Posted by: Matt Kelley | 14 May 2009

Gangwon Province Road Trip: At the Beach

Last year, my friends Do-hoon and KBS World’s Abby Rhodes took three days to explore Korea’s Donghae, or East Sea. During our three-day exploration of Gangwon Province, , on day 1 we explored the mountains, and on day 2 we explored the sea.

Of course, Korea’s east coast is the first place to see the sun rise here, and many Koreans visit it to make a wish on special days like the lunar New Year. Although our special wish for no rain was already granted, we awoke at 4 am anyhow to see the sun rise at Naksansa Temple (낙산사).

We awoke early and were rewarded with the sun’s first rays over Korea at Naksansa Temple (낙산사) in Gangwon Province.

Located on a bluff overlooking the East Sea, Naksansa was one of the country’s most beautiful Buddhist temples until a 2005 fire destroyed most of the wooden structures and a 15th century bronze bell. However, restoration is underway, and the temple’s pavilion remains a tranquil spot to wait for spectacular views of first sunlight.

Now, it’s Gangwondo’s tranquility that makes it a refreshing contrast from hectic Seoul. But the province also bears vivid reminders of the Korean War. It was cut in half when the peninsula was partitioned in 1953, and the barbed wire fences along its beaches remain to keep North Korean spies out.

Lines of drying squid amongst barbed wire and Gangwon Province’s beautiful beaches.

If it sounds scary, it isn’t, really. Hanging from the fences are also lines of drying squid that sway lazily in the breeze with untarnished white sand beaches stretching behind them. In fact, there are 100 bathing beaches in Gangwon-do, so many, in fact, that many of them remain unnamed.

A great view of Korea’s eastern coastal beaches from the “Sky’s the Limit” observatory in Yangyang.

But our first stop was popular Sokcho Beach, a hot spot named after the town whose claim to fame is being just 30 minutes from Seoraksan Mountain. Hundreds of beachgoers were enjoying the coarse sand and cool water. Now, whereas most North Americans and Europeans worship the sun, most Koreans do their best to hide from it. On the beach, couples and families played underneath huge umbrellas and other sun-blocking contraptions.

The “Sky’s the Limit” observatory in Yangyang on Gangwon Province’s east coast offers expansive views of the coastline.

A couple of hours later, we brushed off the sand and took a short drive down to the Illhyun Museum’s “Sky’s the Limit” observatory. The striking and modern, 7-story-tall steel edifice was designed by French artist Didier Fiuza Faustino, and offers panoramic views of Dongho Beach. The top decks are side-by-side rectangles, whose walls alternate between steel grating, glass and open air. The painted white steel against the sea and sky made everything look a cool, faint blue.

This photo was shot after Abby, Do-hoon and I enjoyed a fun boat ride off Gangwon Province’s Gyeongpo Beach.

Sight seen, it was back to the beach! This time to Gangneung’s Gyeongpo Beach. A buffer of windswept pine trees and a boardwalk separated the street from a soft sand beach popular with youngsters. While they ate ice cream, were pulled on inflatable sea biscuits, and even bungee jumped, Abby, Do-hoon and I hopped into perhaps the world’s smallest speedboat for a fun rip along the coast.

Ddak-kalbi is one of Gangwon Province’s favorite foods. The delicious dish combines chicken with vegetables, rice cakes, sweet potato in a spicy sauce. Different renditions may include seafood, cheese, noodles, etc. Afterwards, you can fry some rice with the leftover sauce. Yum!

But by then the sun had long past its zenith. And, sadly, day 2 was Abby’s last one with us, so before she boarded the bus back to Seoul, we found a family restaurant that specialized in Gangwon Province’s famous Chuncheon ddak-kalbi (춘천 닭갈비), a sweet and spicy marinated chicken that’s fried on your tabletop with cabbage, onions and rice cakes. It was a delicious end to our day at the beach!

Getting There:
→ Sokcho: Over 90 buses shuttle between several Seoul bus terminals and Sokcho every day. Trip duration is between 3-5 hours. cost: 14,900-22,000 won. 06:25-23:00.

Sokcho Beach: From Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, walk 500 meters. cost: none. 00:00-24:00.

→ Sky’s the Limit Observatory/Illhyun Museum: (coming soon)

Gyeongpo Beach: Take a bus from Gangnam Express Bus Terminal to Gangneung. Buses leave every 15-30 minutes from 06:30-23:30. Duration: 3 hours. cost: N/A. From Gangneung Express Bus Terminal, take bus #202 to Gyeongpodae Beach stop. Duration: 20 minutes. Camping is allowed. cost: none. 

→ Naksan Temple: Take bus #9 from Sokcho to Yangyang. Or, take a direct bus from the East Seoul bus terminal. cost: 13,700 won. Duration: 4.5 hours. Temple/park admission: 2,500 won. 05:00-19:00.

(A version of this text was aired on KBS World Radio on July 19, 2008. The original posting was on October 9, 2008.)



  1. […] in the cold to catch a glimpse of the first full moon, or they might journey to the nation’s East coast to see the year’s first rays of sun.  Other traditions include the flying of kites and jwibulnori (쥐불놀이), a fun exercise where […]

  2. Gangwon is a place that I would love to go to. After reading your post, I must must go soon. It’s beautiful.

  3. Hi Anonymous,

    It’s really great. I need to go back soon to see more of it in greater detail. I hope you can visit soon, too. Best, Matt

  4. Sokcho Beach and Mt.Seoraksan is a beautiful place for all seasons.

  5. […] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 Written by: Jasmin […]

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