Thursday, June 9, 2016

Vegetarian in Seoul - stay in Insadong!

Vegetarian food is not common in Korea. Even in a big city like Seoul, the number of vegetarian establishments is quite limited.

If you are visiting Seoul, my recommendation is to stay in Insadong area or nearby (e.g. Jongno3 area). It is quite a nice neighbourhood, full of galleries and restaurants. It is also quite centrally located and is near the major sights such as the Cheonggyecheon stream, the Imperial Palaces and Buchon. Transport is also very convenient -- it is served by a few airport buses and 3 subway lines. But most importantly, it has the most vegetarian options in Seoul, and including a few of the most popular ones.

This is  a map of the vegetarian options. For exact address, opening hours and reviews, check the Happy Cow website.

1. Oh Se Gae Hyang (五色根香)

This restaurant is one of the most popular restaurant serving vegetarian Korean food, and is my favourite. It is run by the religious group that also runs the Loving Hut chain of restaurants. If you want to try the traditional Korean food, this is the place. You can find classic dishes such as Soft tofu stew (sundubu jiggae), bibimbap, jajang noodles. There are also a few western options such as mock meat cutlet. The price is moderate - most mains at 8000 won.
Note: they close quite early. Last order at 8:30pm, but you should try to get there before 8pm. Check out their menu here:

We ordered a mushroom dish, sesame soup and a soy protein stew. Meal came with free tea and 5 side dishes. The side dishes are pretty good. I particularly like the lotus root.

This mushroom dish looks like dried oysters. Quite tasty and chewy.

2. Han Gwa Chae  (韩果菜) 

The name of the restaurant literally means Korean Fruits and Vegetarians. This is a Korean buffet. The food is mostly Korean Temple Food. There is quite a distinctive taste to Korean Temple Food, mostly due to how they preserve some vegetables. I can't say I really like it, but I didn't find it objectional either. However, there is quite a variety here. The food is quite healthy - there is multi-grain sesame porridge, brown rice and multi-grain purple rice. There was quite a variety when I was there - glass noodles, bean sprouts, various greens, mushrooms, tofu, chilli peppers etc. The most unusual was peanut sprouts! That was the first time I seen it! It's like a giant bean sprout. But the dish that I like most was the chives pancake that the owner made for us. The buffet is really a bargain at 13,000 won per person! It closes really early for dinner -- get there before 7:30pm. The first time I arrive at 8pm and they were closing already.

A bit of everything for my first round at the Han Gwa Chae buffet

Pancake hot from the pan -- it was good. Bottom left - wild vegetable stew. Bottom right - sesame porridge

The spread at Han Gwa Chae

3. Bibigo Gyejeol Bapsang (비비고 계절밥상), Season’s Table

This is not a vegetarian restaurant. But it is a very vegetarian friendly Korean Buffet restaurant. Located inside the Insadong Maru building, it is one of the chain restaurants run by Bibigo (which is owned by the CJ conglomerate). This is a great place for a meal if you are travelling with non-vegetarian friends.

As part of the buffet, there are cook-to-order food like kimchi stews and hotstone bibimbap. You can also make your own cold bibimbap - just choose the vegetables. There is a salad bar, freshly squeezed juices, fruits and ice cream. I love the garlic fried rice. Other vegetarian options are tempura pumkin, vegetables fritters, steamed buns, pancakes -- more than enough to fill your stomach!

For a buffet like this, I find it pretty inexpensive. Weekday lunch cost only 14,900 won, while dinners and weekend lunch cost 22,900 won! I won't be able to get such good deals in Singapore!

This restaurant is not listed in Happy Cow, but it is very easy to find as it is in the Insadong Maru Building. I read on the internet that there is always a long queue on weekends. I was there on a rainy Sunday and it was quite empty.

Top left, a small bowl of make-your-own bibimbap. Big plate - pumpkin tempura, salad and vegetable fritters.

Another round - fried egg, grilled corn, garlic fried rice, grilled onion, pumpkin tempura, vegetable fritters, vegetable pancake wedge

Three deserts, all good - pancake with sunflower seeds, ice ripen persimmons, steamed buns with red bean paste. The glass of green juice is delicious fresh blend of kiwi and kale.

