Saturday, January 30, 2016

Korea Adventures part 2

This week deserves its own post as I took way way too many photos and I decided not to consolidate most of them :)

Week 4
Sokcho | Seoraksan | Hongcheon

It was hard waking up that Saturday morning. I wanted to get to the Express Bus Terminal early just in case I couldn't figure out where things were; I was forewarned that it was a large terminal. I got to the terminal with 15 minutes to spare and found the boarding gate to Sokcho with the help of a friendly local. I showed the bus driver my printed itinerary and he gave the thumbs up! I breathed a sigh of relief and made myself comfortable on the bus. Just before departure though, a young bus conductor started checking everyone's tickets and said mine was invalid................................... NOOOOOOOOooooOOOOOO!!! What do you mean invalid?! He told me I had to get a legit one printed at the ticketing counter. I bolted for it, but the lady said it was 2 minutes past departure time so she couldn't issue a proper ticket. After much persuasion, and giving the bus conductor Ms Jenny's number since she made the payment, he finally let me board the bus... Crisis averted...

The bus ride took 4 hours, arriving in Sokcho at noon. From the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal, I caught a local bus to the House Hostel; base bus fares were 1200won. I missed the stop the first time, but I got there eventually! The owner of the House Hostel, Mr Yoo, deserves a shout out cause he really knew how to make people feel welcome. He provided lots of info about tourist hotspots, good restaurants nearby, bus info for travelling to Seoraksan, everything you needed to know about the area! I left my luggage for them to look after, took my camera bag, and took the bus to Seoraksan straight away.

Small cosy room at the House Hostel

My colleagues weren't kidding when they said this week was peak season for autumn leaves viewing, the place was PACKED! This was only one of the staring points to reach the ranges. It was certainly the most accessible and the most popular spot. They had delicious chicken skewers and steamed corn on the cob too Yuummm...!

I had a few hiking options but very little time. I wanted to catch the bus back to Sokcho before it got dark, which gave me slightly less than 4 hours. Ulsanbawi and Geumganggul were my options at that point but I decided to go with Ulsanbawi as I wanted to see the rocky formations at its summit. I was fit enough not to feel too exhausted from the hike and reached the summit in 2 hours, even with all the constant stopping to take photos!

 Entrance to Seorak National Park

 Patiently waiting at the side of the track until people have passed for scenic photos

 Most of the track followed a small stream

 Stone stacks

 View from Heundeulbawi (Shaking Rock) - a sort of halfway point for the track

 Steel steps leading to the summit of Ulsanbawi from Shaking Rock

 At the summit!!

View of Sokcho from the summit of Ulsanbawi

Hann would have totally done the hike later just so he could watch sunset from the top but I didn't have a torch, or food, to sustain myself through the dark. The view in soft afternoon light was good enough for me. The hike down took me less than an hour! I practically ran down the steps and overtook huge groups of people at a time cause I was HUNGRY!

I got back to my room, showered, and found out I had roommates! They were a mother-daughter duo who came to conduct an arts and crafts workshop for the weekend. Mini was my age, she spoke very little English but we were able to communicate using Google translate (thank you Google!). I had to excuse myself for dinner half way through our conversation when my stomach growled... She laughed and told me we could continue our conversation later.

I whipped out the map that Mr Yoo showed me when I first arrived and decided to go for hotpot. I wanted something soupy and hot after the hike. It was getting cold too!

 Very useful and informative map for someone hungry

I got to the restaurant and the waitress told me they had only one item on their menu, seafood hotpot for 18000won. Perfect! I made myself comfortable on the floor mat, and was quickly served the banchan with the hotpot following soon after.

Beautiful seafood hotpot with some surprises

It was only after taking a photo that I realised something was off. THERE WAS MOVEMENT IN THE SOUP! Specifically, the ABALONE WERE ALIVE!!! *I cried a little inside* The waitress saw my horrified/confused/reluctant face and came over to help. "This," she held up a squirming abalone, "you put IN." With that, she dunked the abalone into the hot soup. The other abalone, I had to dunk myself as she had already walked off. As I ate everything else, I hoped the abalone had a swift demise. I left them in the soup til last, just to make sure they were deader than dead before I fished them out.

Verdict: Clean tasty broth, large serving, great variety of seafood, freshest I've had in a while, beautifully cooked, and a dash of guilt for dunking the poor guys into hot soup.

Walking around Sokcho night market - Statue showing fishermen with their catch

The night ended with me and Mini having translated conversations and us exchanging home addresses to keep in touch in the future. She's already sent me a Christmas card she made herself!!

I had an early night as I wanted to catch sunrise at Seoraksan. I was such a disappointment to myself. I missed the sunrise while on the bus to the National Park (fail). It was much much quieter than the previous day and it felt like I had the park to myself :D I decided to take a short trail to the Biryeong falls.
 Wood pecker and Asian Magpie

 Autumn foliage

 Quiet track all to myself

And encountered mini chipmunks along the way!! THEY ARE SO CUTE!

Another chipmunk!! 

Hanging bridge

 Beautifully maintained hiking trails

The Biryeong falls viewing platform which was under construction at the time

I wished I could stay at the National Park for longer, but I wanted to see the rest of Sokcho. Besides, the park was getting crowded again. The bus took me back to town where I had a massive bowl of Kalguksu for lunch (scrumptious!)

It was a massive bowl - I sadly was not able to finish it D:

I walked from the lighthouse to the beach and back to the House Hostel in the arvo. There is no way I would let myself miss the bus home!

 Shellfish market next to the dock

 Fauna in the rock pools at the beach

 Adorable wall art

 After a long 4 hour trip home, I dumped all my sweaty clothes into the washing machine and made way for bedtime.

Back in the office, my colleagues were very keen to know if I managed to catch the autumn leaves in Seoraksan and were asking to see photos. Autumn viewing or 'danpung' as they call it, is a yearly affair. They were kind of jealous not to have had that chance that weekend :P

Having said that though, the team had organised an overnight-getaway workshop in Hongcheon on the Thursday and Friday! They told me they didn't have the chance last year as the timing was just terrible for everyone. Again, I was incredibly lucky to be IN Korea, with THIS particular team, at THAT particular time. How did a graduate all the way from Australia get to work and hang out with all these cool people.

It was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about everyone in the team and how they worked together, in a very relaxing environment to boot! When the discussions were done, we just sat next to the campfire and ate all night. There was heaps of meat and kimchi and ramyun *so delicious* I will admit that I was the first casualty of the night. I just didn't have the stamina that they did to eat through the night :3

 The chalet we were staying in for the night

The Hong River aka Hongcheon 

Korean BBQ at its finest! 

Another chance to enjoy the autumn leaves 

Maeuntang for breakfast

The next morning we went to a restaurant famous for their maeuntang (spicy fresh fish soup) before we headed back to Seoul.

Week 5
Cheonggyesan | More Korean BBQ

To be continued...

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