Sokcho is a city in Gangwon-do province, situated about 2 hours from Seoul. One of its most prominent roles is to become a “bridging” city to the famous Seoraksan National Park.
When we booked the bus ticket to Seoraksan National Park at Seoul Station, the man behind the counter immediately said, “Ah, yes. Sokcho!”
At first, we thought that Sokcho is a Korean vocabulary, until he told us in very limited English that to go to Seoraksan National Park, we have to transit at Sokcho Express Bus Terminal in Sokcho for transfer to another local bus.
However, it’s not really the city itself that we had a chance to explore. Having completed our visit to Seoraksan National Park, we arrived at the terminal about an hour earlier than scheduled. The huge Sokcho Beach sign facing the station intrigued us to find out more what the beach offers, especially the distance was only 500 meters from the beach.
We had an hour left before the bus came. In fact, crossing the street and walking straight to the beach took about 10 minutes from the station. Therefore, if it took 20 minutes to the beach and back (to the station) and let’s stretch it into 30 minutes max, we would have 30 minutes to kill the time at the beach without missing the bus back to Seoul. Fair enough, as long as we stick to to the plan without any delay.
Walking on an empty street in late afternoon, nearly all restaurants were closed and it seemed that the only place to get some drinks and snacks was a mini market nearby. I really wish we could have some seafood barbecue or something, but that would be impossible. We didn’t only have enough time, but also those restaurants were not in operational hours.
Little did we have information about the beach, but there are things I know for sure. Not being a superfan of sunbathing, I found the weather was great. It was not too hot although the sun was still at the peak of its burning heat, thanks to the breeze that cooled it down. There was no crowds making noises, no blushing and striking each other’s shoulders while walking down the street or along the shore. The sound of waves was apparently the only element that broke the silence. At the same time, hearing it gave us and everybody else some peace of mind.
A group of friends, families, lovers and even nuns completely enjoyed privacy that the beach delivered to its visitors, from taking panoramic pictures with a smartphone, picnicking in the tent, napping on the rug by the beach until hugging each other at the pier. All of them had their own way of celebrating solitude moments.
And how about us? We had a lot of fun capturing landscape and candids, as well as doing nothing but to feel the wind that gently blew our face, caressing and greeting us with pleasure.
The love theme at the pier managed to grab our attention by the appearance of a love tree and love-related Hangeul inscriptions carved on heart-shaped rocks. Since none of us speaks Korean, we wondered what it said and whether the pier was called “The Love Pier”. Speaking of which, I think the fish statues simply represented the creatures living under the sea.
The clock was ticking. Ready or not, we had to return to our base – the station. Despite limited time, it was a perfect day in every way. Perfect timing, perfect weather, and it didn’t require long hours to enjoy the serenity and refreshing breeze along the coast.
When we got in the bus, we realized that the seats we booked were in front of those of the nuns, whom we saw at the pier. We were not the only ones who decided to go there before the bus came. They seemed to have the same thought as ours and it was the right decision.
Three years ago, we completed our journey to the east side of Jeju by public bus, using the East Course tour package by Yeha Tour as a reference. There are 6 places of interest, when lunch is excluded from the list, as mentioned in the brochure below (check the image below, on the right side), that I will rewrite for reading comfort:
Trick Art Museum (Fall: Sangumburi Crater)
Seongeup Folk Village
Woman Diver Show
Seongsan Sunrise Peak
Via Jongdalri Shore Road
However, having had a very limited time and wanted to have more free time for ourselves, we decided to travel on our own by public bus and visited selected objects only, Seongeup Folk Village and Seongsan Ilchulbong. The bus station was 3 minutes walking distance from You & I Guesthouse in Jeju City, lucky us.
Budget and Breakdown
It’s been a while since we did it, but I still remember the approximate total cost for the whole trip. It was about KRW 22,000 (S 19.32) with the following breakdown:
Bus fare, ranging from KRW 2,000 ($ 1.75) to KRW 3,500 ($3.07) for 1 way trip: KRW 10,000 ($ 1.75), including one wrong stop because we were lost.
Seongsan Ilchulbong entrance: KRW 2000 ($ 1.75), including Woman Diver Show(but we didn’t go there) that actually situated in the same neighborhood as Seongsan Ilchulbong. Additionally, Jongdalri Shore Road is situated on the way to Seongsan Ilchulbong, so there’s no entrance fee for that. If you take the right bus, I think you’ll find one. Although we didn’t notice that, actually.
Lunch: KRW 10,000 ($ 1.75) (it may vary depending on the restaurant)
Suppose we visit all other East Course places of interest based on the brochure, such as:
It would be about KRW 45,000 ($ 29.57) altogether, including lunch, bus fares and may be some unexpected expenses, e.g. snacks, souvenirs and additional bus fares when you lost.
Price wise, it is a lot cheaper to travel on your own. Nonetheless, the tour includes English speaking guide that actually helpful (I believe) to get better understanding of each attraction and it can save a lot of time because for sure they know exactly the fastest way to visit all of them in one day. Travelers having a limited days of visit and not wanting to hassle with road direction and language barrier, joining the tour will be the best option.
In this case, I’m not able to share my experience with the tour since I didn’t join it at all.
Suppose you are a budget conscious traveler or just want to be (slightly) more adventurous by mingling with locals, public bus is the right choice in terms of safety and cleanliness. Moreover, if you stay in Jeju City, which is basically closer to the airport than most touristic places situated in the west, east or south of Jeju Island, transportation matters the most as it can take an hour or more to reach those attractions.
However, there are things to consider what to expect before and when using the public service:
It could take longer to reach each destination. Why? Because the bus may pass and stop in residential areas or non-touristic sites prior to main destinations. Moreover, you’re in the new environment when anything is possible, such as choosing the wrong bus, stopping at the wrong station or missing the museum building because you walk a bit too far. So, my advise is that leave the hotel earlier in order not to run out of time. If your have more time, stay longer in the island so you can travel in your own pace. Let’s say, if you can’t make it to Trick Art Museum today, you’ll be able to do the visit next day.
Select the attractions wisely. Get as much information as possible before selecting the attractions, especially if you have a limited duration of stay. In my case, I’d rather visit a place I will love that can be reached easily by bus without too many transfers and something traditional in the island that I cannot find elsewhere. Who says you have to visit all places mentioned in those brochures?
Not all attractions have English inscription boards and guided tour. Seongeup Folk Village is one of the examples.If you are really into details about all places, joining the tour with English speaking guide is the best choice you can have.
(Nearly) all touristic place are not visible from the road. It’s pretty hard to guess whether that’s the bus stop for the museum or the waterfall. Usually, you should walk a bit further to find the real building or entrance. Therefore….
Listen to the announcement carefully. The bus is narrated in both Korean and English, delivering concise information about the next station or stop and the closest tourist attraction from the station. It defines when you get off the bus. When in doubt….
Do not hesitate to ask. Either to the driver or other (local) passengers. Though language barrier could be an issue, and it is usually the issue, Korean people are willing to help. Somehow the driver has his own initiative to inform you that you need to get off in certain station if he knows where you want to go.
The time table could be a bit tricky if you don’t read Korean. Although the departure hours are written in familiar Arabic numeric form, certain notifications are only in hangeul letters, including words like weekend and weekdays. But it’s not really something to be afraid of. As long as you don’t hesitate to ask when in doubt.
There are more departure hours on weekdays than weekend. So please check the schedule carefully.
In a nutshell, it is eventually your call whether you decide to take a public bus or join the tour. There are advantages and disadvantages in each option. So, choose what’s best for you.
Sharing is Caring
That’s our experience of exploring Jeju Island of our own. Suppose you have something new to share about it (since we did this 3 years ago), please feel free to share in Comments below this post. Kindly correct me if I accidentally share wrong information.
When we arrived in Jeju City, we just realized that all the main attractions shown beautifully on Google Images are not simply around the corner. Although Jeju City is the capital city of Jeju Island, the truth is that many of them are situated about an hour or more from the city.
Instead of taking the bus tour that costs KRW 79,000 ($ 68.97) per person (as in 2013 rate), we decided to do it by public bus for the sake of adventure and budget saving. The closest intercity bus stop was merely 3 minutes walking distance from You & I Guesthouse.
Mingle, Be Patient and Be Observant
It was a blazing afternoon and burning sunshine when we mingled with crowds who don’t or hardly speak English at the station. Except a young Caucasian man in late 20’s with earphones attached in both of his ears, whose body language showed some kind of certainty of what he had to do, depicting familiarity of his surrounding in the place he’s not originally come from.
I noticed a completely different atmosphere compared to Seoul. Not only they are more fashion laid back and do not rush that much, but also the significant amount of elderly women (aka widows?) on street. Even more than retired couples. K-Pop and K-Dramas apparently do not give the whole picture of certain parts of Korea. Gen Y and Gen Z people in the island have less exposure of plastic surgery that make them look real, instead of homogenized beauty referring to current trend.
When the bus arrived, I hurriedly pointed the location map of Seongeup Folk Village to the driver to make sure we were in the right bus. He nodded. Phew! Then, we inserted KRW 2000 ($ 1.74) each in the fare box in front of us.
It required a bit more patience, though, to wait for everyone to be on board. Especially elderly women who took more time to climb up the bus from the pavement. Sometimes, the driver gave some hands to them voluntarily. Later on, I realized that it happened several times in a day.
I was impressed by the cleanliness and appropriateness inside the bus. The corduroy fabrics covering the seats looked like brand new. The handle bars, the ceiling, the windows, the floor were definitely in perfect condition. From this point of view, I didn’t see much difference from the tourist bus.
