Korea Day 4 (4 Jan 16) – Marvel the Wonders of Mother Nature at Seoraksan National Park

In our plans for this Korean trip, today is the day we visit Seoraksan National Park. By planning the day trip on a weekday, we will be able to avoid the crowds. Seoraksan National Park is located in Gangwon-do, some 3 hours from SeoulSeoraksan National Park is one of the most beautiful and most visited National Park in the entire Korean Peninsula. It is designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Protection Site.

Mountain range of Seoraksan National Park

Making our way to Seoraksan National Park

To get to Seoraksan National Park, we had to take a bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal to Sokcho and transfer to a local bus. Seoul Express Bus Terminal is accessible via the subway and is located at the Express Bus Terminal Station (Exit 1). We headed for the ticketing booth the moment we reached the Bus Terminal and got the tickets (costs ₩18,100 one way) for the next Express Bus to Sokcho. The bus ride from Seoul to Sokcho takes about 2.5 hours, with a pit stop in between. The express bus to Sokcho is very comfortably furnished with wide leather seats, which enabled us to catch a nap. The bus has a 32″ LED TV at the front, showing Korean dramas. Before reaching the pitstop and subsequently Sokcho, announcements were made. The bus driver even went around counting the number of passengers he has onboard before driving off. Buses 7 and 7-1, from the opposite side of the bus terminal, goes to Seoraksan National Park from Sokcho Express Bus Terminal. The ride to Seoraksan National Park takes around 1 hour from Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, with scenery changing from coastal to mountainous through some farmlands.
Inside Seoul Express Bus Terminal
Tickets for Sokcho
Outside the Bus Terminal in Seoul
Seoul Express Bus Terminal
This is where we waited for our bus to come
Our ride to Sokcho
Inside the bus
Getting ready for Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
Pit stop
No clue where we were… I only know we were somewhere between Seoul and Sokcho
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
On our way to Seoraksan National Park
Part of Sokcho
Outside Sokcho Express Bus Terminal. There is a tourist information booth outside the terminal
This is the bus stop opposite Sokcho Express Bus Terminal where we boarded our bus to Seoraksan National Park
We boarded bus 7-1 to  Seoraksan National Park. Scenery near  Seoraksan National Park
End of the line –  Seoraksan National Park

Arriving at Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park is at the end of the bus service. We alighted the bus at Seorak-dong, we were captivated by the majestic mountains in front of us. I cannot imagine under 1 hour ago, we were still facing the coastline, watching the waves hitting ashore as we were riding on the bus. Moments later we were greeted by the mightiness of the mountains that were in front of us. I can’t help but marvel at the wonders of Mother nature. We were greeted by a Korean style archway, marking the entrance to Seorak-dong, confirming we were at where we were supposed to be. A short walk from the archway, a large metal statue of a bear, that is an icon in this national park. Almost all visitors would stop here to take a picture of this statue. As there were people waiting to take pictures, we skipped our photo opportunity with the bear and decided to come back later. We headed for the cable car station, which would whip us up into the mountains within mere minutes.

 The entrance to Seoraksan National Park is just a couple of mins away from the bus stop
Entrance to  Seoraksan National Park
We are here at  Seoraksan National Park
A pagoda structure on our way to the cable car station
Waiting to board the cable up to the mountains
View of the mountain from inside the cable car
And we are on our way in the cable car up to the mountain
Riding in the cable car
The cable car passes above the stream
View inside the cable car
Seorak-dong is getting smaller by the minute
We can see the coastline from afar
Frozen waterfalls are seen from the cable car in  Seoraksan National Park

Up to the Mountain on a Cable Car

We got our cable car tickets (costs ₩10,000 round trip for adults) and were surprised there were hardly any queues for it. This proves that coming to Seoraksan National Park on a weekday is a good decision. We got into the cable as soon as it called into the station. As the cable car made its way up the mountain, through the woods below us, what was originally gigantic turned into miniature. From the cable car, we can see the entire Seorak-dong and far into the shores of Sokcho that we passed by while making our way to the National Park. Below cables of the cable car, frozen waterfalls are insight. There is also a narrow and steep set of the stone-made stairway up to the mountain. The cable car brought us to the mountain top station in less than 10 mins. We got out of the station as soon as we disembarked from the cable car and headed out to the lookout point. The lookout point faces the base of the national park. From here we can see the temples and the various buildings and temples at Seorak-dong. At the lookout point, we can see as far as Sokcho and the sea. The cold crisp mountain air blew across our faces, despite being cold, the air is so fresh that we did not want to get inside the station to shield us from the cold. At the lookout point, we can also marvel at the wonder of mother nature, where part of the mountain range can be seen. It is not the best place to view the mountain ranges here. As we were a little hungry, we ordered tteokbokki (Korean Spicy rice cake) and Korean pancake to munch. Having some Korean food with the view to die for is enjoyment itself

