Gyungpo Soo (경포수모텔): maybe a little pricey (we spent aprroximately EUR 100 for 1 night), but totally worth the money spent. It’s not the fanciest hotel I’ve ever been too, but its location is absolutely the best you can find in the area! It’s located exactly on that fine sand bank that stretches for 6km and it’s formed between Gyeongpo Lake and the ocean, called Gyeongpo Beach (경포해변 Gyeongpo Haebyon in Korean): basically, within a 5 minutes walk, you can go from the ocean to the lake 🙂 So convenient!
It is said that one can see the moon five times when in the Gyeongpo area: once in the sky, once reflected in the lake, once reflected in the sea, once reflected in the drinking glass, and once more in the eyes of a lover.
I couldn’t agree more!
The first day in Gangneung was completely dedicated to beach life. Upon our arrival, we left our bags in our hotel room, changed quickly into swimming suit and some light clothes and we headed to the sea -not a very hard task, since the beach was just 30 seconds outside our hotel 🙂
I soon realized I had left my flip flops back in Seoul, but no worries: ubiquitous Adidas-style rubber slippers are sold in most convenience stores, so I easily got a pair in purple (for the record: do not expect a high quality product! Mine got broken the day after -the upper part unglued- but luckily I was already on my way back home).
We first explored the long beach walking along the shoreline. The sand is very clean, so very pleasant to walk on. However, if you don’t want to get sandy feet, you can opt for a wooden boardwalk that runs along the entire beach. There are some lines of trees along the road, so many people were having a picnic under the shadow offered by the foliage.
The day wasn’t particularly sunny, so after a while we decided we could just relax on the sand and swim in the super clean water.
We rented a beach umbrella and a mat for less than EUR 10 and spent the entire afternoon dozing off, alternating naps to quick plunges in the sea.
Korean beaches are such a funny place when it comes to people watching! First of all, most of the bathers are almost completely dressed up: they don’t like to expose their skin so much, both for a natural repulsion to tanning and for a sense of decency that is almost unknown in the western world. Special long sleeve tops (designed in the same fabric of regular swimwear, so that they dry up very easily) are worn by almost everyone, covering their arms and upper part of the body; as for the lower part, most of them use skirts or shorts. To be true, we’ve also seen people swimming with their regular clothes on, like trousers or shirts 🙂 It’s like you are walking on the street and you feel this urge to jump in the water, forgetting for a moment that you’re completely dressed up from head to toe. To be completely honest, I think that most Koreans would consider stranger someone that swims wearing only a much-revealing swimming suit rather than someone covered from head to toe. As for us, being waegugin (외국인, “foreigner”) is already considered pretty bizarre in a country ethnically still very homogenous, so whatever we do is considered funny -better just do what we feel like then.
The second thing that will catch your attention is the huge quantity of enormous floating rings (mostly in yellow and blue colors) in the water. They are the most rented beach items there is and almost everyone floats in one of these things while in the water, conveying the idea that maybe –maybe– swimming classes are not particularly loved by the local population.
After swimming for a bit, we decided to get a quick snack from the 7-Eleven nearby: cup ramen, plus some boiled eggs, processed cheese and kimchi to add to the broth. Convenience stores are equipped with piping hot water, so you can easily cook a full meal by just adding the water to your cup ramen -and lunch is served!
Of course, we saved some space for dinner! You can’t go to the East Sea and not have a meal with the fresh fish available. There were so many delicious-looking restaurants by the main road, it was so hard to choose! In the end, we had tiny slices of raw fish (회 hoe, pronounced [hwe̞]) and spicy fish soup (매운탕 maeuntang) in a very cute restaurant with beach umbrella-shaped light bulbs and a lovely terrace overlooking the sea.
We were too busy eating, so we forgot to take pictures of our dinner…this is Gab when I told him what I had just realized, but he was too busy with a fish bone in his teeth to bother about the accident (hahaha).
We decided to conclude the beautiful day by grabbing a few cans of beer and sipping them on the sandy beach. We were surrounded by many groups of young Koreans enjoying the evening laughing, singing, playing drinking games and having fireworks on the sand. Such a beautiful sight!
We went to bed slightly drunk, happy and anxious to know what the next day would have reserved for us 🙂
Want to know more about our trip to the East Sea? Click here to read about DAY 2 of our adventure ^^