Great Escapes: a taste of the North in the magical city of Sokcho, South Korea

Great Escapes: a taste of the North in the magical city of Sokcho, South Korea

A trip to Sokcho means much more than delicious food, magnificent scenery and amazing souvenirs. The hints of North Korean culture makes it a wonderful city

The big picture

Sokcho, in northeast South Korea, isn’t your typical city. While its popularity has increased over the years, it has still managed to maintain its authentic, seaside, and North Korean beauty.

Yeah, that’s right: North Korean beauty. Sokcho is one of the closest cities to the more eccentric neighbours up north. In fact, it was considered a part of North Korea until the border map was redrawn after the Korean War in 1953. There were frequent boat rides to and from North Korea and many Sokcho natives have relatives on the other side of the border. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that Sokcho dialect and cuisine have hints of North Korean culture – and this is exactly what makes this city so magical.

A three-day trip to Sokcho is perfect. One day for food (prepare your stomach), one for travel (prepare your camera), and one for souvenirs (prepare your suitcase). Ready?


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How to get there

The “Korean wave” has engulfed our city, and Hong Kong tourists have been flocking to Seoul’s Incheon Airport via budget airlines and group tours whenever there’s a long weekend or term break. An experience in South Korea’s capital is unforgettable: the exotic food, the jaw-dropping cosmetics deals, the handsome K-pop stars … But is this the real South Korea? Or is it a South Korea trying to market itself to the masses?

Sorry, but it’s time to bypass Seoul. Once you land, hop on a bus to Sokcho – it should take you no longer than two hours. The city itself is tiny, so walking from the bus terminus to the city centre is no hassle at all, but there’s a bus if you need.

There’s another unique mode of transport available in the city centre … it’s definitely a slower, more traditional (and potentially wet) experience. Read about it in the “Must-dos” section.


Today’s specialty

Be bold and try squid soondae
Soondae is a very popular street snack among native Koreans, but tourists are often reluctant to give the sausage-like dish a try after they hear what’s in it: glass noodles and vegetables mixed in pig’s blood, encased in pig’s intestine. Not your cup of tea? Octopus soondae, unique to Sokcho, is much tastier and less likely to make your stomach churn. Sokcho was a port city, which means seafood was much more accessible than a pig’s insides. The natives filled squids with glass noodles, minced pork and vegetables, steaming and slicing them into mini pancake shapes. Then they were fried in egg batter and served to lucky guests. Delicious!

Slurp through a bowl of naengmyeon
Sweating buckets after a busy day as a tourist? Cool down with a bowl of naengmyeon, which literally translates to “cold noodles”. Sliced cucumbers, pears, and pickled radish – essentially everything cool – are laid on a bed of buckwheat noodles, fermented fish and chilli paste. Cut it all up, pour the ice-cold broth, dust it with some Sokcho sugar, mix everything up with your chopsticks, and let the mouth-watering extravaganza begin. Seoul-style naengmyeon is laughable in comparison.


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Must-dos

Pull your way across Cheongcho Lake
Walk to the city centre and you’ll soon discover a lake dividing Sokcho. A magnificent view of the humble city awaits you on the other side. To get across, you’ll need to pay a “whopping” Korean won 200 (HK$1.50) to the seniors operating the “boat”. It’s actually less a boat and more a floating platform connected by a steel cable from one end of the river to the other. You can join in the fun and help the oldies pull the cable using a specially designed device.

Sokcho became famous after a tourism exhibition in 1999 drew visitors from all over the world. The local council designed buildings slap bang in the middle of the city, and they are still there today. Why walk when you can rent a mini electric car or bike to whizz you around the Expo Centre? You can even weave in and out of the beautifully crafted tulip parks between the structures.

Top photo spot
Most tourists visit the Seoraksan National Park in Sokcho, home to some of South Korea’s most beautiful mountain views. It’s almost impossible to snap a bad picture when you’re up there. A breezy walk up the mountain paths gives you the chance to tower above the city and witness the shining Yeongrangho lake and the gorgeous Sokcho beach. And, perhaps most interestingly, you also get a view of Bukhan – more familiar to us as North Korea. Top tip: go during autumn for an even more stunning and orangey experience!

Get lost in Sokcho Market

Finish your jam-packed stay with a peaceful browse through Sokcho Market. Alley after alley, there are stalls selling fresh seafood, souvenirs, clothes, and snacks …You’ll be amazed at what you can get your hands on. While you’re there, be sure to nibble on some spicy fried chicken, octopus bread, savoury pancakes, seafood tempura, and much, much more. More importantly, though, this is the perfect opportunity to post some ridiculously colourful Instagram photos!

Edited by M. J. Premaratne

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
A taste of the North

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