Skyline of Sokcho behind the sea at sunset

Sokcho

While best known among international tourists as the gateway to nearby Seoraksan National Park, Sokcho’s salty charms make it an intriguing destination in its own right – from super-fresh seafood to what must be up there with the world’s cheapest, and weirdest, ferry rides.

Take a look out west from Sokcho’s central lagoon, and you’ll see the main reason why people visit this city: the distinctive peaks of Seoraksan, forming a forested murmur on the horizon. While most international visitors depart for the mountains as soon as they arrive, we’d recommend staying a little longer in Sokcho too.

Sokcho’s modest city center curls in a near-complete circle around Cheongcho Lake. Tiny Abai Island sits at its inlet to the sea, with pretty bridges linking it to the mainland. However, by far the most fun way to get to Abai is on a ferry from the center – though it’s not so much a ferry as a curious floating contraption pulled along by winches. Tickets are almost comically cheap (even if the ferry’s full, the total takings amount to a few bucks), and if you’re feeling sporty, you can even ask to do some of the winching yourself. Abai has a few restaurants serving the island’s own type of sundae – not an ice cream, but a type of Korean sausage, in Abai’s case – with a whole squid functioning as the sausage skin. Further south, more than a hundred seafood restaurants cluster around Daepo harbor, which makes for a truly atmospheric place to eat of an evening.

An unhurried city with the salty tang of the East Sea, Sokcho was part of North Korea from 1945 until the end of the Korean War in 1953, and many of its residents (particularly on Abai Island) are either North Korean themselves or have relatives there. The DMZ is a popular day trip from Sokcho, offering the chance to glimpse South Korea’s secretive neighbor up close; on the way you can stop at the former villa of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s first leader.

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