4. Cafe Insarang

This cafe is located right along the Insadong street. I saw a sign that said Vegan Food & Tea. I didn't eat there, so I can't comment. Check the listing in Happy Cow.

5. Jogyesa Temple

I am told that the temple serves lunch to the public for 1000 won. I had a friend who visited it and had lunch at the temple. I know the big temples do serve lunch to the public for free or a small fee. However, I do not know where the temple cafeteria. You may want to look out for it if you are there. Typically, lunch will be served from 11:30am - 12:30pm.

(Similarly, I found a guide book that says the big temple Bongeunsa near COEX serves lunch for a very small fee. But I am not where the cafeteria is.)

6. Jogyesa Kitchen

This is a cafeteria that is run by the Jogyesa temple. It is located in a small lane next to the temple and can be difficult to find. You first need to buy a voucher for 4000 won from the temple's souvenir shop. Then you hand over the voucher and order your mains from a limited menu of 4 noodles and 3 rice. On top of your main order, there is free flow of white rice, seaweed soup, kimchi which you can self-serve. I ate here twice on my first trip and really love the cold bibim noodles (bibimguksu). The soft noodles in broth (janchi guksu) is also not bad. At 4000won, it is probably one of the cheapest meal you can have in Seoul.

The Jogyesa kitchen, found in a small lane next to the temple

Janchi Guksu, soft noodles in a light broth

My favorite at Jogyesa Kitchen - Bibim Guksu (cold noodles in spicy sauce). Complimentary kimchi - cabbage and persimons kimchi! (I don't like them though)

7. Baru

There are actually two Baru restaurants in the Jogyesa Temple Stay Building. One is a buffet restaurant, the other is a fine dining restaurant that requires reservation. Both serve temple food. I did not try either of the restaurants. They are listed in Happy Cow

8. Bonjuk

This is not a vegetarian restaurant. It is a chain and there are many location. One of them is right along Insadong street, up on the 2nd floor overlooking the walking street. It serves mostly porridge and a few bibimbap. The rice porridge are mostly cooked with meat or seafood. There is a vegetable porridge which I had. There is no meat in it, but I suspect it may be flavored with some meat stock.

To be on the really safe side, you can order the non-rice porridge, such as pine nut, sesame, pumpkin and dates. My friend and I ordered a pine nut porridge to share. It was a huge bowl of blended pine nut. It had a nice pine nut aroma, but otherwise rather blend. It is thick and rich and very filling. We couldn't finish it.

With so many vegetarian options, you don't really need to eat here. But what is good is that it opens pretty early and is a good breakfast option if you do not want to eat bread. (My hotel did not serve breakfast)

Street Snacks

There are quite a number of  street snacks along the Insadong street at night. Some of them are vegetarian. The Goldfish biscuit is my favourite!

My favourite street food - goldfish biscuit. It's a crispy crust with sweet red bean paste filling.

Other convenient restaurants 

There are 2 other restaurants that can be reached conveniently by taking the subway from the Anguk station.

9. Jeoksubang (滴水坊)

This is a restaurant located within the Taiwan Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Monastery. It is very near the Dongguk university subway station (exit 2).

The food here is Taiwanese. As it is run by the monastery, they serve strict Chinese Buddhist vegetarian -- i.e. no garlic, onion, leeks or chives, and no eggs. There may be some dairy products.

Unlike the Chinese Buddhists, Korean temple food do not avoid the allium family of vegetables. So for those who do not take onion & garlic, this is an important restaurant for your meals.

They serve an inexpensive buffet lunch. The dishes were mostly home-cooked food, but very hearty and tasty. I loved it. I came here twice. They also had a menu you can order from. Their pot stickers is really good.

The door to the temple building is always closed -- just push through it. The restaurant is in the basement. Restaurant is closed on Sundays.

Pot stickers - each has a very crispy side and very generous filling

Buffet lunch -- mostly home cooked dishes. The soup was really delicious and I went for a few rounds.

10. Babione

Located at the Express Bus Terminal, this is an convenient restaurant if you are in the Gangnam area or you are taking buses from here to further afield.

In fact I choose to take buses from the Express Bus Terminal instead of the Dong Seoul Intercity Bus Terminal, because there is a vegetarian restaurant here!

