Last weekend, the Two Crabs went on our first road trip outside of Seoul to Gangwon province on the East Coast of Korea. Our goal: to camp overnight at Odaesan National Park. Odaesan is not the most famous or popular park in Korea. But that's a good thing because it wasn't too crowded. So on Saturday morning, we threw the tent and camping gear in the Jeep and left Seoul at 8am.
Driving in Korea is relatively easy. The highways are up to American specs, well-marked with English and Korean signs. There are huge rest areas every 25 kilometers or so featuring restaurants, shops, and even live music and batting cages. The highways are toll-based; driving from one end of the country to the other costs about $9.50. We decided NOT to drop $350 to buy a Korean GPS. Instead, we navigated the old-fashioned way by paying less than $10 for a road map, purchased from the huge Kyobo Book Centre near the US Embassy.
Unfortunately, we failed to take into account Korea's infamous traffic congestion. It should have been a 2.5 hour drive. Instead it took almost 4 hours, with bumper-to-bumper traffic from Seoul to Wonju. Once we got past there, it was smooth sailing.
We arrived at Odaesan Sogeumgang Campground about lunch time, and thankfully there were still about a dozen campsites available. The camping spots are all laid out in small squares marked by ground ropes. Compared to American or European campgrounds, the camp sites are much smaller and closer together. But we managed to find a little privacy, wedged against some huge boulders and set up camp under a huge Persimmon tree. The camp site costs just W16,000 per night, or less than $15 USD.
Odaesan's campground has about 100 tent sites, and a handful of RV sites. Camping is a relatively new but growing pastime in Korea. Recreational vehicles (campers) are not common. Most Koreans are tent campers. But "tent camping" is a relative term. Our REI-stocked kit consisted of our awesome REI Quarter Dome T3 Plus tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, and a cooler full of food and beer. Meanwhile, our Korean neighbors were sporting tents larger than some Korean apartments, with full-sized kitchens and more!
After a quick lunch, we took a short 2-hour hike to a nearby Buddhist temple.
After our hike, we strolled through the Minbak village located directly across the campground. The village was about a half-mile long road of Korean restaurants, convenience stores, bars, hiking & camping supply shops and minbaks (guest houses). It's also where most tour buses and day-trippers begin and end their visit to Odaesan National Park.
On Sunday morning, the sun gave way to clouds and drizzle. So we packed up camp and continued east to the end of the road, Gyeongpo Beach, and dipped our toes in the Sea of Japan -- or the East Sea as Koreans call this body of water separating Korea & Japan.
After the brief beach visit, we began our drive east. But first, we decided to make a pilgrimage to the ski resorts of PyeongChang, future site of the 2018 Winter Olympics! Our first stop was YongPyong, the largest ski resort in Korea!
This is a large (by Korean standards) resort featuring 31 slopes, a gondola and several hotels, restaurants, bars, and more. Next door to YongPyong is Alpensia, where the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies will be held. About 30 minutes west of Alpensia & Yongpyong, we reached Phoenix Park, the venue where the snowboarding competitions will take place. When we arrived, workers were busy building an Olympic flame featuring an embedded digital display.
We are definately looking forward to hitting the slopes around Korea this winter! After a quick lunch, we hit the road back to Seoul. FAIL. What should have been a 2-hour drive turned into a 5 hour ordeal, as every Korean and their uncle was attempting to return to Seoul at the same time.
Lesson learned: When taking a weekend road trip out of Seoul, leave at 6am on Saturday, and don't start driving back until about 8pm!