By Emma O’Flynn
Gangwon-do is the second largest province in South Korea, but it is also one of the most rural. Despite its close proximity to Seoul, it is not frequented by visitors as much as other areas. Bordering the north-eastern coast, Gangwon-do is home to spectacular national parks, serene beaches, and unspoilt craggy coastline. It even provides an alternative view to the DMZ (though you’d need a car for that!).
Traveling from Busan to this part of the country does not really fall under the ‘Day-Trip’ category. To reach this destination you must first undertake a minimum journey time of 4-5hours. What you find waiting though, is spectacular scenery, mixed with a slightly slower pace of life. To hit two destinations a weekend is do-able, for anymore you’ll need to take a long weekend or some vacation time.
The following provides a brief scope of things to do in the area, and mainly covers the costal region. As these are the places I have visited, I thus feel informed enough to give information on. Within Gangwon-Do there are many more places of interest including Odaesan National Park, and Korean tourist Meccas such as Kangwon Land. There are many skiing opportunities, like Wonju, and the soon to be Olympic Pyeongchang. For further information Lonely Planet proves a good resource, or check visitkorea.or.kr
Gangneung– One of the largest cities in the province, and as such has most of the trappings that one would expect. There is a relatively large and thriving ex-pat community there as well.
Haesindang ‘Penis Park’- Yes, nestled away in a quiet fishing village is the Haesindang ‘Fertility park’, better known as the Penis Park!
Sokcho & Soraksan– An hour or so further north from Gangneung is the town of Sokcho, on the edge of Soraksan National Park.
Samcheok & Donghae– Samcheok has the largest limestone caves in Korea while Donghae is a port city that provides plenty of accommodation and adequate eating and drinking facilities.
From Busan’s Nopo bus terminal there are buses serving this region with various degrees of regularity. Journey times range from 4-6 hours depending on your destination, and make sure to ask for ‘direct’ or non-stop’ buses, as there are some routes that go some convoluted way and could increase the journey time by 2 hours! In the event that you are travelling on a Korean Holiday, get your tickets a few days before, otherwise you can usually rock up and jump on.
Although there are train lines running in these areas, there are NO high speed services on the routes. Although the trains are generally cheaper, the services are pretty infrequent and slower than the bus.