This restaurants serves Korean stews and bibimbaps. Prices are inexpensive as most mains start at 8000won.

It is located on the ground floor of the Terminal building, but facing out of the building instead of the bus waiting area. Look for it near bus bay 26.

English menu is available

I ordered the Tofu stew, thinking it's going to be a spicy tofu jiggae. It turned out to be a wild vegetable tofu stew (8000won). The big plate of mushroom with glass noodles (15,000won)

The shop front is facing the outside of the building, not the bus waiting area. This is also a side wing. It is behind bus bays in the twenties (roughly bay 26). There is a Bonjuk outlet just next to it!

With the number of choices within the small area, vegetarians will find it convenient to stay around Insadong.

If you are looking for a budget accommodation, I would highly recommend Saerim Hotel which is just behind the Insadong Maru building. The rooms are small and basic, but clean and good value for money. If you are okay sleeping on mattress instead of bed, get the traditional Korean room -- it won't feel so cramp.

If you want nicer hotels, there are several in the Jongno 3 area closer to the Cheonggyecheon stream, but still within walking distance to Insadong.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Seoraksan National Park - part V

Getting Vegetarian Food at Seoraksan National Park

First, let me say that I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian, i.e. I do eat eggs and dairy products.

Secondly, when I am travelling, especially if I am with non-vegetarian friends, I sometimes do settle with something meatless, but not necessarily strictly vegetarian (i.e. may contain meat base ingredients, but if there is a strong meaty or fishy taste, I won't be able to eat it and will end up wasting food. Normally dry food like fried rice is a safer bet than soup based food). If I am alone, I may just end up eating bread.

Before the trip, I tried to search for vegetarian food in Sokcho and Seoraksan on the internet, but really came up with nothing. So I was a little worried before the trip, but it turned out quite fine and I actually enjoyed most of my meals.

If you are really strict, the safest bet is to order bibimbap. In Seoul bibimbap would normally come with meat. But apparently in Sokcho, the version you get is sanchae bibimbap (sanchae literally means "mountain vegetable" 山菜), which do not contain meat. It might, however, have an egg in it. Within the Seoraksan National Park, I saw that sanchae bibimbap was on the menu of most restaurants. So you can survive on sanchae bibimbap for most part.

For Chinese Buddhist vegetarians, the additional difficulty is that Korean vegetarian food does not avoid the five pungent vegetables (like garlic, onion, chives, leek, scallions), even in the Buddhist temples. I found that leeks and chives are quite common in Korean temple food. That might be a problem if you are really strict about this. I am not observing religious vegetarianism, so that wasn't an issue for me.

For this trip, I did take kimchi from the non-veg restaurants. Strictly speaking, unless you are eating in a vegan restaurant, you should assume the kimchi is non-vegetarian. The reason is that kimchi is normally marinated with prawn paste and/or fish sauce. I always take a small bite first to check the taste. There was one kimchi which had a strong fishy taste and I had spit it out. But for most parts, the kimchi tend to be sweet and I couldn't detect any fish or prawn taste, so I actually enjoyed most of them.


We arrive at the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal at 11:30 am, and decided to get lunch before heading up to Seoraksan. We found a row of restaurants on the right side of the bus terminal. There were pictures of what they serve. Most of them serve basically the same type of food, like the usual jiggaes and bibimbap. I saw bibimbap and know that I have at least a safe bet. Even if it comes with meat, the meat would not be mixed in and it would be easy to put the meat aside.

The ahjuma owner could not speak English. But she had a English menu. Looking at the menu, I saw soft tofu stew (sundubu jiggae) which is something I really liked. I decided to try my luck and see if I could get her to make a vegetarian version. The one on the menu had seafood.

I told her "soon-do-bu jiggae". She understood. Then I said "jay shik! jay shik!". She seemed confused at first. Then she said "chae shik" (I had said it wrongly. It should sound like "chay", not "jay". BTW, I kept saying "jay" because that's the word for vegetarian in Hokkien and Thai). I said "gogi no" and made the cross sign to indicate "no" and she nodded.

