A Full Day In Seoraksan National Park
South Korea has a magical country side that often goes unnoticed by tourists. When I traveled to South Korea in October 2016, my aim was to visit the smaller towns and nature reserves after staying for a week in Seoul. After a week full of action in Seoul, my next destination was Sokcho, a small city on the 2-3 hours to the east of Seoul. Although there is not much to see in this quiet city, it was very close to Seoraksan National Park which is one of the largest national parks in the country. It covers an area of 163 km2 and the highest altitude is 1708 meters above sea level.
Upon arriving in Sokcho, I checked in to the only backpackers I found in the city, The House Hostel. A bunk bed in a 4-bed dormitory was 22 usd per night.
The night before, I met two lovely backpackers who were expats in China, teaching English. Daria was from Russia and Griffith was from the UK. Coincidentally, it turned out that they have been living in the same neighborhood for many years! After getting along very well, we decided to do the hike together.
The bus stop was right in front of our hostel and it took us to the entrance of the park in 20 minutes. The entry fee was only 3.5 USD. The statue at the entrance belonged to the main temple in the park called Sinheungsa which was constructed in 653 during the Silla Kingdom. The statue was called the Great Unification Buddha and it symbolizes the wish for Korea to be reunited in the future.
There were several routes for us to follow. The highest peak called Daecheongbong would take us roughly 12 hours excluding the resting time and probably require us to do an overnight stay. The other popular hike was the Ulsanbawi Rock Hike, 3.8 km long (2 hours). This was considered the most iconic rock formation in the park. So, we decided to take this trail.
After one hour into the hike, we realized that we somehow took a wrong turn and ended up going somewhere completely irrelevant. Panicked and distraught, we decided to take another route looking at our maps. The best possibility was blinking at us from afar: Geumganggul Cave. According to the sign, we were only 600 meters away.
After an extremely steep climb of a few hundreds of stairs, we were greeted by an old monk at the entrance of the cave. He was unexpectedly very eager to talk to us, using his translator app to communicate with us. Then, he offered us freshly brewed herbal tea while we gave him the snacks we got. After sitting with us for 10 minutes, he went inside to play the gong and sing the Buddhist prayer. To be honest, it was a moment of trance for us. The gorgeous view of mountains and lush forests, the soothing sound of rivers running in the distance, the mystical sound of the monk and the hypnotizing scent of the incense. It easily found a spot in my top 5 moments of South Korea.
After coming back down, we stopped by the tea room where we were offered herbal tea for free, which was the cherry on top for us. I would definitely recommend Seoraksan National Park to anyone who visits South Korea in the future.