Our Insider’s Guide: Korea’s Sokcho
Silversea has been one of the first cruise lines to visit Sokcho, a less-discovered destination that is also fascinating. It’s on Korea’s northeast coast and has a strong North Korean influence, partly because it was on the North Korean side of the border until the Korean War armistice in 1953. It has been part of Korea since then, and Abai Village, where many who settled were of North Korean descent, offers an opportunity to understand that part of history – and the culture.
Sokcho is on the East Sea and connects Korea, China and Japan. It has about 80,000 residents.
What to see? I loved its Central Market, a bustling, busy place selling, by day, just what you’d expect: fish, so freshly caught it was still alive, just-picked vegetables and trinkets, including cooking equipment.
What caught my eye was that, at late afternoon, as the traditional shoppers were headed home to produce the foodstuffs they’d bought, a younger generation, just off work and often toting baby strollers, arrived to pick up ready-made gourmet Korean takeaway. It was a most illuminating example of how a traditional market can evolve to serve a younger generation while also preserving its authentic quality.
One big draw for travelers to Sokcho is Seoraksan National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, known for about 2,000 animal species and 1,400 rare plants. You can just stroll its riverside paths, hike in the forest, and admire Buddhist statues. But at Seoraksan, the one thing you have to do is take the cable car up to the top of Gwongeumseong Fortress. (Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, because to reach the rocky pinnacle you have to climb for about 10 minutes). The fortress was built in the Goryeo Dynasty and offers views of the Outer Seorak mountain range and views all the way to the East Sea. The views – and the sense of peace I felt – took my breath away.
Discoveries in Sokcho
Biggest surprise: In Sokcho, our in-the-know guide took us to Craft Root Brewery, one of Korea’s most lauded beer makers, where you can take a tour of the brewery and settle into a fun, contemporary dining experience.
Best for culinary enthusiasts: We had a marvelous time diving deeply into the heritage of the dish of kimchi with Yongje Kim, who, from her Abai Village kitchen, has been making the dish to sell at the markets for nearly 70 years. We enjoyed both making – and tasting – kimchi.
Favorite quiet moment: Anywhere we went in Seoraksan National Park, but especially the top of the mountain, where you climb up rocks and peer over the edge to see amazing vistas, and the grounds, which offered plenty of strolling and hiking opportunities for solitude. I could have stayed here all day.
Editor’s Note: In this package of five stories about Korea and its ports of call, some you’ve heard of, others exquisitely new to many travelers, read more about our impressions about Korea from the trip and also about Incheon, Yeosu and Busan.