So for some, mostly the international school gang, their Chuseok began on Friday at 4:30KST and like most people on holidays, their social media is currently bursting with selfies from all around Asia… and here I am.. sitting in me flat, with me wife, and two crying children, writing this column… Chuseok ain’t what it used to be. But who’s complaining?
Destination 1: Seoul
For those who don’t live in Seoul, this is the perfect opportunity for you to visit and avoid the locals at the same time. For those who live in Seoul, this is the perfect time to become a tourist again and avoid the crowds. It’s the only time of the year when the weather is perfect and most attractions are still open and free of crowds. Three years ago, one of the best trips Jill and I have ever taken was a three-day trip around the city, checking out historical sites such as Gyeongbokgung, and also trendy spots such as Hongdae. It was a great few days and the absence of crowds made it that much more enjoyable.
Places in Seoul to Visit: There are ample spots of interest in Seoul, but if you are looking for a quick, historical look with lots of culture, my suggestion would be to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace and Insadong to sample some Korean street food, art galleries galore and Korean BBQ with tons of English signage to guide you along the way. If you are looking for a hipper, trendier part of town with lots of Korean hipsters, Hongdae has plenty of alt-cafes, nightclubs, music venues and tons of places to eat. In need of some exercise, some of the best hiking can be found right in the city. Got kids? Check out COEX, Lotte World and Everland to keep the munchkins busy.
Destination 2: Busan
If Seoul is New York than Busan is L.A. Try to get that one last day in at the beach in one of the most vibrant, but underrated cities in Asia. Busan is closer than you might think. From Seoul, it is about three hours on the KTX and has an easy subway system to navigate you through the city once you arrive. Busan is one of my personal favourites in Korea because it combines big city amenities with a chill, coastal vibe. Want to lay on the beach? Check. Want to shop? Check. Want to hike up some mountains? Check. There are a ton of attractions, so your five days off will be busy, but only if you want it to be.
Places in Busan to Visit: You can’t go to Busan without hitting up a beach. While most people would head to the famous Haeundae beach, Gwangalli beach is probably a better option if you want to avoid the crowds and have a more relaxed beach experience. Jill and I were on our way to Haeundae our first time in Busan when we were advised by one of the locals on a bus to go to Gwangalli instead. After experiencing both beaches for ourselves, the local was right, Gwangalli is the better experience especially at night when Gwangan Bridge is illuminated. Busan Aquarium is a great place to check out the sea life whilst being guarded by a thick sheet of plexiglass. The Jagalchi Fish Market is a better option if you want to look your food in the eye before eventually sending it to its maker. Beomeosa is an excellent historical sight to visit and Geumjeongsan is a moderate hike north of the city for climbers.
Destination 3: Sokcho
Sokcho, the little coastal town, bordering close to North Korea, is a breath of fresh air compared to the smoggy cities of Seoul and Busan. And it’s the only place where you can play Pokemon GO.. So there’s that. Anyway, if you are heading to Sokcho over the holidays enjoy the fresh seafood, the calm beaches and the glorious mountains of Seoraksan National Park.
Places in Sokcho to Visit: Okay, so Sokcho isn’t going to knock your socks off with an insane nightlife like a Busan or Seoul, but that’s not the reason to go there. This city is a hiker’s paradise. Sokcho is nestled right beside the Seoraksan National Park, which if you are a hiker, is the pinnacle of hiking in Korea. Countless trails over hundreds of kilometres, this park is perfect to hike in September from both an aesthetic and temperature perspective. For a nice quick day hike the best bet is Ulsan Bawi which is about 4km from the park’s outer entrance. The Ulsan Bawi hike has plenty of scenery, historical sites and great views. Too wet to hike? Check out the DMZ Museum or the Goseong Unification Observatory where you just might see the dear leader chowing down on some Chuseok goodies.
Destination 4: Gangneung
So if Sokcho is a hiker’s dream, than you could argue that Gangneung is a beach lover’s dream. Although you can still hike in the beautiful Odaesan National Park, the beach vibe in Gangneung is more apparent than in Sokcho. There is a livelier beach life with seafood restauranteurs hawking out their menus to passing tourists; fireworks exploding nightly over the Pacific ocean and wooden beach chairs perfect for two to cuddle up with that special someone whilst enjoying the last remnants of summer.
Places in Gangneung to Visit: Gyeongpo beach is the big dog in Gangneung and has the “liveliest” nightlife in the area. Personally, I just grabbed some beers and headed to the beach and watched the fireworks. In the daytime, it is a calm beach with plenty of areas to pitch an umbrella and enjoy the sweet rays of the sun. It’s close to a variety of shops and restaurants to satisfy your hungry or quench your thirst. Feeling more active? Rent a bicycle and bike around Gyeongpo Lake. Or if you really want a hike, grab a taxi or take the bus to Odaesan National Park and hike to your heart’s content.
Destination 5: Incheon
What? Wait? There is more than just an airport there? Oh hell yes! Incheon has quietly grown into one of Korea’s largest cities, while keeping a suburban feel with their accessible beaches, parks and markets. Oh yeah, and it’s where the Allies turned the table on the North Koreans during the Korean War. Go Incheon!
Places in Incheon to Visit: The last stop on Line 1 on the Seoul Metro drops your off right in the heart of Chinatown. This is probably the best place to get authentic Chinese food in the country if you are craving some stuff from our neighbours to the west. For some historical perspective on the Korean War, Jayu Park is home to this giant statue of General McArthur who led the Allies during the Korean War. Also, it is a bit of a climb and provides some nice photo opportunities. Wolmido is on the other side of the port and has a variety of spectacles such as Wolmi Park, Wolmido Promenade and a 1950’s Cold War looking amusement park. One opportunity to try, and I have personally never done this, so please feel free to comment below is to island hop using Incheon as a base. Muuido, Sindo and Sido are all accessible via Yeonghongdo, the same island which Incheon International Airport is located on. Small islands, good food and nice beaches. Now that’s the way to spend your holiday.
Places to Avoid During Chuseok: Dear God, if you have to avoid anywhere avoid Jeju at all costs. Chuseok is one of the rare holidays that your standard Korean office worker drone gets any free time and they all head to Jeju for their 4 days of annual vacation. The good people of Jeju know this and jack up the prices on flights, hotels.. basically anything that requires currency. Hong Kong and Tokyo are also going to be filled with Korean tourists and are busy as hell, so I would avoid them too. Anywhere else and you should be good to go! Enjoy your Chuseok Holiday!