South Korea – From North Korean spy subs to the stairway from hell! (2008)

In November 2008 I went to South Korea to travel around the Northern, Southern and Eastern coasts of the country and visited both the Western and Eastern De-Militarized Zones (DMZ) separating North Korea and South Korea (resulting from the armistice agreement from the Korean War 1950-1953). I have kept my travel emails from that trip, so I thought it might be fun to repost them here and add a few photos and some extra information.  This blog is Part 3 of that journey (Jeongdongjin and Sokcho).

November 12th, 2008

Hi All

I am now in the port city of Sokcho, about an hour and half away from the North Korean border on the east coast of South Korea. Arrived here last night.

Yesterday was an interesting day, I had quite and adventure getting to and from the North Korean spy submarine that ran aground in 1996. Firstly the bus driver told me to get off at the wrong location! I had to walk along the side of a coastal highway with no footpath, then through a tunnel to get to the right place (about 20 mins by foot) – this was a bit hairy at times, but didn’t have much choice – next bus was 2 hours away!

Anyway I made it to the Unification Park – this was pretty cool – got to go inside the submarine – given how cramped space was (I could not stand up inside it), its amazing how many people were on board when it was ran aground on rocks (almost 30 North Korean sailors, soldiers and agents, plus weapons, western style clothes to blend in etc – they had photos of all the stuff they had) – they attempted to set fire to the submarine and escape back  to North Korea – none made it, took 49 days to capture or kill them all – they killed or wounded over 20 South Korean civilians and soldiers in the process. There was also a large navy ship there that you could go inside also. All the while this area is under the close observation of a military guard tower and soldiers just up on the cliff above it.

North Korean Spy Sub Unification Park South Korea
North Korean Spy Sub
North Korean Spy Sub Jeongdongjin Unification Park
North Korean Spy Sub

From here I caught a bus again – now this was a bizarre trip! I thought it would loop back to Jeongdongjin where my bags etc were. Instead we went via Gangneung (a place I needed to catch a train to, to get the bus to Sokcho), but this also involved sitting in an empty bus in the bus service depot for about 45 minutes! The driver was having a break – so I sat there reading a book, bizarre! He brought me a coffee which was nice while I waited! Ha Ha – anyway got back OK. Then as the weather was so good went along the beach again, enjoying the sun before I left for Sokcho.

An interesting thing I have noted in South Korea is that middle-aged and elderly women here seem to travel in mass packs – whether it be shopping or sightseeing – and they all have their hair in a perm! Its kind of like seeing thousands of Asian versions of my Granny! They talk and talk (loudly) and rush around everywhere – very funny to see and hear!

Today was awesome – I went to Seoraksan National Park – famous for its granite peaks and beautiful scenery. Firstly I took a cable car (packed with Korean Granny’s) up to one peak – then climbed to the top of the “Gwoneumsong Fortress” a big granite rock formation for spectacular views (tricky getting up there as I had to manouver around all these Granny’s climbing up and down from there)!

Seoraksan National Park
Seoraksan National Park
Seoraksan National Park cable car south korea
Looking up to the Gwoneumsong Fortress inSeoraksan National Park
Gwoneumsong Fortress Seoraksan National Park
Gwoneumsong Fortress

Then after catching the cable car back down I headed to another trail – went past a giant bronze buddha, a large temple then started on a 3.5km trek to “Ulsanbawi Rock” a massive granite mountain (875m). This was one of those epic journeys that make hiking so much fun (they are mad for hiking here by the way – have never seen so many hiking gear stores or so many people out there hiking – all in the latest and greatest gear).

Ulsanbawi - Seoraksan National Park
The view of Ulsanbawi from Gwoneumsong Fortress
big bhudda Seoraksan National Park South korea
Seoraksan National Park

The trail works its way slowly up through great autumn coloured forest and over river beds etc, getting steeper and steeper, then after about an hour you finally get to the foot of the cliffs leading up to the rock. Under normal circumstances you would only be able to get up to the top by rock climbing. The industrious Koreans have an awesome solution – this massive steep staircase that winds its way up the side of the cliff!

Seoraksan National Park
Trail to Ulsanbawi – Seoraksan National Park
Ulsanbawi Seoraksan National Park South Korea
Ulsanbawi Seoraksan National Park
On the trail to Ulsanbawi
stairway Ulsanbawi Seoraksan National Park
The stairway to Ulsanbawi

Now this thing is tough going as it is very steep and there are so many steps (hell!) – eventually it goes back to more traditional trails up the mountain. Everyone was exhausted at the top, but the views were spectacular, and the sense of achievement made it all worthwhile! The weather today was perfect sunshine, a bit hazy but a nice warm day – great for hiking.

Ulsanbawi Seoraksan National Park trail stairway south korea
OK stairs here we go!
Don’t fall!
Steep stairs!
Yep, very steep!
Made it! Ulsanbawi – Seoraksan National Park

Unfortunately what goes up must come down and now I am in an internet cafe! Oh well it was fun while it lasted! Tomorrow I will make my way back to Seoul. May head up the coast first to go have a look at the Eastern DMZ, then make my way to Seoul tomorrow night.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Ern says:

    I was looking for info about seoraksan and ur pic caught my attention 🙂 thats really nice journey of yours. I wondered abit, ur seoraksan trip was all happened in one day? U made 2 trails? U lived in sokcho? Thats amazing. I have been searching for info and i think ur the first one who could cover so mch areas in the park! I know it has been such a long time ago, but in case u remember, what time did u get and leave the park? I would love to do the one day tour but my friend says its better to spend the nite ^^ thanks in advance for ur suggestion 🙂

    1. Deano says:

      Hi Ern, Yes I did all that in one day. Catch the first bus that will get you there when the park opens and plan to leave when the park closes. If you are reasonably fit its not an issue to race around and do it all in one day (weather permitting)

      1. Ern says:

        Thank you so much. Your trip inspired me and i did it too, yay!!! Such a great trip 🙂

      2. Deano says:

        Great to hear! Well done!

    2. Deano says:

      Spending the night would be better but I only had limited time

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