Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gangneung: Aarkhouse and Anmok Beach

I'm back home in the States, but I've returned with a lot of content to blog about! The last few weeks I was still in Korea and the first few weeks back home have been too busy to make any posts, but I'm hoping to make more time for it-- especially since I have so much to share!

Nearing the end of my stay in Seoul, I met my dear friend Sara, from Canada. We met online almost two years ago and happened to be in Seoul at the same time last year, so we were able to meet in person in 2014 and again in 2015. This time, we planned to go to 강릉 (Gangneung), one of the few nice beach areas in the northern half of South Korea. 

TIP! Most of the clearer and cleaner beaches are on the western side of Korea, except for Jeju island of course!

Traveling to Gangneung

We took the express bus from Seoul to Gangneung, since I was told there was some kind of renovation going on at the Gangneung train station. There are two kinds of express busses in Korea, though I don't know the Korean term or what they'd be called in English, so these are my own names for them: Standard and Comfortable. The standard bus seats are still padded, just not as nice as the Comfortable seats. Use this website to calculate costs and estimate times for the express buses. I did notice that sometimes the times between the ones listed online and the actual ones at express bus stations were a little off, but I'm not sure why.

We took the comfortable bus to and from Gangneung for ₩21,000 (≈ $18.50) each way and were glad we did. The trip was around 3 hours, but was a little shorter going and a little longer coming back, since we arrived in Seoul during rush hour. Longer express bus trips (I think if they're longer than 2 hours?) usually have a 10-15 minute break at a rest stop in the middle. The rest stops have plenty of somewhat clean bathrooms and plenty of places to grab food or a drink. You're also allowed to eat on the bus, which is awesome!

Plenty of legroom (way more than a crammed economy airplane...) and a foot rest on the back of the seat in front of me, plus a net to stash my drink in.

Back of the seat can recline and the front raises for your legs! Below is a control to plug headphones in and listen to the TV (I'm pretty sure; I've never tried it). I've been on an express bus before that also included a usb port to charge your phone!

I'd booked us a nice looking b&b on Airbnb called Aarkhouse for the night. It turned out to be kind of difficult to get to, but really it was only because of our stubbornness and refusal to take a bus. We really hated buses.. 
Short tangent to explain why we hated them! For me, I'm a little sensitive to motion and feel sick on buses even in the States (I don't actually throw up, just feel gross), but the buses in Korea that I'd been on were even worse. The drivers didn't seem to be very good at driving and the ride was always bumpy with sharp jolts and quick accelerations and breaks. So nauseating! On top of that, you really have to pay attention to the voice over the intercom to know when to get off. I think some buses (or all, I just don't remember) have some kind of display that says the stop name. I can read Korean and understand enough to use the buses, it's just kind of stressful and confusing, especially in crowded cities like Seoul where it's hard to hear the announcements. These are all problems when you're on the bus, but getting on the right one can often be confusing. I don't mean to scare you, but if you can't read Korean or aren't able to understand stop announcements, I really don't recommend taking the bus. Later on this trip, we did end up taking the bus without problems and I'll explain in this post later some tips for a positive bus ride.
Since we didn't want to take the bus, we decided to take a taxi. I showed the taxi driver (who didn't speak English except for a few not very useful words) the address, but for some reason it was missing the house number. BUT for some reason he kept trying to drive us despite not knowing exactly where he was going and went a little off course. We called the number Aarkhouse provided, but he seemed to think it was the wrong number (was it??). This was a very confusing ride and eventually we got him to pull over and just paid him for the short ride, then took off walking. Thankfully I had portable wifi router with me, and Sara had a little internet service on her phone. We probably walked for 30-40 minutes, but it honestly wasn't that bad. We definitely couldn't have done it without internet, though, unless we had brought a map with us. If you want to know more about how I got portable wifi in Korea, leave a comment! Finally we arrived in the neighborhood Aarkhouse was located and was directed to its  exact location by a neighbor.


Smart of them to paint it bright yellow so it stands out! 

On the way to Aarkhouse, we realized that Gangneung itself isn't very interesting. I believe we were there on the weekend of some kind of memorial holiday, so many shops were closed as well. I honestly can't recommend going to Gangneung if you expect to do much other than go to the beach or explore the nature (I think there is a nice forest/park or two there), but it definitely is worth the trip just for the beach. 

Here are a couple of places to eat near Aarkhouse!

This restaurant is part of a kimbap chain. Kimbap is similar to sushi, except it does not usually include fish, uncooked or not. Here is a helpful chart to learn more about kimbap varities! It's really a great snack or even meal if you're visiting Korea on a budget. 

The first floor (which I did not get pictures of) is a communal lobby. We checked in and paid a ₩5,000 deposit for the key, which was refunded when we checked out the next day. In the morning, we also had a light breakfast in the lobby with other patrons. Sara and I don't eat much so it was enough for us, but others may want to grab something more from the convenience store on the way to the beach. 