When the soft tofu stew arrive, it was vegetarian! No meat or seafood in it. And the soup seemed to be ok too (no taste of meat or bonito). Yeah! This turned out to be the best soft tofu stew for my whole Korea trip. It was spicy, just the way I liked it.

Actually, after that, I did not have any problem at other places. I just have say "chae shik" and "no gogi". That is sufficient to get you something meatless. I can't guarantee that it would totally be free from meat based ingredients (e.g. the kimchi served with the food is still like to have been fermented with small amount of prawn paste).

This was a small one-woman run restaurant. The ahjuma was chatting with another ahjuma after serving us. A Korean drama was running on the TV.

Red hot spicy Sundubu Jiggae, served with 5 side dishes: Kimchi, garlic flowers, raddish, anchovies and some kind of gourd. Note, the jiggae is topped with leeks. 8000 won for the jiggae. Side dishes and rice are part of the meal with not extra charge.

I ate the jiggae the way I saw some people do it in the Korean dramas: popped the rice into the stew and mix it all up!

Here, I might add a side story about Sundubu Jiggae. I first got to try this in USA (in a Korean restaurant in the Korean Town area of Portland, Oregon) more than 10 years ago. I liked it so much I remembered it. But I never get to try it again because I could not find a vegetarian version. So I was really glad I got to try it again this trip. The main difference was that in the Portland restaurant, the tofu was big blocks of soft tofu. But in Korea, all the tofu in all the stews I had tried are actually broken tofu.

That evening, it was late by the time we returned from the trek to Biryeong falls. Initially, we thought of having dinner in one of the restaurants within the park. But it was 7:30pm and they were all closed. We walked back to the hotel. There were 2 restaurant. One was a Korean BBQ, which is not suitable for me. So that left us with the family restaurant. This is similar to those restaurants down at Sokcho Express Bus Terminal. It was totally empty.

They had an English menu too. This time I ordered a bibimbap and a deonjang jiggae (bean paste stew) to share. My friend ordered an omu-rice (fried rice wrapped in an omelette).

Both my friend and I were disappointed by the food. The jiggae was really small portion (compared to the tofu jiggae I had in the afternoon. Cost the same: 8000won) and I didn't like the taste that much either. The side dishes were also not that great. As for the bibimbap was ok, but nothing to shout about.

Meal at a family restaurant near Sorak Park Hotel -- not that great.

On the second day, we had cup noodles for breakfast in the hotel room before heading out to the park. It was about 11:30am when we return from the cable trip. We randomly choose one of the restaurants within the park. This restaurant has plastic models of the food and an English menu.

I asked for "chae shik" again. I was given 2 options: sanchae bibimbap or acorn jelly rice.

I was game to try something different. Besides, it was really hot and the acorn jelly rice can be served with ice. So I asked for ice acorn jelly rice.

It came in a large bowl, with brown jelly strips in a dark broth, topped with seaweed, kimchi and sesame seed, and of course ice.

I don't know how "acorn" is supposed to taste like. But there wasn't any distinctive taste. I find it strange, because it was like eating savoury agar agar. The soup is soyu (soya sauce) based. I wasn't comfortable with the soup. It seemed to have bonito, though I couldn't be sure. My friend was quite sure it had bonito...

Anyway, now I know what acron jelly rice is like... Not interested to try again...

Ice acorn jelly. One of the side dish is pickled garlic.

After we came down from Ulsan Bawi rock, we took the bus back to the Sokcho express bus terminal and went into another restaurant. This time round, I order the Dolsot Bibimbap (hotstone bibimbap) and the "chae shik" sundubu jiggae again.

This time, the tofu stew is of a lighter color and not as spicy. It is also a smaller portion. It is quite tasty but I still prefer the one I had the day before.

The bibimbap was quite good. But I think in general bibimbap in hot stone taste better than the cold version. I like to scrap the rice crust off the hot stone bowl. That's the best part of hot stone bibimbap! Of course, a good gochujang (the hot sauce mixed into the rice) will make a lot of difference as well.

I have not tried bibimbap in Singapore before. But I always see that it comes with raw cucumber and carrot slices. But in Korean, it seemed that the vegetables in the bibimbap are mostly cooked or pickled, not raw.

