Sokcho is a coastal city in the far east of Korea. It is quite close to the DMZ, and belonged to North Korea between the post-WWII separation of Korea and the end of the Korean War. I guess you could also do some sightseeing of the DMZ from here, and you can enjoy Sokcho itself, but neither is why I came here for two short days. I wanted to visit the famous Seoraksan National Park, and this seemed like the ideal place to set up camp to do so.
Sokcho is quite easy to reach from Seoul. Go to the Express Bus Terminal and catch a bus. The buses are quite comfortable (and the ride is less rocky than on city buses) and, like all public transportation I’ve encountered, quite cheap. The trip takes about three hours. However, I’ve also heard horror stories of taking 6+ hours on busy weekends, so go during the week if you can.
Sokcho seems like a great starting point if you want to visit Seoraksan National Park. There’s a bus line going from Sokcho’s center right to the Park entrance, which seems like the most convenient way to reach the park if you don’t have a car. I also managed to get a lovely hotel room for a bargain price including a balcony with a view of the ocean. After months of living in dorms or hostels, this was my first time sleeping on my own and in a pretty large room (certainly for Asian standards), which was quite a pleasant change of scenery. Then again, I was so used to not having any personal space that I had no idea what to do with all that additional space, but there are certainly worse problems to have.
Despite Sokcho apparently being a pretty well-known travel destination, the city felt quite close and sleepy in the brief time I spent there. Again, I was there during the week and out of season, so that’s probably a huge part of that. Either way, it’s not a particularly big city (under 90.000 inhabitants) and feels quite calm.
Since I spent almost all of my time at Seoraksan, I was not able to gain that much of an impression of Sokcho itself. Sokcho beach is quite lovely and a great place to relax after a day of intensive hiking.
There are a bunch of small restaurants alongside the central road near the bus terminal. What I found quite interesting is that all of them (all two, so the sample size isn’t gigantic) had full English menus, one of them with a note saying that the translation had been financed/organized by some sort of government tourist program. This came as a bit of a surprise in this town that seemed so small and sleepy compared to the gigantic Seoul, but only rarely did I find such a service in Seoul restaurants, which made for some awkward encounters.
Another surprising revelation was how close Sokcho is to Russia. You can get there from Wladiwostock in about two hours, which explains why I saw a handful of street signs in Russian on top of the expected Korean and English.
Anyway, those are my brief impressions of Sokcho. I liked what little I saw of it, but Seoraksan was the real draw for me.
You might have heard of Sokcho before, since it briefly gained fame for rather odd reasons: It was the only city in South Korea in which you could play Pokemon Go, which apparently led to an entirely new kind of tourist wave that swept Sokcho and led to worldwide news coverage.