June 24, 2011

Yeondongjin (영동진)

The Northeastern coast of South Korea is a remarkable place. I recently spent a weekend just north of the famed Jeongdongjin beach. It was a world unlike any other I had experienced on this peninsula. The ocean was a clean crisp blue which reminded me of the tropics. It just begged for me to take a swim. Turns out the water temperature is anything but tropical; more at arctic. It reminded me more of Lake Superior. I honestly couldn't stand it long. I guess I am getting old.

The trip consisted of three trains and roughly ten hours each way. It was a grind but well worth it. When you exit the train you are right on the beach! Most hotels offer pick up from the station as well. Our hotel was about two miles north of the station. There was no access to a store for groceries or supplies. Thankfully the woman who ran the hotel drove us to a large market roughly a half hour away. The next day her husband drove us into "town" and we spent a few hours walking along the beach and exploring the town proper. Unfortunately, when we were ready to return his car was occupied. The taxis were nowhere to be found which left only the choice of walking. We set out along the beach and a half mile later were unable to continue. The military is everywhere it seems! Guardposts and barbed wire fences stand aplenty in stark contrast to the natural beauty.

One U-turn and forty minutes later we decide to go underneath the railroad line which parallels the coast and walk along the fenceline rather than risk the speedy traffic along the rather narrow road. Another half mile later we reached another impass. An impenetrable spaghetti of barbed wire and metal. By now we are roasting. I coax my companion onto the railway where must first cross a 100 foot bridge. Thankfully no trains came! I knew that if we continued along the track it would be the quickest way back to the hotel and fifteen minutes and another degree of sunburn we arrived safely to our room.

The reason Jeongdongjin is famous is the sunrise. We happened to be here on the Summer Solstice so a four in the morning wake up was necessary. As we awoke the sky was lightening and we scampered across the railway toward the beach. But, wait, are you kidding? The gate to the beach was locked. We simply sat on a bench as the sky brightened and I snapped a few photos throught the fence. It must have been around five when the sight of soldiers appeared out of nowhere unlocking the gates and patrolling the beach.

With the gates open on to a completely deserted beach we went and were treated to a truly fabulous sunrise. All in all a great trip for me personally. If you are not so rugged I would recommend you book a hotel directly in town. Ours sat in an enclave of homes and small farms with no dining or market access. I liked the isolation. I had a great trip. Korea has so many layers and it was fun to be exposed to a new one.


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