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From the Beaches Florida to the Beaches of South Korea

I hail from another peninsula that is very flat (Florida).  We don’t have hills; we have beaches, and I am very turned on by beaches. Unfortunately, Seoul is not blessed with beaches. Hills and mountains inundate Seoul and South Korea.  This may pleasure the whims of godless Canadian hikers who prefer to worship rocks, trees and rainbows; but, it does nothing for those of us who worship waves, coronas, and frisbees.

This leaves us beach junkies in quite a dilemma. How do we get our fix?  How do we exorcise our Casper?  Where do we go to feel warm, course, sand filter between our toes?  Where do we go for the scent of a salty ocean breeze and the wonderful sensation of the closest star on our shoulders?

The Bad Beaches in Korea

Let me start with places I think you should avoid.  If you want to go to a nice beach, avoid the west coast of Korea.  I’m not picky but I just don’t enjoy mud beaches that look like human cest pools or toxic waste dumps.  Sorry Korea, I’ve said very nice things about your country, but your closest beaches to Seoul suck.  Additionally, I live in Dongdaemun so it takes me close to two hours by subway and bus to reach the closest beach on the west coast.  If I took a direct shuttle to the airport(for 10 bucks), it would still take me an hour to an hour and thirty minutes to reach the ugly beaches.   Of course, if you live closer to Incheon than it certainly makes sense to visit these beaches because they are so close. Contrarily, for 14,000 won you can find yourself within the vicinity of some of the nicest beaches in Korea within 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Avoid Busan

Here’s the huge shocker.  If you want to spend a weekend or day at the beach solely to be at the beach, then avoid Busan.  It is overcrowded, the water is freezing, and the beach is ugly.  It’s also going to take you four to five hours to reach Busan.  As I wrote in an earlier blog,

“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.”

Are you still not convinced that Busan has ugly beaches?   Please take a look at this wonderful blog entitled, “Beautiful Busan,” and take a close look at some of the waterfront property.  Don’t get me wrong, Busan has a fairly active nightlife and can be a fun place to visit.  However, based solely on the quality of its beaches, there are far better options in Korea.

The Good Beaches in Korea Close to Seoul

So, what beaches are worth visiting?  The nicer beaches outside of Jeju Island are between the eastern cities of Gangneung and Sokcho.  The main beach of Gangneung is the beautiful Gyeongpo beach.  Anywhere north or south of this beach will place you on a nice beach with blue water and real sand.  I specifically wrote about Gyeongpo Beach and Gangneung in an earlier post and you can read that here for more information.  The best part about Gangneung is I can get there in about the same amount of time that it takes me to get to the closest beach on the west coast.  Of course, the payoff is actually worth the trip.  If you leave by 7:00, you will arrive before 9:30.  That’s almost too much time to spend at the beach if you developed paper pale skin like I have while living in Seoul.  Look below at the splendor of Gyeongpo Beach and Lake.

The next quickest option is to take the bus from Seoul to Sokcho.  Sokcho probably hosts the best beaches in Korea as well as Seoraksan Mountain – a paradise for all of the hikers.    Sokcho takes about four hours to reach by bus so I would recommend Sokcho for a weekend trip and Gangneung for a day trip. Of course, both are wonderful places that you should visit multiple times as they have a lot to offer. Sokcho is a small city (about 100,000 people) and is a very popular destination.  If you plan on visiting during the summer, you might need to consider making hotel reservations a few weeks in advance if you plan on staying for the weekend.  Check out groups like When in Korea that often feature trips at low prices where you can choose between Seoraksan or chilling at the beach.

Considerably the nicest beach on the South Korean peninsula is Naksan beach.  I remember how delighted I was when I arrived in Naksan last summer after Busan squashed all of my hope for beach trips in Korea. Naksan boasts what I would consider the closest thing Korea has to white sand on a beach(They claim many of their beaches have white sand).  This beach is between the other two and is generally a longer bus ride to reach.  Ahhh, but what a wonderful feeling to float in the Eastern Sea (Sea of Japan).

So, what have we learned?

1) The Beaches on the west coast of Korea are ugly and muddy.  Only visit them if you live to the west of Seoul.

