Celebrating my Golden Birthday

Months ago I knew I wanted to celebrate my 25th birthday by leaving the city for the weekend with Dave. We chose Sokcho as the destination because it was close by and because it had both the beach and the mountains. It came with great recommendations, so I found a lovely hostel, booked a room and counted down the days. This trip was our first time sleeping outside of Seoul since we arrived eight months ago! It’s shocking I know! We hadn’t taken any overnight trips because when we first got here we didn’t want to spend money on traveling before we started getting paid and then once we did have money in the bank, it was too cold to really go anywhere and not freeze our asses off. We put off all of our exciting travels for summer and fall. It’s going to be a busy and very fun next few months!

When we decided on Sokcho we didn’t even think about what would happen if the weather was crappy. Turned out the weather was not so good on my birthday, or the week before either. I frequently checked the weather in Sokcho before leaving hoping that the forecasters had made a mistake they would find and correct, but alas my birthday was to be a very rainy one.

We bought bus tickets that left out of the Express Bus Terminal, which is also the location of the subway stop. We kind of assumed that there would be easy signage once coming out of the subway to find the bus terminal, but we were mistaken. A business man helped us out and showed us which exit to take and which direction to go, but on our return journey we realized we took a very convoluted route. Now we know. Once arriving in Sokcho our luck continued along a similar line. We apparently weren’t supposed to get off at the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, but rather the Sokcho Local Bus Terminal to reach our hostel. Who knew there would be two bus terminals?!! We wandered around at 11:30 pm for twenty minutes before our mistake was explained to us by an ajumma (grandma) who was wandering around in the night looking to bring customers to her hotel. We got in a taxi and took a short ride, which felt like an eternity because we were anxious to check-in.

When we finally arrived it was a little past midnight and the hostel manager was there to greet us. I was instantly in love with the place as I knew I would be from the pictures and the reviews online. It had a nearly perfect score on Hostel Bookers. The manager gave us a ten minute rundown of where to go in Sokcho, how to get there via bus, which trails you can hike and how long each one took. It was an incredibly helpful rapid fire of information scribbled quickly on our map. Between the two of us, we managed to remember and decipher his notes the next day. The manager was kind, helpful, and always seemed to be around. I’m not sure when he sleeps!

When we woke up on Saturday (my birthday) I was bummed to find that it was still raining, but positive that we would still make the most of it. It wasn’t coming down too hard so we decided we could still manage a hike in Seoraksan National Park. We chose to hike to a cave because we figured that all of the other hikes, with the exception of the waterfall, were meant to be done when it wasn’t so cloudy and misty so you could see the stunning views. We were one of the few people in the park that day that chose that route. On our way down parts of the hike turned into a small river, so I’m pretty sure that anyone else that chose to go that way later turned around before the reaching the cave.

We started out¬†leisurely¬†walking and were both found the temperature to be perfect for hiking. It wasn’t hot out, it was actually almost cold. After two hours of hiking in a shirt, long sleeve layer, rain shell, and plastic poncho, I was schvitzing like crazy and almost suffocating from the heat within my plastic covering. I gave up and decided to take off the hood and let my head breathe. I’d rather get wet from fresh rain than hot sweat. The last half hour to the cave was the hardest part. I was not only hot, but hungry and in all the rain there wasn’t a good place to pull over and take a snack break. The last part was a series of orange metal stairs bolted into the mountain. The final set was the worst because they were very steep and looked like they would be dangerous to go down in good weather, let alone bad weather.

We just had to do the corny Korean couple heart pose in the cave!

Upon reaching the cave I removed my poncho, rain shell, and long sleeve shirt and then found the snacks. Only after I was satiated did I take a look around. The ceiling at the front of the cave had lotus lanterns and a small area for cooking which looked like it might be a small business in better weather. In the back of the cave there was a Buddha shrine. We hung out for a while, regrouping, drying off and taking pictures until we were ready to make our way back down the treacherous stairs. It was raining harder and toward the end of our hike we were both swimming in our shoes. They took four days to dry. Despite the rain we still had many laughs and a great time. Seoraksan is a stunning area and we can’t wait to go back to hike again.

Once we got back to the hostel and changed our clothes we ventured back out in the rain to the Cheoksan Hot Spring Resort (more like a bath house than a resort) to soak for a little bit. I get bored easily when I am by myself in saunas and hot tubs, so I ventured to the corner where two ladies were doing scrubs for 17,000 Won. There was an open table so I decided to have my first Korean scrub. I didn’t feel as beaten up as the scrub I had in Turkey, but I felt just as clean. I still feel clean. I was horrified by the amount of skin/dirt that came off. I wasn’t sure if it was a normal amount or not, which made me a bit worried that the woman giving me my scrub knew I hadn’t had a scrub like that in years. I don’t want to be a filthy foreigner.

When we reconviened in the lobby, we decided to go try the “sushi buffet spaghetti noodle soup” restaurant which had been recommended to us. Koreans love buffets, so I figured why not try one. It was highly disappointing and we will be re-doing my birthday dinner at a nicer restaurant later this week. We finished the evening off by stopping by a Paris Baguette (a popular pastry shop chain) for a couple slices of cake and a candle to go. It was a very memorable birthday and I’m so glad we went despite the weather. Before we left Sokcho, we made reservations to go back and stay at the same hostel in September during the Korean Thanksgiving holiday. I can’t wait! Let’s hope it doesn’t rain!

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