Saturday, February 19, 2011

Looking Back at Our East Coast Trip

Well, our little jaunt out of town ended much in the same way that it began: rapid transit by bus and subway. As Google Maps tells me, Sokcho on the East coast of Korea is 157.7 KM from Seoul as the crow flies, but to get there by bus means winding in and out of some pretty hairy mountain passages. It should take a fair amount of time, but remember, this is Korea - where bus drivers are always after that 150cc Mushroom Cup. There and back took little over two hours each way.

I've been torn in the past when trying to decide how to effectively blog about any travel that I do. Hopefully, when one is actually traveling, there is little time set-aside for sitting in front of a computer. I suppose if the trip lasts for months, one makes time, but three days and two nights isn't long enough to properly blog on the road.

What compounds the problem then is that after I get back home, I've got a whole bunch of detail to try and recall, all in the midst of getting back into normal life. I'm also somewhat torn about how to handle the photos I take. Not counting the countless photos I've deleted from iphoto over the past few years, I have 8,378 pictures sitting in that program, along with over 5,000 (some of them doubles) posted on my flickr account. I've made inroads of late in my attempt to cull what I no longer care to look at, and what I no longer find that interesting (the everyday of living abroad that once seemed unique no longer holds my attention). Really, someone such as myself needs far fewer photos that I have, and getting rid of some can be therapeutic to say the least. I have a long way to go before it's all organized though.

I was going to blog quite extensively about my recent trip, but then I'm faced with the reality of wanting to support my tales with ample visuals, and there just isn't the room here.

Anyway, for this trip, I took the time to label a flickr set, in the hopes that the photos can speak for themselves. You can find the set here, or by clicking on "My Pictures" on the left hand side of my regular blog page and looking for the set labeled "East Coast Trip (February 2011)". Either way, I recommend doing so after reading this post.

A few highlights before you get to the pictures...

1) As there was a record snowfall on the East Coast in the early morning of Valentine's Day, it seemed as though many people had canceled plans to head East from Seoul. The result was a nearly empty resort - great for us, and obviously challenging for the local businesses. It's off-season as it is, but there was a major dig-out that seemed to be wrapping-up just as we pulled into town. Apparently, the road leading to the water park was impassable the day before we arrived.

2) Seorak Waterpia is a very cool little place. I had no big expectations for the place - I was expecting basically a glorified jimjilbang - so I was pleasantly surprised to see a very well-developed water park with a great design. After doing some searching on the internet, and having heard horror stories about the crowding of other such Korean water parks, I was trying my best to be enthusiastic about the possibility of this:

Thankfully, what we instead faced was this:

Of course, that wasn't the area of the park I was most excited about. The place is very expansive with different buildings housing creatively designed hot tubs and wave pools, all linked by heated "rivers" that are a blast to swim through. Of course, everything was much more fun knowing that we were virtually alone. I was imagining "Uncle Dave's Harbour Tours" with my nephews. They would have had a blast.

Perhaps the best part of Waterpia (at least in the winter time) is "Spa Valley" - an area of the park built down a hillside where narrow pathways lead to rock-bedded hot springs of all sorts. Check the photos for details. All in all, a great place to spend the day with your rabbit (we were there for 10 hours) - especially when it feels like you have the place to yourselves, and when you get in for free (the rabbit's sister gave us a free all-day pass - normally a 58,000 won ticket price). One of the most fan and relaxing days I've had since coming to Korea.

3) Seoraksan - Due to the fact that I'm not supposed to be walking far or at any real degree of incline for the next three weeks or so, we weren't able to really experience much of Korea's most famous mountain range. Luckily for us though, the rare heavy snow in the valleys made for some very picturesque walks anyway. Seoraksan National Park is beautiful, and normally ridiculously crowded in the Fall and Spring. I'm sure they are both gorgeous times to visit, but I'll take the snow and empty trails any day.

Parts of Seoraksan (most of which we couldn't get to) are what seem to have inspired many of those classic Korean ink sketches I've seen at the National museum and all over Insadong. It's not the Rockies in terms of size, but equally impressive. Lookie what mother nature can do! I know that I'll be back there for a real hike someday.

4) Sokcho - with a population of just under 90,000 people, Sokcho certainly feels like a seasonal town, or "small city" as it is officially listed as. The downtown area is very clean and modernized (even a two story Bean Pole store for those fisherman who can't do without the latest tweed blazer), but other parts of the city look very much like the place that time forgot. There are MANY empty and seemingly failed motels here, and you can double or triple whatever number that is to describe the amount of empty seafood restaurants.

This is very much a coastal fishing town in varying states of decay, repair, and shiny newness - depending on which block you end-up on. We didn't have a great deal of time to explore, and I'm sure that the place comes alive and puts its glossiest foot forward for the high season, but as it was for us, Sokcho was a serviceable launching point for the water park and the mountains (only 30 minutes from downtown to the center drop-off point of the National Park. As the rabbit charmingly and optimistically put it when describing our quaint hostel, "they do their best", which is about all that can be expected from a dark-blue-collar fishing town that technically sits just North of the 38th parallel. It felt a bit like Busan, a bit like Gangneung, and a bit like Banff. A mixed bag, really. I'm looking forward to a return visit when the beaches are warm enough to enjoy.

Before I forget, here are the step-by-step photo instructions for ma and pa...

1) Go to "My Pictures" on the left menu of my blog.
2) Open the set (East Coast Trip, February 2011)
3) Click "slideshow" in the upper right corner
4) Click "show info" in the upper right corner of the next screen (to get descriptions)
5) Click on options to choose speed for the slideshow, or...
6) Click the pause button on the lower left and cycle through the photos by clicking on them at the bottom.

It was good to see a new part of Korea for me, it was grand to get away for a few days, and it was a surprisingly effective bit of happy medicine after receiving the disappointing news about Thailand.

I like traveling in Korea, with a whole whack of chingus, or just one special rabbit.


Douglas said...

Reading this and looking at the spa wonderland nestled and tucked away into the mountains makes me wish I had splurged a little bit when I was in Korea. I'm surprised though that the place was deserted as it was. One would imagine that winter would be exactly the time to go. Any word on why it was empty?

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

The reason was the snow. It was all over the news - emergency crews and military digging out for two straight days - especially in Gangneung (where we went for our minbak adventure in late August of 2009) which isn't far from where we were. I'm sure that people heard about the snow and just decided to not leave Seoul.