View of  Seoraksan mountain ranges from the lookout point
Me at the lookout point at the cable car station in the mountains
One can never get tired of such a view
Panoramic shot of the mountain ranges in  Seoraksan National Park
My friend at the lookout point with the Seoraksan mountain range behind
More view of the surroundings in the mountains
We had Korean pancakes up in the mountains…
And a tteokbokki

Gwongeumseong Fortress

After having our meal, we headed to the Gwongeumseong Fortress. The 30 min walk with well-laden walkways and stairs, is more of a walk than a hike. The journey is mild and is suitable for all ages. Gwongeumseong Fortress is situated some 860m above sea level and was situated on top of the mountain where the cable car station is. The history of the castle was sketchy and is believed to be built by the 23rd King of Goryeo Period. After passing through some well-maintained pavement, the area opens up to a vastness of rocks. This is where one would have to be careful when walking up to the edge of the top of the mountain. At this point, I was expecting to see some form of castle ruins or any reminisce of a castle, however, all I see was rocks and more rocks. Does not seem to have any humanly made structures up here. Wonder how the fortress looks like in the earlier days. Nonetheless, the view here is simply breathtaking. I walked up to the edge of the rocks and looked into the mountain ranges of inner Seorak. Miles and miles of unspoiled nature with no presence of mankind draped in the clear blue cloudless winter sky of South Korea, this is a place where one can sense peace and zen. Great place for meditation or simply just absorb the wonder of Mother Nature. It is a good thing that we came on a weekday when the crowd was thin, we did not have to bump into a lot of people, which brings more peace into the area. This is a place where one can enjoy the cold winter mountainous breeze. We headed further up towards the peak. The upslope walk was easy despite having no clear marked path or handrails. We simply followed the visitors up the slope towards the peak. I did not go all the way up but stop near to the tip of the mountain. The view of the path that we took was fantastic. From up here, we started to wonder how in the world did we climb up here. There are no paths but a bunch of rocks sitting on the slope perhaps for centuries. We stayed here for around 30 mins to relax and take in the view that is before us, a picnic would be wonderful, but we did not bring any food with us here. We headed back to the Cable car station for our ride down to Seorak-dong.  Before that, we stopped by the viewpoint to take more pictures.

Frozen water along the way to Gwongeumseong Fortress
Stone stackings sighted on the way to Gwongeumseong Fortress
Stop for a picture of the mountains in Seoraksan National Park
View of Seoraksan on our way to Gwongeumseong Fortress
Some frozen mountain stream in the background
Frozen stream spotted on our way to Gwongeumseong Fortress
Wefie time!
View of the mountain
More frozen streams
There she is… Gwongeumseong Fortress
View from Gwongeumseong Fortress
View of Inner Seorak from Gwongeumseong Fortress
My friend at Gwongeumseong Fortress
Crisp mountain breeze and a stunning view of the mountains at Gwongeumseong Fortress
Selfie at Gwongeumseong Fortress
Taking a rest before resuming climbing to the tip of the mountain
View of the mountain from Gwongeumseong Fortress
Posing for the camera at Gwongeumseong Fortress
The view here is simply amazing
View of Inner Seorak
Panoramic shot from Gwongeumseong Fortress
Panoramic shot from Gwongeumseong Fortress
Selfie at the top of Gwongeumseong Fortress
We still get signal here in the mountains
Walking up to Gwongeumseong Fortress
The view here is simply amazing
Posing for the camera at Gwongeumseong Fortress
View of the valley and the mountain ranges from Gwongeumseong Fortress
Me at Gwongeumseong Fortress
Stunting view here
View on Gwongeumseong Fortress
View of the mountains at the cable car station
View of the surroundings on top of Seoraksan
Wefie at Seoraksan
Beginning our descent towards Seorak-dong
We are nearer to Seorak-dong by the minute

Sinheungsa Temple

Arriving at the base cable car station, we headed to the other landmark within Seorak-dong – Sinheungsa Temple. Passing a Korean-styled archway that reads Mt. Seorak Sinheungsa Temple (it is written in Mandarin rather than Korean), a large bronze statue of Buddha is located to the right. This is where most people would stop over and pray to Buddha before heading further towards the temple grounds. It takes 3 mins to walk from the Buddha statue to the front door of the temple. Along the way, on the side of the walkway, there are pebbles stacked on top of each other, made by those who visited here. Local folklore believed that by stacking stones on top of each other without toppling, one would get their wishes granted. My friend successfully stacked seven pebbles on top of each other.

