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Vacations® •

Summer 2018 • 47

Off The Beaten Path

Coastal Culture

of Gangneung,


PyeongChang may have enjoyed the spotlight during the Olympics, but nearby Gangneung’s

beaches, parks, and plucked-from-the-waves seafood are sure to lure travellers to return.

By Keph Senett




Inside the newly minted Korea Train Express (KTX) bullet train to Gangneung, I’m joined by

a dozen or so other excited passengers looking out the window at a cluster of sheep

traversing a windswept potato field. Though they’re quickly out of sight, the smooth ride

makes it hard to believe we’re travelling 250 kilometres per hour.

Vacationers, mostly Korean nationals, have been making this cross-country trek for ages,

flocking to the eastern coast for outdoor activities and seaside relaxation. Now, Gangneung is

surely to become an international tourist destination since the Olympics put a spotlight – and

investments in tourism infrastructure – on this city where indoor sports, such as skating and

curling, were hosted.

Before the Olympics, the trip from Seoul might have taken up to three hours; now, recent

transportation improvements get us from downtown Seoul to the PyeongChang mountains

in approximately one and a half hours, and to Gangneung’s coast in just under two.

Until very recently, Gangneung was a town of moderate size with similarly moderate

ambitions. “Pine City”, as it’s called after the Korean red pines that thrive in Gyeongpo

Provincial Park, claims access to both a lake and the sea as one of its most outstanding

assets. My hotel is on the isthmus separating the two bodies of water.

Outside the train terminal, cabs wait at a stand and I flag the first one I see with the word

“Empty” displayed. In anticipation of international visitors, Gangneung invested in English

classes for more than a thousand local taxi drivers, but I quickly realize mine was not

among them. No matter: I pull a crumpled piece of paper from my pocket and show him the

coordinates of my destination, then say the only phrase I know in Korean,


(thank you).

The driver drops me at my hotel, located on a strip of land that simultaneously fronts both

the Sea of Japan and Gyeongpoho Lake. I’ve worked up an appetite so, after hastily dropping

my bags, I step outside and stroll down a seemingly endless row of seafood restaurants, each

displaying their wares of crab, pike, urchin, and squid in large glass tanks out front. Women

sit shucking oysters, their hands quick, while men hawk their catch of the day, brandishing

menus with pictures and English descriptions.