Author’s note: trying a slightly different style with this ‘Destination’ post – feedback appreciated in the comments or by personal e-mail – chrisinsouthkorea AT gmail DOT com.
Far away from the big-city life, Chuam beach offers a level of peacefulness I hadn’t experienced in awhile. No tall buildings in sight. No other foreigners around. Nobody wearing suits and ties, which actually does happen from time to time. A small tourist information center appears recently opened near the beach entrance, though that probably has more to do with another feature nearby: a train that follows the coastline and passes several different beaches. In time, it might bring more mainstream out this way, but I hope not.
Combining a number of minbak (homestay hotels) with a number of fish and seafood restaurants, this area feels quite isolated from the rest of the country. While you can meander south along the sand, there isn’t a whole lot to see. Go purchase a beverage from the Family Mart – the only franchised / corporate business around – then watch the waves roll in.
I’m not a marine scientist, and this ribbon of seaweed and other sea stuff perplexed me. It looks like a few salads I’ve eaten here. Having washed up on the sand at roughly the high tide mark, it seemed to be brushed by the water yet held its ground.
Venture north to see a few attractive sights, or just to climb a few rocks. the varying shades and colors felt almost like a painting. A lookout can be climbed to the second floor for an even better view, whether you’re checking out the rocks on the shore or staring out to the horizon.
After retiring from public service during the Goryeo Dynasty, the founder of the Samcheok Sim family (pronounce it ‘Shim’) built Haeamjeong pavilion. Originally built in 1361 A.D., it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1530 by Sim Eon Gwang. Also rebuilt in 1794 and sometime in the 20th century, it’s a pleasant reminder that people have enjoyed this view for quite some time.
The tall rock formation to the right is known as 촛대바외 (Chot-dae-ba-wi, or ‘Candlestick rock’) on the tourist maps. A single pillar stands unconnected to the cliffs nearby, and as such isn’t the only rock worth staring at.
After realizing how heavy my backpack was getting, I headed down the rocks and towards the beginning of the coastline street (without a connection to another road, however). A number of older minbak are available if you’re willing to go without an attached bathroom or a few creature comforts. As elsewhere, greeting the ajumma (married woman) in charge of the place and asking how much gets you the ‘inflated foreigner price’ (in my case, 30,000 won); hesitating and looking unsure nets a discount without having to ask (in my case, 20,000 won netted a room for the night). I can’t say it always works, but when there’s far more supply than demand, you can easily head to the next one on the road.
Not far from the beach is Chuam Sculpture Park – pay no attention to the outdated official tourist site (as of this post) and enjoy the abstractions.
바람속의 등대 – A lighthouse in the wind – by 이태호 (Yi Tae Ho).
생명의 바다와 빛 – Sea and light of life – by 깅성진 (Kim Sung Jin).
Plenty more sculptures awaited, though I sensed no theme amongst the 30 pieces of art. That the roughly circular path took you by most, but not all of them, might encourage one to seek them all out or pass the less obvious ones by.
Although Donghae is known as the ‘Sunrise City’, the sunsets are fine as well. Just try to get some altitude in order to see over the trees; the sunrise comes in over the open water, so no obstacles there. That the minbak are mere meters from the sand make them great for experiencing the sunrise. Also of note are the myriad seafood restaurants – some run by the same ajumma who runs the minbak. Being this far from a big city and this close to the sea means you can have anything you want, as long as it came from the water. It’s because of these few choices that makes Chuam Beach hard to recommend for an overnight stay, but a visit during the day is well worth the effort.
Ratings (out of 5 taeguks):
Ease to arrive:
Worth the visit:
Directions to Chuam Beach: Take a bus to Donghae, on Gangwon-do’s east coast (from Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal, buses come every 40-50 minutes; 3 1/2 hours travel time). From the Donghae Bus Terminal main entrance, turn right and walk past the intercity buses. Cross the road and turn right to the local bus stop. Bus 61 comes seven times a day (6:40am, 8:36am, 10:44am, 12:52pm, 3:00pm, 5:08pm, and 7:16pm – 1,000 won to ride); if you’d rather not wait, take a taxi ride for about 9,000 won.
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