I believe we stayed on the third floor. There is a communal foyer, kitchen, and bathroom on each floor. Make sure to take your shoes off when you enter! Slippers were provided :)



Cute Scandinavian-style table

Dishes for anyone to use!

There was also a refrigerator with bottled water and milk for anyone to drink from.


Shower head is above the sink and shower shoes are kept in the bathroom


Before booking with Aarkhouse, I'd found their website and browsed through the rooms. I found a room I liked and asked for it when booking on Airbnb. Even though their website lists the prices differently depending on the room, there was no extra charge! 

Convenient outlet!

Towels and sheets

City map we were given after checking in

The only light in the room, but consistent with the Korean style of utility preservation. We didn't even use it during the day since there was plenty of natural lighting.

Oscillating fan in the room was all we needed, and there is no air conditioning (also Korean style; if you've been staying in Korea for a while you know that this isn't a big deal). There's also a small mirror on the wall.

Snuck a peak in another room! This one had more storage and hanging space. If you plan on staying here for an extended period, you should leave a message with the host and ask for a room with more space to hang your clothes.


Each floor had its own patio. It actually rained our first night, so we just sat on the patio under the small awning that covered the door (not pictured, this part is not covered) and watched the rain while eating snacks. Such a nice memory :)

I didn't actually see it but somewhere there is a washing machine, so you can dry your clothes here! 

From most angles, the view only shows roofs of houses, but this one was kind of nice.

For dinner, we walked about 15 minutes to a Mister Pizza and split a bulgogi pizza!

Anmok Beach

Gyeongpo Beach is actually the one that Gangneung is famous for, but it would be a little more difficult to get to than Anmok, which we would only need to take one bus to directly. Sara and I also preferred a more quiet beach to a popular, crowded one, so we decided to go to Anmok in the morning after checking out. 

Fun fact: 안목 (Anmok) means insight or perspective. 

These were the directions posted in our floor's foyer to get to the beach.

As I mentioned before, Sara and I hated buses! There was no way we were going to take a taxi, since we had the bad experience earlier (and assumed that since it was a small town, not many drivers would speak English), so we absolutely had to take the bus. 

We went to the bus stop as shown on the map, then waited as buses would pass, checking their number to see if it was on the list of buses that would go to Anmok. We didn't wait long and flagged it down.  In the bus, a map showed where our stop would be. 

Bus tip: Just because you hear the name of your stop doesn't mean that's the current one! Often, the announcement will say "This stop is A. The next stop is B."  
정거장 (jeonggeojang) means station
이 (ee) means this
다음 (daeum) means next 
I can't remember EXACTLY what the announcement says, but it should be something like: (A/B represents your stop name)
이 정거장은 A역입니다 (Ee jeonggeojangeun A-yeok imnida) = This stop is A.
다음 정거장은 B역입니다 (Daeum jeonggeojangeun B-yeok imnida) = The next stop is B.  

Use this cheat sheet for bus and taxi related vocabulary and phrases!

Okay, back to the beach! It was only a 3 minute walk from the bus stop and we passed a public restroom on the way (thank goodness!). I didn't actually see any showers, but I think there are some somewhere around there. 

We rented one of the umbrellas, which cost ₩10,000 but included a mat that we could put our stuff on

Anmok Beach was my first time seeing actual blue water! It was the clearest I've ever seen, but then again I haven't been to many beaches. It wasn't as clear as what I imagine Jeju, the Maldives, or the Caribbean looks like, but to me it was perfect. 

For the first minute or so the water was a little chilly, but after that it was also perfect! There was just the right amount of waves to make it fun without being dangerous or scary.

As you can see, there weren't many people here! Another perfect mark. Actually, most people weren't even swimming. Even some kids that parents brought just kicked the shore a bit and seemed scared of the whole thing.  I think most American kids grow up having free community pools at least within driving distance, but that's not the case in Korea. I'm not sure where they have access to pools other than ones in schools, but I'm sure they're somehow accessible, just not easy and available for everyone. So, not as many people in Korea know how to swim! They just sat on the shore or waded in to their knees and watched the two foreigners (us) swimming around and being tossed by the waves and laughing. Later, though, a group of friends around our age came and did go further out in the water to swim. 

Me and Sara (and without makeup)! The water looks kind of green in these two pictures but I swear it really was blue!

Anmok beach is also lined by a string of coffee shops, which is called Coffee Street! We were hungry so we didn't go to any unique ones and just settled with a Caffé Bene. I sadly didn't get any pictures of Coffee Street, so you'll just have to go and see for yourself ;)


I definitely recommend taking the trip to Gangneung for the beaches and staying in Aarkhouse! As I said earlier, don't expect much in terms of shopping or pop culture. I also think you should go with a friend, because this trip definitely wouldn't have been fun without Sara :)

I included this post in the Korea Budget Travel Tips tag because per person and without food (since we buy food anyway), this trip cost us about $48 each (about $10 each for the room and ₩21,500 each way in the bus). It's definitely a cheaper alternative to going to Jeju or one of the other southern islands.

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