Let’s face it, Korea doesn’t get good reviews when It comes to the olfactory department. Critiques of Seoul’s odorous sewage, pollution, and the piercing pungency of beondegi(boiled silk worm pupae) are well documented online. To be fair, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time(2 weeks) in San Francisco(A city universally adored by all) and I found San Francisco to be much more offensive to my scent receptors than Seoul. Nevertheless, imagine my surprise to find the best smelling city I’ve ever visited in Korea. I spent two days in Gangneung, South Korea. It is a very clean city of over 200,000 residents located on the eastern side Korea’s peninsula. It is known as the Pine City and I quickly learned why.
Gangneung is a quick bus ride from Seoul. I left the Gangnam bus terminal at 6:00 Saturday morning and arrived in Gangneung before 9:00. I have no interest in providing a play-by-play of my trip. However, I would recommend to any Seoulites checking in to go directly behind the bus terminal and visit the tourism booth. Grab a map and ask questions about the bus system. The buses are not difficult to learn and you can save a behemoth of cash by avoiding taxis.
Speaking of taxis, they are much more kind and much more responsive to English speakers in Gangneung. I took a taxi to Gyeongpo Beach and the driver spoke better English than my Korean co-teachers in Seoul. It was a breezy but warm morning so the windows were down. As soon as we started driving down the freeway, the subtle but sweet scent of pine filled my senses. It wasn’t overpowering like an air freshener that you would place in your car. It was light, pleasing, aromatic, and almost euphoric. The scent drove my headache away. For a moment, I felt like a dog. I wanted to stick my head out the window and sniff on all the wondrous scents of life. When we arrived to the beach, this aromatic therapy intensified. Not only did I find pine trees on the beach, but now their lovely aroma was mixed with a salty ocean breeze. I have to admit, I hope heaven smells a bit like ocean and pine. I’ve never experienced anything like it and I am from a place(North Florida) that is swarming with both pine trees and beaches.
I mainly stayed at Gyeongpo Beach. I spent time at the beach and walked around the extremely tranquil Gyeongpo Lake. The entire area is quaint, calm and beautiful. There’s nothing awe-inspiring about the sights in Gangneung. However, it’s cozy, charming and shares the type of humble beauty that one might find in Ireland. It’s odd that while I’m single I’ve found myself in the most romantic places. These places become scant to me when I’m actually suffering in relationships.
The beaches are among the nicest I’ve visited in Korea. The sand is soft with a hint of gold. In sunny conditions, the water turns a nice turquoise color. In fact, it’s quite comparable(the beach is not as nice but the water quality is better) to the east coast of North Florida. For all of my surfers and water enthusiasts, Gangneung displayed the biggest waves I’ve ever seen in Korea. The beachfront is loaded with small and unique hotels. There are plenty of coffee shops and a plethora of seafood restaurants. I do recommend visiting the area of Chodang as their Tofu(Sundubu) is as good as advertised.
If you are looking to party, there is a decent expat community in Gangneung along with a few options. The main expat bars/hangouts downtown are The Warehouse and the RUSH and Bumpin’ Bar. In the other area of town, Kyodong Tekji, the fun place to be is Bon Voyage. The owner, Ben or Mr. Lee, is a great guy. On any given night, there could be free food or drinks.(Thanks to Mel Vin who owns Korea’s first SUP or Stand Up Paddle-Boarding Company(Pine Ocean) for the information. He is a great contact for any retailers or water enthusiast in Korea interested in increasingly popular sport of Paddle-Boarding).
If you are a couple seeking solitude or an individual who wants to escape Seoul for some peace of mind, this is a great place to visit during the offseason. I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend and I look forward to coming back in July.
The staff at Kimchi Bytes(me) is continually surprised by how superior other beaches are to Busan. As to why Koreans decided to make Busan their official beach city is beyond reason. Don’t get me wrong, Busan has other redeeming qualities but their beaches look like pig dirt bordering upon a muddy, frigid lake. I’m reminded of an ugly couple who found each other and know they belong together, but are still scared to embrace each other due to low self-esteem. This is the relationship of ocean and beach in Busan. Korea deserves a better representative of its beachfront property.
My recommendation for Seoulites is to visit Gangneung during late June through September while the water is warmer. Also, Gyeongpo Beach will be crowded during the summer so it’s best to find habitat either directly north or south where crowds are less dense but the quality of the beach remains the same.
Best website for tourism information and things to do in Gangneung. Some of the pictures I provided were of the Ojukheon Residence. I really wanted to check out the seaside train but I was limited on time. The absolute best thing to do is to grab a map from the tourist center behind the bus station when you arrive. Pick out what looks good and ask questions on how to get there.
How to travel from Seoul to Gangneung. The quick way is by bus. The hip way is the midnight train and to catch the sunrise on the beach!
I’ve yet to find a solid source for hotels in the area. If someone could provide me a link I would appreciate it. I found plenty of vacant hotels when I went on the beach. The prices range anywhere from 60,000 to 140,000 so I would advise travelers to price check a few places. I think lodging could be found cheaper in Gangneung but I didn’t try looking in that area.