21 August 2009

South Korea - Gangneung and around

After having spent a few days in Seoul (mainly to sort out our Chinese visas) we again escaped to the countryside. Gangneung is a small town, not much to see or do in the city itself, but we thought it would be a good base to explore the eastern coastal region. We checked into the usual motel (big bed, bid TV screen, big bathroom, but no computer this time) close to the bus station.

One day we took the train to visit nearby Jeongdongjin. It supposedly has the train station closest to the beach (in Korea? In Asia? In the world?). Anyway, it is very close. The village is not very interesting but has some oddities that make it worth a look: an American warship (gift from the USA to South Korea) and a North Korean submarine (that got stranded here and the crew had to flee) that we saw from the train, a huge hourglass that takes exactly one year to run through, and a huge cruiseship... on a hill!

Who could have had this idea?
There was also a nice beach where we picknicked and went swimming.
Ah, another korean oddity: people don't wear swimming suits! But no, they don't go naked, but in their clothes! Jeans and all... I guess it's something to do with being very shy to show too much of their body or something. Most people don't seem to know how to swim anyway, so they just go into the shallow water. A group of students seemed quite impressed when Miguel jumped into the water and started swimming... Of course we didn't go in our clothes but in swimsuits, but I guess westerners are pardoned...

Another day we took a bus (actually, two buses) to Odaesan National Park. On the way there, we watched TV in one of the buses, a travel show about Zermatt! Was quite strange to see something so familiar on TV in such a different country.
In the national park we climbed the highest peak, called Birobong, 1563m. Koreans have built nice walking trails, but they are steep. When it gets too steep to build a path, they just build steps straight up the mountain! So you can imagine that there was quite a bit of sweating and panting included.... but a beautiful view from the top:

The way down was also steep but not quite as much as the way up. We felt our out-of-shape legs after that!

The day after, we visited a huge cave near Samcheok, supposedly the biggest in Asia. It was very impressing, all the different stone formations were beautiful. Of course, every place had its own tacky name like "peak of desire" and "bridge of love", but hey, we're in Korea, they love that kind of thing here.
I didn't take pictures of the cave but Miguel might add one some time...

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