My friend ordered the Abai Sundae (stuffed squid) and thoroughly enjoyed it. So it worked out well.

Another soft tofu stew in another restaurant. Still good, though I prefer the spicier version the day before.
Dolsot Bibimbap. It has various vegetables and an egg in it.

The next day we are back at Express Bus Terminal again. This time we ate at another restaurant run by a younger lady.

I decided to try something different. I asked for Kimchi Jiggae without meat. I think the taste between kimchi jiggae and tofu jiggae are basically the same -- just that one has kimchi and the other has tofu. I still prefer Sundubu Jiggae.

Kimchi Jiggae. Not bad, but I still prefer tofu stew.

In the evening, we were at the Sokcho Lighthouse. There were many restaurants around the area. However, all of them were serving raw seafood. They had tanks outside, with squids and fishes swimming in them. I was not sure if they might have vegetarian options -- it would definitely be strange to walk into a live seafood restaurant and asked for vegetarian food. In any case, I was definitely not comfortable eating in these restaurants (even in Singapore, I would definitely avoid any restaurants serving live seafood).

My friend was understanding enough. We walked a bit and didn't see anything suitable. So we took bus 9-1 back to the Express Bus Terminal.

I wanted to go back to the restaurant we ate the day we arrived. The owner of the restaurant we visited the 2nd day saw us and manage to get us into her restaurant :).

I ordered the Dolsot Bibimbap again. I considered adding another jiggae, but decided to drop it as I thought I had been over-eating quite a bit on the trip.

My friend tried the other type of sundae (blood sausage, actually stuffed intestines). He thought the stuff squid was better.

My second Dolsot Bibimbap. Mixed the rice up a bit and then let it cooked in the hotstone pot for a while before eating.

Even though I was quite worried about food before the trip, it all ended up and I actually got to enjoy the food!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Seoraksan National Park - Part IV

Day 3 - Biseondae Trail and Sokcho city

On the third day, the only short trail left for us was the trek to Biseondae. Beyond that are long treks that require at least a full day and you have to start early (there are hiking hours restrictions on the trails beyond Biseondae).

Our plan was to trek to Biseondae in the morning and than head down to Sokcho city for the rest of the day.

The Biseondae is really just a walk in the park. It is a mostly flat trail that runs besides a river. As you reach Biseondae (which means Flying Fairy Platform 飞仙台), there are a series of colorful pools which looked very inviting in a hot sunny day.

You can do the trek in 2 hours round trip. There is the Geumganggul Caves just beyond Biseondae. The maps gave the time required to reach it as 40min (one way). But it was a really steep climb and my friend wasn't up to it.

There is nothing I didn't find Biseondae particularly spectacular or or beautiful. But it is a nice walk if you have the time. If you are visiting Seoraksan just for a day, you should really go Ulsanbawi or take the cable car to the Gwongeumseong Fortress instead. However Biseondae is the gateway to trek further into the mountains. You will need to pass by here if you intend to go up the Daecheongbong peak for example.

I hope I will be back to scale the Daecheongbong peak another time.

For now, we turned back at Biseondae and that was the end of our Seoraksan trip.

Emerald pools at Biseondae

The Biseondae rocks were carved with Chinese calligraphy

Emerald pools at Biseondae

We took the bus to Sokcho Express Bus Terminal and had our lunch in one of the restaurants there. It was a really hot and sunny day and we got into the E-mart for the air-conditioning and browsed a bit.

An interesting sculpture just outside E-mart

From the E-mart we walked to the Seorak-daegyo Bridge that connects to the Abai Village. The bridge is quite high and you get a nice view of the harbour, the Abai village as well as Sokcho town.

I don't find Abai Village particularly interesting. It was just a one street thing, full of restaurants and cafes, and posters of various Korean dramas or variety shows that were filmed there. The specialty here is seafood, and in particular Abai Sundae ("soon-day", it's not ice cream, but stuffed squid. The way it is done here is that the stuffed squid is sliced and the fried from egg batter).

We did decide to stop of a coffee in one of the cafes here. It was while I was reaching the map of Sokcho here that I discovered there is an interesting boat ride just round the corner called "gaetbae boat".

