South Korea Sojourns X: Seoraksan National Park
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Author's Note: This is the tenth in a series of articles about recreational travel opportunities for service members stationed in South Korea. Each article will highlight a specific South Korean destination, attraction, or event within the authorized travelling distance for U.S. forces in country. The aim of this series is to encourage everyone to safely and enthusiastically explore their surroundings, develop an appreciation for the history, culture, and customs of their host nation, as well as showcase the diverse activities available to service member, and their families, near and far, while stationed in the Republic of Korea. Concluding each article will be an approximation of how much money and time are required for each destination, attraction or event, as well as directions and amount of physical activity is required. Many opportunities to travel in groups are available through the base's Information, Tickets and Travel office as well as Outdoor Recreation.
It should be no secret to the people reading this travel series that I'm attracted to the outdoors. City life, exploring metropolitan downtowns and good dining is something I like, but I never feel more alive than when I'm surrounded by flora, open space, foliage, plants, wildlife and the other intangibles of nature. Almost any day I'd exchange the crowded walkways and streets saturated with vehicles for a fresh wind in my face and a tree to prop my back on while watching a scenic sunset. There are a lot of great outdoor places in Korea, but the two mountains and parks I keep hearing about from locals and foreigners are Mt. Hallasan, which I previously went to in Jeju Island, and Seoraksan National Park.
A four-day weekend recently gave me a chance to explore Seoraksan and some of the areas around it. The park is expansive and breaks the border of four cities, but me and my wife Cece stayed in Sokcho over the weekend to access it. The erect hills and foggy mists of the mountain peaks are visible from virtually everywhere in the city, making it an obvious and intriguing travel destination.
Getting to Sokcho from Osan Air Base is simple. A direct bus ticket can be purchased at Songtan Bus Station; however, the bus only runs four times a day: 7:55 a.m., 10:35, 12:55 p.m., 3:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. We caught the 3:45, which costs W20,000 per person and arrived at Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal at 7 p.m.
For the extended weekend, we spent several nights in Sokcho, in which there are wide variety of hotels available in and out of the city center.
Seoraksan National Park is accessible by bus, which run regularly throughout the day and will be very cheap, but there are plenty of Taxis around for more convenience and slightly more cost.
An UNSECO biosphere reserve since 1982, and presumed to one day become an UNSECO world heritage site, the park is home to a lot of wildlife and plant species. Among the animals known to inhabit the preserve are the Korean musk deer, otters and the Asian black bear (sadly unseen by me.)
There are a lot of different hiking trails in the park, ranging from a loose and easy 1.5-kilometer course to a stern all-day 16-kilometer trek. Since I was travelling with my wife, who doesn't fancy sweating and climbing in the woods for half a day, we stuck to the easy treks.
In-between the modernized walkways and worn walking paths, there are several Buddhist temples in the park. We stopped by Sinhuengsa, which is conspicuous due to the massive Buddha statue, called the Great Unification Buddha. The bronze, multi-million dollar icon stands out amongst the hills, rocks and green trees that comprise the park's skyline. The landmark is an attraction for the devout, who can pull out mats and pray, as well as camera-possessing travelers who want to get a picture in front of it.
After skirting some of the lower trails in the park and wading in the river for fun and refreshment, we took a cable car to one of the mountain's peaks. The car runs on a specific schedule and costs W9,000 for an adult, less for children.
At the top of the mountain, the fog obscured most of our views, but there were some nice scenic points along marked trails, accompanied by bars and ropes to ensure you stay on the trail. We also got a look at people rock climbing across the valley. I later learned there are courses for mountain climbers at the park, although they're for serious climbers only considering the tallest peak in the park is over 5,000 feet.
We checked out a few other places in the park, but time went by quickly and there's more to see and do than in just one day. Tired from the climbing, we decided to leave a little bit after we took the cable car back to the bottom of the mountain. We left and went back to our hotel, but for people only making a day trip, cabs are available to take back to the bus station, which has a bus running directly back to Songtan.
For landscape and outside enthusiasts like me, Seoraksan National Park is a good destination. For people considering the trip, there are also beaches and other attractions in the nearby city of Sokcho. Given the length of the bus ride, it would make sense to stay overnight and see something else or at least have a nice place to rest after taking a long hike.
Location: Seoraksan National Park
Directions: In Sokcho. A bus runs directly from Songtan Bus Station to Sokcho several times a day. From Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal it's a short taxi ride to the park.
Cost: W55,350 round trip per person, including bus ticket, approximate taxi fare and entry to the park. Food or lodging will cost extra.
Time: Day-trip or longer, since the bus ride takes approximately 3:15.
Documentation required: No ID required.
Who it's for: Outdoor lovers, hikers and climbers of all ages. Entry for children costs less than adults.
When it's open: Year round, but certain sections of the park may be inaccessible at times.
Activity required: Little to high. A lift will take you to the top of the mountain peak for W9,000, but there are strenuous hiking trails for those interested and even mountain climbing opportunities for the adventurous.
What to travel with: Hiking gear if you intend to take one of the harder trails. There are plenty of general stores and restaurants inside and outside the park, so packing food and water isn't necessary. Make sure to take your SOFA and ID card as well as a functioning cellular phone. As always, when traveling, groups are preferable, but make sure to notify your supervisor and chain of command where you intend to go. Everything else is up to you, enjoy the scenery.