Seoraksan trip (part 1)

Our trip to Seoraksan National Park was forgettable–not in the sense that it was uninspiring or dull, but rather that we forgot to bring some important items for our trip.  We accidentally left my son’s stoller at home, for one.  Most tragically, my wife left the extra digital camera battery in our car, and we ran out of battery at the top of Gwongeumseong Mountain after riding up to the summit in a cable car.  We managed to take a few photos of the gorgeous view from the top of the mountain, which I will post tomorrow night.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take pictures of some of the best views in South Korea.  My only hope is that Wade3016, an avid hiker, will want to go to Seoraksan with me when he comes to Korea next year.  I’m more than happy to go back for another visit to the park.  It’s extremely beautiful.  It definitely does deserve a place on my Top Ten List of Things to Do in Korea.  They say that Geumgangsan in North Korea is even more beautiful.  Regardless, Seoraksan National Park is hard to beat when it comes to the beauty of cloistered, jagged granite peaks.
We left with my sister-in-law and nephew in tow on Saturday morning.  On my wife’s advice, we took what seemed like the shortest route to the park–highway 46 from Seoul through Chuncheon.  I suggested what I thought was a better route, but she convinced me otherwise.  She agreed later that it was a mistake, and we took another, better route home today.  While the scenery was beautiful, the road had so many hairpin turns that my nephew got car sick and threw up.  I felt bad for him.  Fortunately, my son was a trooper and did just fine.  The route we took passes about as close to the DMZ as you can drive in a commercial vehicle.  In fact, along the way past Chuncheon we passed through several checkpoints and saw soldiers and military vehicles, all on the lookout for elusive North Korean infilitrators.  (I am not sure why it is still an issue–it would seem that the moment any North Korean infilitrator came south, they would be so awed by what they see that they would instantly become defectors.)  Although we took the shortest, slowest route to Seoraksan, we still took advantage of the opportunity to stop in Chuncheon again and eat dakgalbi (spicy chicken and cabbage).  Dakgalbi is still my favorite Korean dish.  My sister-in-law and wife, both "Winter Sonata" Korean drama fans, had a great time strolling down Myeongdong Street, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare prominently featured in the drama.
After Chuncheon, we caught highway 46 and ascended into the eastern mountains.  The drive reminded me of the Road to Hana, Maui in the Hawaiian Islands because we made so many tight turns and climbed numerous switchbacks.  The Road to Hana from Kahului, Maui features some 500 turns.  Highway 46 might have even more because it is a much longer drive than the drive on Maui.  Nevertheless, the countryside was very beautiful, rewarding us with some stunning views.  I will post some photos from Highway 46 tomorrow, including one of a beautiful reservoir snaking between the mountains.  Very few people live in the rugged area of Gangwon Province close between Chuncheon and Inje.  It seems to be the least inhabited part of South Korea.  Highway 46 became Highway 31, and then we took a left turn at Highway 56 and drove to the north side of Seoraksan National Park.  By that time, the darkness and rain set in, and visibility descreased.  I drove slowly in a pack of cars along the winding highway bordering Seoraksan, wishing I could catch a glimpse of it.  The dark silhouettes of mountain peaks rose around us.   We turned off Highway 56 before we arrived at Sokcho, a city near Seoraksan on the coast of the East Sea, trying to find the solitary road leading from there into Seoraksan National Park.  I deciphered the small, cryptic map in my Korea Road Atlas and found the right road.  Somehow we ended up several miles south of our destination.  We backtracked and eventually pulled into Kensington Stars Hotel, the main park hotel.  To be continued…

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