Sinheungsa Temple seen from the cable car
Entrance to Sinheungsa Temple
Wefie at the entrance of Sinheungsa Temple
This wooden building that looks like part of the temple is actually a shop
The 10m Bronze Buddha Statue that everyone has to pass by to get to Sinheungsa Temple
My friend with the Bronze Buddha Statue
Such peacefulness and tranquility at Seoraksan National Park
Either of these routes leads to Sinheungsa Temple
On our way to Sinheungsa Temple
Park of the temple peeking from the walls of the temple
My friend stacking pebbles for luck
The pebbles that my friend successfully stacked at the side of the road towards Sinheungsa Temple

After pebble stacking, we headed to the entrance of the temple. The wooden entrance to the temple looks like it has withstood the test of time. Like the wrinkles on an elderly person, the faded entrance still looked grand nonetheless. The entrance is essentially a building by itself, with 4 large statues of deities (2 on each side) guarding the entrance, these statues are meant to ward off evil spirits. Passing through the main gate to the temple, a small raised pavilion attached to a building caught our eyes situated at the other end of the small courtyard. The pavilion looked elaborate and seem to have a similar architectural style as those we have seen in Biwon at Changdeokgung the previous day. There is another section with a larger courtyard to the left after passing through the main gates to Sinheungsa Temple, however, there seem to be some preservation works ongoing, this other area was closed off to the public. Skirting around the first building after passing through the gates of the temple, there is a second elevated courtyard. Right across the courtyard, facing the direction of the main gate to the temple is a building where a statue of the Buddha is housed in. This building is painted in green with decorated under roofings. I spotted a couple of lion-looking masks on the under roofing on each side of the door where one enters to offer their prayers to the Buddha. Next to this building is a smaller building, similarly decked out in green but less elaborately coloured. This building contains the tablets of the ancestors of the local people. There are several yellow coloured buildings built on the side of the courtyard. Perhaps due to the time we visited Sinheungsa Temple when the crowds are thin, the temple appears to be very tranquil and peaceful. One can sit by the courtyard, breathing in the crisp fresh mountain air and forget all troubles.

The entrance of Sinheungsa Temple grounds
Lucky we were here on a weekday where there are not many people around
Wefie inside Sinheungsa Temple grounds
My friend posing at the inner courtyard of Sinheungsa Temple
Sinheungsa Temple
Inner courtyard of Sinheungsa Temple
Around Sinheungsa Temple

We headed out the temple tracing back the way we came from. The whole Seorak-dong area screams of serenity. Passing through the bridge absorbing the wondrous view of the surrounding mountains, bathing in cold winter air is the reason why we visited Seroksan National Park. We reluctantly walked over to the main entrance of Seorak-dong. On the way, we spotted the bear statue and took some pictures with the statue before heading back to the bus stop to wait for the bus that would take us back to Sokcho.

Walking back to the entrance of Seoraksan National Park
The scenery is simply breathtaking
My friend with Sinheungsa Temple in the background
It is so peaceful here at Sinheungsa Temple
My friend on one of the bridges in Seorak-dong
Stream in Seorak-dong
Posing with the famous bear statue of Seoraksan National Park
Wefie with the bear statue
Last view of Seoraksan National Park before we leave

Dinner Hunting at Sokcho

It did not take long for us to return to Sokcho. At this time our stomachs were grueling, as we did not really have lunch. We wanted to have dinner at Sokcho before heading back to Seoul. As we were walking along the streets near to the Express Bus Terminal, this part of the town looks sleepy. There is hardly any human traffic around. There are several restaurants that we walked past, however, we are not too sure if they are open for business. We ended up near the port area where there are a huge shopping mall and a fish market of some sort opposite. We headed towards the fish market and realised that we could get fresh seafood here, where the restaurants would cook the live seafood from the tank in front of the shop that customers chose. As we were not too sure if we could communicate with these restaurant owners, we gave this a miss and walked back towards the bus terminal.

Fresh seafood at the market opposite the shopping mall. There is a restaurant behind these tanks where the owners will cook the seafood that is picked from these tanks
Dusk at Sokcho
Dusk at Sokcho

As we were walking back, we chanced upon a Korean BBQ restaurant and decided to have dinner there. There was only one other table that was occupied by a local couple in this small family-owned restaurant. As we do not speak Korean (neither did the owner spoke any English), we were shown a menu with pictures on it. The owner was kind enough to help us BBQ the meat and topped up any side dishes that were empty. Compared to the BBQ dinner we had on our first night in Seoul, the food here pales quite a fair bit. However, it is sufficient to last us till we get back to Seoul. A point to note to those who do not eat beef, be careful when you order any non-beef products on the menu. We ordered pork ribs, which turned out to be beef. The menu stated as pork, however reading the Japanese translation, it mentioned beef. Initially, I thought it was the translation in this particular restaurant, however, I also saw the same thing subsequently in some restaurants in Seoul. Best to stay clear of such options if in doubt. After dinner, we headed back to the bus terminal and got our tickets back to Seoul.

Korean BBQ for dinner
Korean BBQ for dinner
Side dishes that always comes with Korean BBQ
Vegetables to wrap the BBQ meat in
Side dishes
Side dishes

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