Things you have to do this summer
Looking for something to do now that things are heating up? Enjoy this warm weather while you can — before the humidity becomes oppressive, yellow dust saturates the air and rain pours constantly.
In reality the summer is shorter than it seems, so you may want to plan ahead. A solid mix of adventure and laziness is key to an enjoyable Korean summer. Having a drink and people watching at your local Family Mart or hiking through one of the most beautiful parks in Korea should be on your list.
You can do it in whatever order you'd like, but there are five things that you must include in your summer plans:
1. Mud Festival, Daecheon Beach, Chungcheong
Hosted on Daecheon Beach on July 14 to 22 this year, the Boryeong Mud Festival celebrates the high-quality mud for which the west coast city is known. In 1996, doctors found the mud to have a high mineral count and cosmetic benefits, and in 1998, people started throwing a festival to celebrate it.
Expats, tourists and nationals alike come out in force to celebrate Mud Fest. There is a parade, fireworks, mud wrestling and mud slide. Swim in the “Mega Mud Tub” or watch the King of the Mud Fest events.
Cover yourself in mud, have a drink and be weird — with thousands of other people.
Take a bus from Express Bus Terminal. Buses run every hour and cost 10,000 to 15,000 won. From the Central City terminal there will be a direct bus shuttle that runs right to the beach during the festival. If in doubt, follow everyone else. For more information and to take a look at photos from the past, visit www.mudfestival.or.kr.
2. Hike Seoraksan
Seoraksan National Park in Gangwon is a natural wonderland that is best known for its changing colors in the fall. But experience it during the summer when the altitude change doesn’t require layered clothing and it stays light out longer.
The park features the Taebaek mountain range, which includes the third highest peak in Korea, Mt. Seorak. It reaches 1,708 meters (5,603 feet) and allows you to see for miles through several valleys below. On some cloudy days you will rise above the fray and it will seem like a different world.
There are many trails that vary in difficulty, from one-hour hikes to three-day escapades. Highlights include a 100-foot waterfall, Buddhist temples and a large bronze Buddha at the entrance of the park. The trails are clearly marked and well maintained with stairs installed for the steeper and more difficult sections.
If hiking and camping isn’t your thing, visit the city of Sokcho along the ocean and just 15 minutes from the park entrance. The beautiful beaches are great day or night. There is a large selection of restaurants — go with seafood — and accommodations can be made for any budget. You can camp or stay in a hotel, love motel or hostel.
To get there, take a bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal for 15,000 to 17,000 won, which departs every 30 to 60 minutes. In Sokcho, the town buses 7 and 7-1 can take you to the park entrance. There is a small park entrance fee (1,500 won).
For more information, check out www.english.knps.or.kr.
3. Island hopping in the West Sea — Wolmido, Muuido, Yeongjong
Off the west coast of Korea there are literally thousands of islands, some which are more fun to visit than others. During the summer the islands bristle with overnight campers, day hikers and just about anyone else you can imagine.
It has gotten increasingly easier to visit these islands. Simply take the subway Line 1 to Incheon Station, and from there you can begin your journey to either Muuido or Yeongjong. Take a taxi to Wolmido, the first island on your trip.
While on Wolmido Island you can visit the amusement park that offers just about everything you can imagine. For 13,000 won, you can ride the roller coasters like the Apollo Disco. There is also a cruise offered every hour that tours around the whole island.
It is a short ferry ride from there to Muuido Island, which offers a bit more nature. You can visit one the many beautiful beaches; several Korean television shows and movies have been filmed there. With smooth, soft sand beaches and mountains inland, there is a good mix of surf and turf.
Hanagae Beach is definitely one of the more popular spots for natives and expats alike. Want to throw the football around and get sauced before the sun goes down? There are plenty of teachers there who visit on the weekends. Huts are available to rent for 30,000 won and will sleep anywhere from three to six people depending on your comfort level. Looking to relax and maybe practice a little of your Korean? This is also a popular destination for nationals and their families. Swimming and hiking are available, great restaurants are within walking distance and there are convenient stores as well.
Be careful with starting fires. They say it’s prohibited and the hut owners who are present until 9 p.m. or so might come and charge a 20,000 won fee due at your checkout.
Getting to Hanagae by bus from the ferry is very easy. Follow the crowds and ask an attendant.
For more information as well as packaged tours, visit english.visitincheon.org.
4. Corner Store Drinking
There is a reason that your local convenience store has tables and chairs set up outside. One of the best parts about summer is simply sitting outside and doing as little as possible. You have seen your Korean counterparts enjoy a few too many bottles of Hite or Cass — now it’s your turn to grab some drinks and sit at the impromptu beer garden to people-watch.
It’s a cheap activity that will be sure to give you more than a few stories. Without a doubt you will have a Korean or two sit down with you. Be sure to offer them a drink, a smoke or both.
5. Seoul Searching — Haendangdong, Insadong, Jongno
Get lost. Start riding the subway, get off at a random train stop and just start walking. Meander down alleyways, take a street no one else is on, and get yourself lost. Korea is a pretty safe place—though I’d still do this during daylight — but you shouldn’t have to fear for your safety.
Keep walking until you don’t see Western faces. You can always take a taxi back to the train station. Find a small restaurant and have a bite to eat and a beer. You need pictures for your food? Just order kimbap and a beer and enjoy the little nook of Korea that no other expat has experienced.