Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Day at the Beach: Gangneung (and Jeongdongjin)

Wow. I worked for hours on that apartment post, and it went over like a lead balloon. According to Blogger’s stats, it wasn’t even my most viewed post last week. Strange, since the most recent post is always the most viewed of the week. Nope, it seems my most popular post ever, my photoblog from last year’s Korean summer vacation beat out the new stuff. Hey, I get it, it’s summer travel season. People don’t want to read about/look at pictures of/think about shitty midwestern apartments. This week, let’s look at what you clearly want to see - exotic Korean travel destinations. Fortunately, I split for the coast last weekend, so I have fresh pics.

I went to Gangneung, on Korea’s east coast in Gangwon province. As it was a three day weekend, it wasn’t an easy trip. It took hours to even catch a bus (sure, I could have reserved, but that would require a fundamental change in my persona) and then hours more to get to Gangneung due to merciless traffic.

It was nearly midnight by the time I got to Gangneung. Every hotel near the bus station was sold out, so I walked to the center of town. I got a seedy hotel in a charmless area between the train station and the city center. Whatever. Outside of sleeping and showering, I spent about 45 seconds in my room. I considered taking a taxi to the beach to look for a hotel there, but the last time I got a beachfront hotel in Gangwon province over a three day weekend, it cost me hundreds of dollars for a dumpy room.

My shitty hotel on my shitty street. I was in the 크라운 motel. Given the Korean R/L thing, that can read either "Crown Motel" or "Clown Motel." Given the facilities, I presume they mean option b. I don't have fancy tastes, but the TV remote required AA batteries, and it contained AAA batteries. Come on.

The next morning, I made use of my easy train station access and caught the train to Jeongdongjin, a 15 minute ride. Jeongdongjin features a captured North Korean sub, an old US Battleship, and various sights made local famous by a Korean soap opera. I had no interest in any of these attractions. Jeongdongjin had long been on my list for one reason - its freakish Sun Cruise Resort, the boat-shaped building shown in the title picture.

The first thing that shocked me was the water. This was Korea? I’ve been to a lot of Korean beaches in my day, representing all three coasts. None had water like Jeongdongjin. It looked like goddamn Boracay. Unfortunately, when I waded into the water, it felt more like Lake Michigan.

I walked up the steep, steep hill to the boat hotel. There was a $5 entry to check out the grounds and the observation deck. I didn’t come all this way to not enter the boat, so I paid, but I still thought it was a cheap move on the hotelier’s part. For five bucks, I can get into both Seoul’s grandest palace and Korea’s best museum. The roof deck did offer impressive views. but I was hoping it would also provide a place for me to sit down and buy a beer. It did not. The boat had a “sky lounge” restaurant, but it was indoors. It was 86 degrees and sunny with a slight ocean breeze. No way was I going to spend any time indoors this afternoon.

Here we can see the pool at the hotel, empty of course. Why? Just because it’s a hot and summer June day doesn’t make it “summer” in the Korean mind, and one only swims in the summer. Summer here is July 12th to August 23rd or so, regardless of the weather.

I walked back to the beach area at Jeongdongjin station to hang out, read, and throw back a Hite D or two. As you can see in these pictures, the train station’s beach access is pretty awesome. If riding in the train’s first car, one could go from train door to station platform to sand in about 8 seconds. .

This may be the best train station I’ve ever seen. Sadly, it lies over six hours from Seoul via rail, and the only trains that call here are the old, slow, uncomfortable Mugunghwa trains.

Looking south from the beach in front of the train station.

Looking north from the same place.

The platform for northbound trains.

Later on, I headed back to Gangneung. After grabbing a bite, I headed out to the local Gyeongpo Beach. This beach seemed pretty sweet too, but it had a glaring problem come night time - it’s a Korean beach.

Water quality and sand quality varies, of course, but in a lot of ways every Korean beach is the same, at least outside of Busan. On the good side - it’s kosher to drink on them, and they all sell fireworks. On the bad side - Koreans generally neglect them 11 months a year and abuse them during the 5 week “summer.” Every Korean beach has two kinds of places to get food - $50 a head raw fish places, or 7-11. There is no middle option. There are never any proper bars. One can drink at the expensive sushi joints, or else buy a beer at 7-11 and drink it in the sand. There are never lounge chairs available, even for pay. People swim in their clothes and are terrified of the sun, so sadly, there are never Korean girls in bikinis. As a rule, I’m not really the “shirtless” type, but at the beach I feel like an idiot wearing a shirt. At Korean beaches, I’d look like an asshole for taking my shirt off. Or more of one, at least.

Nevertheless, sitting in the sand at night, shooting some bottle rockets, throwing back a couple cans of Hite D, and watching other people run around and have fun, it redeems the place a bit. A Korean beach is still a beach, and a beach always rules.

I'm a big fan of needlessly complicated translations.

I left the beach and went back to downtown Gangneung (BTW, getting to and from Gyeongpo Beach was kinda tricky. Gangneung feels like it may only have 11 taxis or so. I’m probably spoiled by Seoul in this regard). The Danoje festival was going on. I love a good carnival, and this one had a fairly massive tent city complete with shooting games and kebab huts.

The Danoje festival from the pedestrian bridge over the local river.

The next day, I planned on hitting Gyeongpo beach to see it by day, but I had visions of brutal traffic jams dancing in my head. Like an LA Dodgers fan, I hit the road.

Protip: Like a successful Dodger fan, I avoided traffic. If one is traveling from Gangwon to Seoul, the best option is to take a bus to Chuncheon rather than Seoul, and then catch the new Chuncheon subway line into town. As an added plus, the Chuncheon subway to Seoul ends right next to Costco.

No comments: