Koreans are Hardcore

This year, Lunar New Year came early. Three weeks after returning from Christmas in the US, I found myself packing again, this time for South Korea. It would be my first trip in Asia outside Greater China and I was excited to experience a place some Mainlanders claim is what China would be like had the Cultural Revolution not happened.

We arrived in Seoul after an hour and a half flight and immediately hopped on a bus to Sokcho, a fishing village on the Eastern coast about three hours by bus from Seoul. We singled the village out not a week before while investigating site-seeing options outside the capital, and were immediately sold because of its proximity to South Korea’s most beautiful national park: Seoraksan. The desire to escape a city landscape was stronger than our fear of the frigid weather that we knew awaited us in the mountains, and turns out we made the right choice – Sokcho was easily the best stop on our trip.

The landscape is unbelievably stunning – 5,000 ft precipices rise above the clean waters and into clear blue skies. First, we explored the ocean. The first morning was Lunar New Year day, so we celebrated the traditional Korean way by watching the sunrise over the ocean. Once it crested, however, we headed straight for the peaks. In China, when someone tells you about a hike, you halve its reported length and difficulty: a seven-hour arduous trek through the mountains is usually a three-hour walk in the woods. With this attitude we started our ascent of the hardest peak in the park – Ulsanbawi – poking fun at hikers with high-tech gear, hiking poles and crampons. Half-way up, however, after losing our footing on the ice-paved path, we bought crampons at a way-station. A third of the way up, a passing hiker lent me his hiking pole after noticing me struggle to maintain my balance. Probably ten minutes from the summit, we were hit with 20 knot winds and forced to descend. Forced by my nerves in response to the wind, that is; while ski bunnies in pigtails listening to iPods marched on, my fear of heights stopped me (and Greg, nice boy) dead in my (our) tracks. Turns out, Koreans are hardcore. Soon after turning around we discovered they’re also really nice. When I returned the hiking pole to the Korean Samaritan at the bottom of the mountain, he forced a Three Musketeers and Milky Way into my hands and skittered away.

The food in Sokcho was as memorable as the hike. There we ate shrimp and squid teriyaki on the street, Korean BBQs of fresh fish washed down with cold drafts, and… Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m from the east coast – there’s no way I’m passing up a DnDs this many miles away from home.

But, we wouldn’t have had any idea of where to eat or known how to get around the city, let alone to Seoraksan, had it not been for the helpful and patient hostel manager. When we arrived, Mr. Yoo welcomed us with “I will show you to your room, but first we’re going to talk for 15 minutes about what you’re going to do in Sokcho.” Mr. Yoo was exactly what we needed. The House Hostel itself was also ideal: small but clean with a common area that was social but not too noisy, not to mention being ten minutes from the bus terminal and another five from the pier.

On the third day we left for Seoul, determined to return in the summer and take on Ulsanbawi in less treacherous weather.

One Response to “Koreans are Hardcore”
  1. Tam says:

    love it! cute that he gave you some chocies.

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