With the onset of warm days and spring buds, Baden and I were ready to hit the Korean beaches. Our initial plan was to visit, Samcheok which, geographically, is the closest beach to Yeongju but on doing some research, we learnt that it requires some effort: a change of trains somewhere in the middle with at least one hour stop over and a lot of money to travel the remainder of the way on the seaside train (which meanders along the beautiful coast line.)
And so on recommendation, we boarded our 7pm train to Gangneung (pronounced Gung-ning) armed with snacks and drinks to last us the 3.5 hours. In our cabin there was a group of middle-aged women who were obviously on a ‘girls weekend’ and we enjoyed being given fruit and chips by the jovial party goers. When we reached our destination, we were greeted by wet ground, rainy skies and a completely unknown city. We assumed that there were motels stationed around the train terminal and Baden’s philosophy is, “when in doubt, head right”. So right we went and down a small street, round a bend and into a corner, we found a motel for 35 000w (R220) a night. It appeared quiet and clean – and cheap. Unfortunately, we later discovered that the sheets smelt like smoke and the drains were blocked with hair. Only a tired traveler can sleep in those conditions. And sleep we did.
The next morning, we walked to the tourist information centre to learn what bus would take us to the beach. (We actually had plans to walk and wanted to know what direction to head it – but were told that the train station is 6km from the beach and too far to walk – with more time, we might have given it a shot!) The skies looked threatening and by the time we reached the beach, the rain was so strong that the moment we stepped off the bus, our backpacks, shoes, socks and pants were soaking. The R7 ponchos we bought from 7/11 and the packets we used to protect our clothes helped some but we eventually resigned ourselves to a cold and wet morning. Baden has learnt how to read some Korean which means that he is able to decipher the menu and he ordered rice, vegetables, egg and gravy for breakfast which was delicious and safe. We looked into some of the motels along the beach but they were all a bit expensive. I really wanted to visit the Tofu village so dragged my husband’s squishing feet in the direction of the village, with no idea what we were looking for. Eventually we sat huddled under a bus stop, tired, hopeless and soaking and we resigned ourselves to finding a hotel, showering and watching TV for the rest of the day. After a 30 minute wait, a bus arrived, we had no idea where it would lead but we boarded and to my disappointment within 2 minutes, we drove past the Tofu village. We were right there! We will have to return when it sunny one day.
On the agenda for the next day was a visit to the North Korean Submarine in Jungdongjin, about 20 minutes from Gangneung. The tourist information man at the bus station gave us a comprehensive bus schedule and told us we could only catch the bus to the submarine from downtown. Which suited us perfectly: we would catch a bus to downtown, find a cheap motel, warm up and visit the submarine the next day. The motel we found was very strange with a circular bed and greeny colours but it was cheap, clean and nice smelling plus it was very central – right opposite the downtown bus stop.
On Saturday night, we went to our favourite Korean deli for dinner (Hans Deli – delicious meals for good prices) and then visited a pub for music and drinks. There was a live rock band playing – at times I think he was singing English songs but the pronunciation was lost on me. We met a German guy who was backpacking through Korea and had visited the pub the previous night too. It was a good end to a rainy day.
The next morning, we woke early to catch the bus and departed to Jungdongjin to see the North Korean submarine. The submarine had been spotted by the South Korean’s in 2006 and they had managed to apprehend the warship. It is a reminder to the Koreans of the importance of social security. Also on display are a retired warship and small wooden boat which carried North Koreans trying to escape the harsh conditions on the North. It took these men over a year to plan their escape and they formed part of the few successful refuges. There are a few refuge camps in South Korea (on in Punggi – which is very near to where I live). It is an eery sensation to be on Korean waters as army look outs stand guard, with loaded guns pointing out to sea. It is a reminded to foreigners that Korea is still at war.
The next bus headed towards the beach and with now clear skies, we walked the beach, saw the year-long hourglass (or sandglass) which is fairly famous as well as the hotel which is shaped like a ship up on the hill. We played some frisbee, walked up the mountain and enjoyed the beautiful view. It turned into a beautiful day at the beach.
After a quick lunch of rice, veg and chicken, we boarded our train and headed home. It is always good to go away.