Sunrise on Korea's East Coast and The Sea Train to Gangneung
Continuing my journey to complete my Korea Bucket List, I finally booked tickets on the Sea Train that runs from Gangneung to Samcheok on the eastern coast of Korea.
What makes this train so interesting is that it not only hugs the coast and offers a view of the coastline, but the seats are set up theatre-style with both rows facing east so that you’re riding sideways with a straight view of the ocean.
I chose to take the first train which leaves at 7:13am from Jeongdongjin. I took the Mugunghwa train there leaving from Cheongnyangri Station at 11:30pm the previous night. The train was surprisingly crowded and when we arrived in Jeongdongjin at 4:40am, everyone lightly jogged (some, not so lightly) to the cafe Coffee Sun which opens at 3am and caters to tourists like myself who were there to take in the sunrise.
For full info on booking tickets, this blog post is amazing and has all the steps you need - thank you Indiway!
I sat in the cafe until around 6:50am when the sky just started to hint at a sunrise. The train station is right on the water so I sat on the platform and watched the ocean wake up. There were lots of people on the beach to see the sunrise behind a pirate ship shaped restaurant, but I stayed clear of the crowds and had a quiet bench to myself.
The train pulled in right on time at 7:13am and I boarded and took my seat.
The car was pleasantly full and since I booked ahead of time I got a front row seat! I was a little disappointed by how much of the ride was through mountains (at other times of the year I’m sure it’s beautiful but in February everything was very brown) and shipyards.
The ocean views we got, though, were fabulous. I really suggest taking the early train so you get to see the sunrise because it was breathtaking. You can also text in song requests throughout the ride which I thought was hilarious.
We arrived in Samcheok at the end of the line around 8:15am. In retrospect, I should have gotten off at Samcheok Beach or Chuam, the two stations prior to Samcheok, because the area around this station was pretty dead. There’s plenty to do in Samcheok but its all rather spread out and certainly not open before 9am. I walked through a market and started heading towards the fish market, when I realized just how cold it was and how far I’d have to walk.
As I was trying to think of what to do, with a phone dying in the freezing weather and no restaurants or cafes opening for another two hours, a miracle occurred! I looked across the street and spotted two plum trees that had just blossomed - the first sign of spring after a long winter!
That boosted my mood significantly as I searched for (and found!) a convenience store to stop in for an hour and then grabbed a much needed coffee in the nearest cafe (Cafe 102). I then headed back to the train station for my 11:37am train to Gangneung and quite honestly, took a deep nap on the way back.
I’ve been to Gangneung once before and I love this city. I wish I had had more time there, but with only about 3 hours before my train home and about 2 hours of sleep the night before, I figured stopping in a cafe and reading would be a nice way to end the day.
Gangneung is famous for its coffee and thus has plenty of gorgeous cafes to choose from. I hit up the cafe that was too crowded on my previous trip, and luckily got the very last seat available. This is cafe Owol which is a gorgeous 2 story hanok-style building about 30 minutes from the train station by bus.
Instead of coffee, I got their yuja tea (and lamented not getting their carrot cake) and read a book for an hour or so. I took a taxi back to the station, had some jjigae, and got on my KTX train. I slept hard and woke up in Seoul where I went straight home and fell right back to sleep.
Over all, I think that this is a much better experience in warmer weather and I wish I had done this in late summer! Perhaps I’ll go back :)