A navy ship coming into harbour, seen from the Seorak-daegyo bridge connecting to Abai Village.

This boat is not powered. Instead, the passengers of the boat have to pull a steel cable to move the boat across the water!

From the Abai Village side, the boat is boarded from under the bridge, right next to the bronze statues that depicted the filming of the drama series "Autumn in my Heart".

The bronze statues depicting the filming of Autmn in my Heart. The gaetbae boat is in the background

We paid 200W each (yes, only about 25 cents a person!) and boarded the boat. There is no fixed timing. The boat is launched when there is sufficient people. 2 passengers were asked to help with pulling the boat and both my friend and I volunteered. We were given a metal handler and shown how to grip the cable with the handler. Then you just have to drag the handle down the boat. It doesn't take much effort really. It was really interesting and fun!

The gaetbaet boat. The bridge in the background is the red color Seorak daegyo bridge.

The gaetbae boat as it is launching. You can see the steel cable that is connected to the platform. A father and his son is pulling the metal handle that is latched onto the cable.

We then headed towards the Sokcho Lighthouse Observatory. To get to the lighthouse, we had to walk towards the Yeonggeumjeong Sunrise Pavilion. That was where we discovered that the area the pavilion was actually a very nice place. It was a rocky area that was quite beautiful. You can walked down to the rocks. We ended up spending quite a bit of time enjoying the place.

The Yeonggeumjeong Pavilion in the background. We got down to the rocks by the sea.

Quite a beautiful sight as the tide and sun were both down

My friend was fascinated about the tripod breakwater.

When we got up to the lighthouse, it was already closed for the day. I had thought it would open till late at night, but it closed at 5:30pm. However, there is a nice view of Sokcho from here. You can even see Seoraksan and Ulsanbawi rock from here!

This is cheesy, but I can't help it. It's a pair of seagull like wings at the lighthouse. It was getting chilly and I had to put on my windbreaker.

There were many restaurants around the Lighthouse Observatory and the Dongmyeonghang Port. But they all serve raw seafood and I was extremely uncomfortable with that. My friend was understanding enough, so we took bus 9-1 to the Express Bus Terminal for dinner instead. But first, my friend bought some dried pollack and cuttlefish from one of the many shops selling dried seafood.

Even though the afternoon was very hot, it got chilly as it got dark and the wind started to blow in from the sea. Luckily, I had a wind breaker with me.

We didn't explore the downtown Sokcho where all the glittering shops were. There might be some nice restaurants there. But we were happy enough with the simple restaurants near the Express Bus Terminal.

If you have time, Sokcho is a pleasant town worth exploring.

That was pretty much the end of our Seoraksan excursion. After dinner we took the bus back to Hotel Sorak Park. The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and took the bus back to the Express Bus Terminal, just in time to catch the 10am bus at the Express Bus Terminal back to Seoul.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Seoraksan National Park - Part III

Day2: Cable car and Ulsan Bawi rock

The next day, we took our time and had coffee and cup noodles in the hotel room before setting out. 

It was about 9:30 when we reached the park entrance. The park was quite busy now as several tour groups arrived. There were several groups of Indonesians as well as some from China.

The cable car was in operation and we decided to do the cable car first in case it shutdown again in the afternoon. There was a crowd and a long queue. It took a while before we got into the cable car. It was a short ride up (about 5-10 min). BTW, this is not like the Maokong cable car in Taipei where you get your own cabin. This is a relatively big one and you get lots of people squeezed inside. It was kind of stuffy in there and many people were trying to squeeze in and occupy the space next to the windows for photos and selfies...

The cable car at Seoraksan

There are viewing decks and a cafe at the cable car station.

Hotel Sorak Park seen from the cable car station

The Sinheungsa Big Buddha from the cable car station

You can see Sokcho city and the sea from the cable car station. It's not that far away.

But if you take the cable car, you should really take the trek to Gwongeumseong Fortress, which was basically where everybody was heading. It’s just a short flight of stairs away. From the name, I was expecting some sort of structure or ruins, but there were nothing like that. It was just a bare stone peak at the end of the trail. However, it’s a pretty peak and makes for good photo moments. Everybody was trying to take photos for his instagram or facebook…

I got really irritated by one group of tourists who were trying to shoo everyone away so that they can take photos with only themselves in the picture.

