Leaving Seoul and Hiking Mt. Seoraksan in Sokcho South Korea
While still in Seoul, we rented a car with an English Language GPS and a mobile Internet that is called an Egg.
They do not rent many cars with an English GPS, so renting a car took more than an hour and included sending an employee to get the attachment that connects the GPS to the car’s windshield; apparently they had only one and it was in another branch.
While we waited, the branch manager went over the car insurance details with us.
By buying car rental insurance in Korea, we were only buying insurance for our own car with a deductible of $100 per event.
An event, constitutes a scratch to the car or an accident.
Three scratches means $300 etc.
But all the insurance you can buy does not cover the OTHER car in case of an accident.
The branch manager told us: “You only need to worry if you hit an EXPENSIVE car like a BMW, a Mercedes or a Ferrari.
In that case you will have to pay $20,000,000 Won, which is roughly $20,000.”
As Jules and I sat there with our mouths dropped, the manager tried to reassure us and said that outside of Seoul there are not many cars like this on the road.
He added that if we hit a regular car, we will have to pay much less, but still in the range of thousands of US dollars.
We were not reassured at all.
In the days we spent in Seoul we saw many BMW and Mercedes cars and even a collection of Ferraris on the roads.
But this was the ONLY kind of insurance we could buy, so we vowed not to get into an accident and drove out of the city towards the East, in the directions of the mountains.
Our first destination was the city of Sokcho, which is located on the East Sea.
I like it that in Korea, they do not call it the East China Sea, as many of the maps do, after all, no country owns it and this East Sea is actually a part of the Pacific Ocean and it breaks on the shores of China, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan.
The East Sea looked dark and a big gloomy in Sokcho when we arrived.
It was a rainy day, but we kept our hopes up because the weather forecast called for no rain for the next day, which was the day we planned to hike Mount Seoraksan.
Our hotel, the Kensington Stars Hotel, is located right near the Seoraksan National park.
It has a British interior decoration with photos of the British Monarchy or the Beatles, on every wall.
Each room is dedicated to a Korean singer or a movie star.
There are memorabilia of each star by each room and a description of their biggest hits.
There are two red double decker buses from London in the garden, and they offer some British and Western food, which we actually were happy to see, since most of the Korean dishes in their restaurant were made with beef stew.
The hotel is quirky but somewhat charming.
It felt weird to stay in such a place in a remote location in Korea.
But in season, many tourists. from all over Korea, and foreigners as well, come to enjoy the Seoraksan mountain area.
The next day the weather forecast called for seventy percent chance of rain.
It is not fun to hike in the rain and if the path is very rocky, it can even be dangerous, as rocks tend to be slippery in the rain.
But we decided to brave it and to pray that it would not rain until the end of our hike, which is exactly what happened.
At the entrance to the park sits a huge bronze sculpture of the Buddha.
Below it there is a Dharma prayer room with large Buddhist golden sculptures.
A bit farther, but still within an easy walk from the main gate, stood the Sinheungsa Temple.
This temple was constructed during the reign of Queen Jindeok (653AD) under the supervision of the Great Monk Jajang.
The temple has some impressive gates with stunningly carved wooden guardians.
It has beautiful buildings, as well as a three-story pagoda, and a huge 1,400 year old bell that is well preserved.
Because this is a forest temple, the eaves of the main hall were elaborately carved with animals patterns and mythical dragons.
The path into the mountain was gentle and Jules made up an imaginary word, calling the hike a “Wushike`” – meaning that it was too easy, or a “Wuss Hike.”
He took all of his words back as we climbed the thousand steps to the summit of Ulsanbawi Rock.
It was a serious climb and on our way back we saw many hikers huffing and puffing.
The Seoraksan National Park is beautiful.
A rocky river runs along the hiking path and the twisting branches of the trees and the majestic rocks, created some magical views.
The path took us to an area with huge rocks with engravings on them.
In this magical location, The Great Monk Jajang who supervised the contracting of the Sinheungsa temple, set up his hermitage and practiced meditation while living an ascetic life.
It is now called the Gyejoam Hermitage.
Gyejoam Hermitage is like no place I have seen before.
The Great Monk Jajang set up this hermitage in a cave at the foot of a very large and smooth boulder named Moktak, in 652AD.
Engraved on the walls in Chinese characters, is the inscription “The Hall of Paradise.”
A friendly woman who sat inside the cave under the boulder which by now has been renovated into a lovely small temple, offered us delicious tea which was fragrant and refreshing.
After the hermitage we started the most difficult section of the climb to Ulsanbawi Rock.
From a distance, I could see Ulsanbawi Rock, but it seemed so high and without any soil, that I did not expect that we would summit it; I simply assumed that the hike would take us to a panoramic platform at its base.
But the path which was rocky and steep, turned into a series of steps that were built into the rocks, to allow people to summit and to view the East sea on one side, and the rest of the peaks on the other.
It was windy when we approached the summit, but it was wonderful.
The way down was not less challenging.
My legs were stiff from climbing more than a thousand steep steps and now the rocks felt more slippery.
With stopping to take many photos, it took us about two hours to get down.
We rewarded ourselves with a ice cream and a corn on a cob.
My legs were very stiff by the end of the day.
Overall….It was a great day of hiking in a beautiful park, AND…. The best thing of all…. We did not hit a Ferrari or a Mercedes….hurray!
Great photos! I hiked this area last Nov and have been living in Korea for the past 14 years now. I was wondering why you decided to rent a car and not take the 2 hour ride via express bus from Dong Seoul bus terminal? I think it would have saved you a lot of money. My husband does drive here (because of his job) and has been able to put Korean GPS’s in English or uses his cell phone GPS to navigate around. I think this would have saved you a lot of money as well.
Thank you so much for your suggestion!
It might help other people who read the blog and decide to hike this mountain.
For us, we rented a car because we continued on to hike many other mountains in South Korea.
We did a six weeks trip which included visiting rural places and hiking remote mountains, so Seoraksan was only our first on this long trip.
Even though the car rental was fairly costly for six weeks, it did allow us to visit and see many rural places that would have been hard to visit, using only public transport.
I understand! Didn’t realize you were traveling for 6 weeks. Yeah, if you were going to run around for a while like that, the buses would probably be a hassle. Hope you worked out a deal with the rental car company.