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Gangwon is the place to go if you love mountain trekking, fish markets, quaint rustic town and watching sunrise over the sea horizon without the crowd of beach lovers.
This does not mean that Gangwon does not have many visitors - It just does not have the facilities of a big city such as subway, fast food joints and abundance of restaurants catering to international menu.
Most of the attractions are found at the coastal regions facing the East sea. Most people will drop into Sokcho, which is is most well-connected to Seoul and Incheon Airport.
Gangwon's main attraction- Mount Seoraksan by the town of Sokcho, is known for its beautiful lush landscape, well preserved waters and walking trails. What I appreciate is that the trials cater to people of all physical conditions- from children and elderly to those seeking out challenging hikes and climbs. In autumn, Seoraksan easily becomes one of the world's most beautiful mountain to enjoy Autumn foliage, which makes the month of October-November as one of the peak season. Another peak season is around May, where locals will enjoy short trips to Seoraksan, or take a ride on the Seatrain, an attraction only found in Gangwon.
2. Getting to Gangwon
If you wish to explore Gangwon region, you should plan to base yourself at Sokcho. Not only does it have the best connections to other cities in terms of bus services, most of the attractions in Gangwon is easily accessible from Sokcho.
2. 1 From Incheon Airport
The fastest way to get to Sokcho is to take an express bus from Incheon Airport to Sokcho at Gangwon, Seoul. There are only three buses a day, departing from Incheon Airport at 9:00am, 4:00pm and 8:00pm daily. I took the 9am bus and it took me to the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal.
The bus ticket fare to Sokcho from Incheon Airport is 30,000won. 3.5 hours ride (without traffic jam). There is no reservation services. The counter staff speaks very basic English and you should be able to get your information on time, destination, platform at the counter.
The bus departs from BUS STOP 9C located at 1st Floor of arrival terminal. You can purchase the ticket at the ticketing counter, which is just outside the exit door from the airport terminal (Lookout for bus stop exits). After you purchased the ticket, cross the road at the pedestrian crossing. Bus Stop 9C is near the traffic crossing.
In the event that you miss the 9am bus, the other alternative is to take Jamsil Bus 6705 from Incheon Airport to "Dong (East) Seoul Bus Terminal" where there is a bus departing to Sokcho every 30 minutes. Bus 6075 departs from Incheon Airport every 15-20 min.
2.2 From Seoul
There are many bus terminals in Seoul, so you need to make sure you get to the right one. The Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (동서울종합버스터미널) is located at Gangbyeon Station (Seoul Subway Line 2) which serves destinations to Gyeonggi, Gangwon, Gyeongsang, Chungcheong and Jeolla regions.
These are the services which are available from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal
Do note that these times usually do not factor in traffic jams and peak hour conditions in Seoul, so depending on what time you choose, you may be in for a longer ride.
Bus reservations in Korea are generally in Korean for Koreans, and currently, only the Bustago company has their website in English, and the process is not as clear cut as transport reservations which you can experience in other countries. For foreigners, the default is to be at the station early and buy the ticket before you travel.
2.3 From Other Cities
If you are coming from other cities, you may check the following bus schedules from the Sokcho's bus stations . While the schedule is for buses departing from Sokcho, it will give you a good idea which cities it is connected to and the cost of traveling between the cities.
You may wish to check out intercity.kr website for search queries on bus schedules. You can get more information in section 4.1.2 of the following post. Click on the image to find out more.
2.3.1 Other useful website on travelling in Gangwon
Southkoreatravelguide.com provides express bus schedules regions in Gangwon. You may go through the slides below to see how to access information from the website. While this may not be the most comprehensive site, it does give a quick overview of the frequency of bus schedules and options for your travel.
2.3. Other useful resources from Sokcho
During my trip to Sokcho, I took a picture of the bus schedule at Sokcho's Intercity bus station. I have translated the counter signboard to indicate the destinations which are connected to Sokcho Intercity Bus station.
If the destination is not listed in the schedule (eg: Changwon, Sucheon, and other smaller towns), the staff can recommend which town you should go to where you can get more options. Quite often, Wonju may be suggested, as it is centrally located with good choice of connecting buses. If you are concerned about language issues when purchasing tickets, you can read the blog on managing language barrier in Korea.
3. Attractions and suggested Itinerary
Incheon/Seoul to Sokcho 1/2 day for one way journey (Refer to blog on Sokcho for details)
Sokcho downtown area (minimally 6 hours-1 day)
Seoraksan (minimally 3 days if you want to try the cable car/ropeway + 2 walking trails +visit temple/enjoy mountain stream)
Seatrain and Hallsa Art World at Gangneung (1 day)