Chuseok Part 1: Arriving at Seoraksan National Park

Chuseok is Korean Thanksgiving. Like so many other harvest holidays across the world, it’s held around the Autumn Equinox. As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of traditional food. This year, we got Friday off for Chuseok resulting in a 3 day weekend. Many foreigners living in Korea hit the road or the friendly skies for these long weekends and holidays.

My girl and I decided to visit Seoraksan National Park, about 15 minutes outside the coastal town of Sokcho, in Northeastern South Korea. Seoraksan is the 3rd highest mountain in South Korea, located in the Taebaek mountain range. The National Park is amazing this time of year, some consider it to be the most beautiful in all of Korea with the changing autumn leaves. Koreans LOVE their hiking, and because this is probably Korea’s most famous National Park (receiving three million visitors a year), both of us heard from co-workers in the weeks leading up to Chuseok that we might have made a poor decision of destination because of the traffic and crowds that we will surely encounter. Regardless, we set out on our journey early Friday morning.

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After a half hour subway ride from my place, we arrived at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul at 7:30 am, enough time to down a McDonald’s breakfast and catch our bus at 8:30. This bus terminal is huge but easy to navigate. Traveling by bus is something that I never considered doing back home, but in Korea it’s a common and very efficient way to travel. Buses are typically on time, clean and cheap. These luxury buses even had seat belts, the first time I’ve worn one in Korea.

Our bus driver on the way to Sokcho was awesome. He was very polite, almost formal. Our trip began by him addressing the passengers with an announcement in Korean, which we couldn’t understand, followed by a slow, deep bow signifying respect.
The drive itself was nice. As we got out of Seoul and entered the country, we drove through quite a bit of fog, also a first for me in Korea. 2 hours in to the trip, at the half way mark, we stopped at a rest area for a 15 minute break. The TV screen at the front of the bus plays a message in Korean and English as a way of updating the passengers on the progress the trip, such as it’s now time to take our break, and we are nearing our final destination.

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2 hours of smooth traveling later, we arrived in Sokcho. Where’s all the hellacious traffic everyone is talking about? I think Sokcho a city of less than 100,000 or so, not all that big. It was actually part of North Korea until the end of the Korean War. The city receives most of its visitors due to its closeness to both Seoraksan National Park and the DMZ. It is also known for its fishery products, which I’m assuming is predominantly squid because we saw them drying everywhere, all over the city. During our taxi ride to Hotel Sorak Park, I noticed on a sign listing Gresham, Oregon as a sister city to Sokcho, and hoped that didn’t mean we would be encountering trailer parks and white supremacist gangs.

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Hotel Sorak Park was a little creepy. We arrived fairly early on the Friday of a holiday weekend but there were hardly any other people staying there. At the time it felt a little deserted. The lobby smelled old and musty, like nobody had been there for years. It kind of felt like the scene out of a horror movie… like The Shining.

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Not many of the amenities advertised on the website were actually available. The casino, spa, noraebang, convenience store, Korean restaurant… most everything was not even open. The Western restaurant was open, but we didn’t see anyone eating in it the whole time. We did go there Saturday morning to ask about breakfast, but they wouldn’t cook anything even there is a menu sitting outside of the entrance. The only thing available was a buffet for 15,000 won that had been sitting there for at least 3-4 hours and looked disgusting. No thanks.

All that said, and even though the room was very outdated, we would stay there again. It’s priced relatively well for a place to stay so close to the entrance of the National Park. All of the rooms have a little balcony with a great mountain view. And if you are doing it right, you should not be spending that much time in the hotel room anyway. Just don’t plan on anything other than a place to crash, and you will be alright. Expect anything beyond that and you will be disappointed. You can find accommodations cheaper in the heart of Sokcho, but we enjoyed staying at the base of the National Park, in the shadow of all the mountains. The only other option that we saw was the Kensington Hotel, and although it may be a lot nicer, it’s a heck of lot more expensive.

Hotel view

Hotel view

Hotel view

Hotel view

Before we hit the mountain on Friday we needed some food. Knowing that nothing was available at the hotel, we walked to the small “strip” of shops and restaurants located between the hotel and the visitor’s center for the national park. During our stay we ate 3 meals at 3 different restaurants on the strip, and the first one was definitely the worst. We ordered samgyeopsal, Korean pork belly, which was placed frozen on our grill, something I have never seen here. The side dishes that I have come to love so much in Korea were only so so. Towards the end of the meal, we saw a little puppy walking through the restaurant, which might not be a big deal in small town Korea, but is considered rather unsanitary by my Western standards. However, it was a protein packed lunch that prepared us for the hiking that would consume the rest of our afternoon.

The strip

The strip

Next up, day 1 of hiking at Seoraksan National Park and a lot of pictures

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on October 5, 2009.

One Response to “Chuseok Part 1: Arriving at Seoraksan National Park”

  1. […] Chuseok part 1 Chuseok part 2 Chuseok part 3 Chuseok part 4 […]

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