And there were many crazy people who were climbing real close to the edge to take photos… It was scary enough just looking at them…

There were no railings. And it’s really a sharp drop beyond the edge. I wonder if there had been any accidents…

My stomach was feeling queasy as I watched this woman get real close to the edge.

Another couple perching close to the edge for photos...

Anyway, I wasn’t going to take any foolish risk. I stayed far enough from the edge. The place was really big enough for nice pictures without taking unnecessary risks.

You really don't have to stand close to the edge for a nice photo...

Back at the cable car station, there was some chanting sound coming from below and a sign that pointed to a temple. We went down to check out the temple. The chanting actually comes from a recording. It’s a real small temple and nothing special about it. You can really skip it. However, the way down went through a pine forest and there was a nice pine scent was in the air.

A small temple just below the cable car station.

After we took the cable car down, we just drop into one of the several restaurants for lunch. I tried to ask for vegetarian options. Besides bibimbap, I was told the acorn jelly with rice is also vegetarian. I was game for something new and beside it is a hot day and the acorn jelly can be served cold. The acorn jelly came in a big bowl of a clear soup with ice and some seaweed and sliced kimchi. The jelly itself was bland. The soup taste like a soyu (soy sauce) base soup. I have a suspicious that bonito used to flavour it -- but if they did, it wasn’t obvious enough to me. But I didn’t really enjoy it. It was like eating bland agar agar with rice…

We started the trek towards Ulsanbawi Rock after lunch, about 1:30pm. The first part of the trek was easy, just like a walk in the park. There was a very well maintained trail and the climb was gentle. There were 2 small temples along the way.

A Buddha statue seen along the way up to Ulsanbawi rock (it's slightly off the trail, you won't see it if you don't turn into the temple).

I was starting to wonder if we will reach the top of the rock since we do not seem to be any closer...

Finally we reach the Heundeulbawi rock, which is a rock in front of a small hermitage nestled in a stone grotto. There is a fountain in front of the grotto. You can refill your water bottle here if you are out of water. I believe it is ground or spring water. We drank from the fountain and did not experience any problem.
The hermitage just below Ulsanbawi rock. There is a grotto that functions as a temple hall here.
The Buddha statue is quite similar in style to that in Seokguram Grotto.

I found the Buddha statue inside the grotto quite similar in style to the famous one in Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju.

The Heundeulbawi rock. It looked like it may fall off if you push hard enough...

The trek got tough after Heundeulbawi as the ascend got steep. Soon it was just stairs going up and up, until you reach the base of the bare rocks. Then it was just a series of stairs on the vertical rock surface. But it really close once you reach here. It's just tough going up the stairs so take it slow. My friend almost gave up half way. In the end he managed to reach to top.
Stairs, stairs, and more stairs to the top...

In the map, the estimated time to get to the peak is 2 hours from the Information Center. We took about 3 hours. It was about 4pm when we reached the peak. The good thing about coming late during low season is that we practically have the peak to ourselves!

The view and experience from the peak of Ulsanbawi rock is really fantastic. You are really at the knife edge of the ridge and the rocks fall off steeply from both sides. On one side you see the National Park mountains. On the other side, you can see the express way going towards Sokcho as well as the various resorts found along the express way.

The peak of Ulsanbawi Rock

Selfie moment

Got someone to take a photo for us just below the peak

There were squirrels at the peak. This one is eating an almond nut we fed it!

In my opinion, if you come to Seoraksan, you really need to go up Ulsanbawi rock. Otherwise, it is like going to Beijing without going to the Great Wall of China!

It is probably doable as a day trip from Seoul if you set out early and be prepared to get back to Seoul late at night. It's just 4-5 hours round trip from the park entrance.

The descend was easy and fast and we got to the park entrance around 6pm. From there we took the bus to Sokcho Express Bus Terminal and ate in one of the restaurants.

After that we went down to Sokcho beach for a while. It's just down the road from the Express Bus Terminal. It was dark and we couldn't see much. It looked like a place where the local couples like to hang out.

We caught the bus from opposite Express Bus Terminal at about 9:10pm. It was probably one of the last few buses.