2) Busan is far away and the beaches in this city suck.  If you want nice beaches, avoid Busan.  However, if your goal is partying by a semblance of a beach than Busan has the best beach social scene.

3) The east coast of Korea is the answer for nicer beaches.  A one day beach trip to Gangneung is very manageable.  If you leave by 7 in the morning, you can be sitting on a lovely beach before 10.

4) For a weekend trip, Naksan and Sokcho have the most beautiful beaches in Korea outside Jeju Island.

Ziplining close to Naksan Beach.

Getting to Gangneung

1. Most people take the bus into Gangneung, since it is the fastest and most economical way to travel into the city. You can take a bus from the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (take Seoul subway line 2, exit 4) daily from 6:30am to 11pm. It takes about 3 hours and buses run every 30 to 50 minutes. From Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal in Gangnam (take Seoul subway line 3, exit 1), buses run every 15 to 30 minutes, daily from 6am to 11:30pm. There are two bus stations in town, the newer one (far from the city center) and the older one, which serves buses from closer cities.

2. If you prefer to travel by rail, you can take a train from Seoul’s Cheongnyangni Station. There are usually between four and nine trains daily into Gangneung. The best way to arrive by train is to catch the “sunrise” train the night before, sleep on the way, and arrive in time to see the sun rise over Jeongdongjin Beach. There are daily Mugunghwa trains leaving at 10:40pm, arriving at 4:40am for early risers, and a midnight train that arrives at 6:22am. Night owls can take either the 2pm train that arrives at 8:10am or the 5pm train, arriving at 11:15pm.  Be weary of taking the early morning train.  I tried to purchase a train ticket that left at either 4:40 AM or 5:30 AM and the train station did not open in time.

Once you arrive, take a cab (7,000 won or less) to Gyeongpo Beach or visit the tourist information center behind the bus terminal for information on busses that will take you to the beach.

Read more: http://www.frommers.com/destinations/gangneung/4027010002.html#ixzz24FU8JH34Getti

Getting to Sokcho

1. Go to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon Station of Seoul Subway Line No.2, Exit 4).  Take a bus bound for Sokcho. (Time it takes: 2hrs, 50mins to 3hrs, 30mins/ First bus at 06:25, last bus at 23:00 / Runs 49 times daily.)

2.  At Gangnam Express Bus Terminal (subway line 3 or 7, Express Bus Terminal Station), take a bus to Sokcho. (Time it takes: 4hrs. / First bus at 06:30, last bus at 21:00 / Runs 27 times daily)

The beach is simply a five minute walk from the bus terminal in Sokcho.

To Get to Naksan Beach

1. Go to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon Station, subway line 2).  Take a bus to Yangyang (Takes approx. 3hrs, 20mins / First bus: 6:30am, Last bus: 6:19pm / Buses depart every: 20- 50 mins / Fare: 17,400 won)

2. Or go to Gangnam Express Bus Terminal (subway lines 3 and 7) →Take a bus to Yangyang (Takes approx. 3hrs, 40mins / First bus: 6:30am, Last bus: 11:30pm / Buses depart every: 40-50mins / Fare: 15,200-24,600 won ) 

From Yangyang Bus Terminal to the beach

In front of Yangyang Bus terminal → Take city bus no. 9 or 9-1 towards Naksan → Get off at Naksansa temple and walk for 5mins. (200m – 300m)

These are not the only beaches worth checking out.  I believe the northeastern Coast of Korea is full of good beaches.  For instance, check out all of the great beaches in Yangyang.  My goal is to simply point you in the right direction.  Good luck, and if you have any questions feel free to contact me and let me know if you need an extra person to go catch some surf, I’m always about the Salt Life.

The Beauty of Naksan Beach

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Reccomended Links

Pine and Ocean– My review and early photography of Gangneung and Gyeongpo Beach.

The Asia Files- An absolutely stunning write-up on visiting Sokcho Beach and Seoraksan.

Naksan Beach– The official site for Naksan Beach

Gyeongpo Beach– The official site of Gyeongpo Beach

Seoraksan– A hikers paradise close to Sokcho beach with numerous trails, climbs and attractions.