Within 20 minutes, the Caucasian man left the bus. And there we were, the only non-Korean speakers left inside. We really counted on the woman whom we could only hear the voice, presenting bilingual information with the same opening line. Firstly in Korean, secondly in English, saying “Next station is…..”, followed by mentioning the nearest places of interest.
The appearance of buildings were replaced by green fields and rows of trees in clear sky as the bus went further, leaving the city. The countryside view was look alike along the way after an hour journey. Most tourist attractions were not immediately visible after the bus stopped at the station where they are located, except a huge signboard situated a few hundred meters prior to the arrival.
Therefore, hearing sense was the most important of all to ensure we got off at the right station. When in doubt, ask the driver.
Better Visited when Guided
We finally succeeded arriving in Seongeup Folk Village by walking further for 200 meters from the bus stop. The entrance was free, but it is best visited when guided because we kept making lucky guesses to understand what’s really going on in that village.
There were local officials explaining and demonstrating the ancient way of preparing food and storing agriculture products and so on, but too bad it was all conducted in Korean. They hardly understood any English either. However, we were happy enough to see the distinctive look of the traditional houses.
Our journey to Seongsan Ilchulbong was not as smooth as before. There were several bus stops nearby the folk village that confused us. Furthermore, communicating with the locals were not that easy because of the language barrier. We ended up taking the wrong bus and the driver advised us to get off somewhere in the small town we don’t know what it’s called to change another bus heading to our desired destination.
There were a very few inhabitants on street, including a mom taking her daughter to a grocery store and a group of elderly women hanging out with fellas. It was a relief to witness a sign of life in a very quiet neighborhood while waiting for the next bus a little longer.
Up, Up, Up to the Cone
After a 10 minute-walk from the station, passing through seafood, barbecue restaurants, local and international cafe and restaurant chains, such as Lotteria, Angel in Us and Starbucks, eventually a big tuff cone known for its legendary crater stood gracefully before us. That was Seongsan Ilchulbong.
The temperature changed dramatically, about 10 degrees Celsius colder than that in Jeju City, and the wind blew strong. My bad, I just wore a t-shirt dress without any jacket. A very wrong kind of outfit of the day.
A final round to accomplish before heading back to the guesthouse: climbing up the stairs for 180 meters high and immortalize the moment when we reached the top: the crater with 600 meters diameter and 90 meters high.
Unlike Seongeup Folk Village, Seongsan Ilchulbong is much more prepared to welcome foreign tourists with explanations in English and Korean engraved on marble stone in each stop on the way up. It came to my surprise that crater looks more like a soccer field with grasses covering the surface.
Time flew, and it was about half an hour before closing time. Before reaching the exit, accidentally we spotted the location of Woman Diver Show, another place of interest mentioned in Yeha brochure. But we didn’t go there because show had ended.
We followed the crowds walking to the same direction, the bus station. The return trip to Jeju City was so much easier without the need for transfers. It gave us more time to rest since the journey took about 2.5 hours.
With a little help from Mr. Nice Guy, who informed us about the public bus, a conventional map and some guts, we were proud of ourselves that we made it without guided tour, Google Map and arrived in Jeju City safely in the evening.
In a nutshell, the infrastructure in Jeju Island is user friendly for tourists. The availability of public buses help a lot of people to travel on budget without neglecting comfort and safety. I really recommend visitors to try this, to leave the comfort zone, enjoy the unexpected journey, exploring the Island of Gods on your own!
Spoiler: I will give some tips and estimated budget of our Jeju trip in my next post. Stay tuned!
I left my heart in Seoul. The people are friendly and helpful. The food is great. The shopping experience is beyond expectation; a lot of good quality stuffs in relatively affordable price and they don’t cheat on customers.
Nonetheless, one thing bothers me. One thing never shown in K-Pop clips and K-dramas. During my travel, I repeatedly notice young Koreans, both male and female, spitting in public as if it is part of an everyday life. Though BB cream and plastic surgery may conceal their real age, I assume it is between 15 to 30 years old.
Generally speaking, nothing new about spitting in public. But it’s the frequency that I find beyond normal. Mostly, they spit on streets and on public garbage bins or ashtray bins situated inside and outside buildings.
It comes to my surprise as well that the young and fancy girls are as excelled as the guys at making the sound of clearing throat (from sputum). To be honest, that throat clearing sound is “loud” and gross. Especially when someone does that in front of or next to me. Although he or she has no intention to redirect it to me, but the activity can be seen very clearly although I’m trying not to pay attention to it.
However, the spitting habit never happens in prohibited places, such as imperial palace gardens, ponds, and of course you’ll never see that “ritual” inside shopping malls, except in public toilets.
Apart from that, apparently this habit only belongs to younger generations I mentioned. I have never (or rarely) seen older or more mature people actually spit on streets.
Perhaps, spitting in public is something common for them. But not for me.
Does this phenomena only happen in Seoul or the rest of Korea as well? I don’t know, really. But still, it’s a shocking discovery in a developed country whose music, fashion and make-up trends have nowadays become a global inspiration from east to west.