Way back when our schools first issued calendars indicating all the holidays, Andrea and I picked out Buddha’s birthday, the weekend of May 25th, as the time when we would fulfill our Penis Park dreams.
I first found out about Haesindang Park on Buzzfeed before heading out to South Korea and knew instantly that this was on my bucket list for before I leave. It’s a little out of the way though, so we knew we needed at least a three day weekend. Buddha’s b-day? Perfecto.
So Andrea and I planned with Scott and Ricky, and Jess jumped in last minute to make things extra fun. Andrea and Scott were heading to a party, so the rest of us got up bright and early, arriving at the bus station at 8:30 to catch a bus to Gangneung where we could get a transfer bus to Samcheok, the city near the beach we’d be camping in.
Unfortunately the buses to Gangneung were sold out until 11:40, but chipper and keen as we were, we just ordered breakfast and ice coffees and bummed around the terminal until boarding time.
The drive to Gangneung took almost four hours because of traffic though, and we arrived with duller eyes and some ebbing of our keenness. After a revitalizing bowl of cold naengmyeon, we went to buy tickets to with no delay at all. In fact, it was impressive how quiet it was since Korean holidays are usually quite busy.
Instead of going straight to Samcheok though, we took a detour to Donghae, a city at the bus route’s midpoint, so that we could pick up sleeping bags at the Emart in their city. (Unbeknownst to us, there was a Home Plus literally down the street from the Samcheok bus terminal, but hey, you have 20/20 vision in hindsight).
We picked up our sleeping bags, a lantern, and some coals for the grill we’d also brought along. All in all, we were tired carrying all the stuff, but feeling well-prepared and eager to finally arrive at our destination.
Another half hour bus ride and we got to Samcheok, lugging all our stuff from the undercarriage for the last time. We caught a taxi with relative ease, having got the address to the beach we were staying at, Yonghwa, from Visit Korea’s website.
It was about a 15 minute trip and the fare read 16, 000W – except when we arrived, the driver pulled out a paper saying our journey was going to be charged an extra 50% for a “rural fee”. We tried to argue that he hadn’t told us this prior to our trip (seeing as we would have just taken the bus otherwise), but our limited Korean had us thoroughly unable to change anything and we had to pay over 25, 000W for the ride. So don’t make a mistake like us: take the bus!
Once we’d grumbled our way into Yonghwa beach’s town though, it was quite pretty. A nice bridge crossed a creek and the sandy white beach curved in a long crescent between rocky, pine-covered cliffs.
We arrived just in time for sunset, so I managed to snag a few nice shots.
Having set up the tents just in time for the cover of darkness, we were left to build our fire in the dark.
As we had our lantern, this wouldn’t have been much of a problem except for the fact that the temperature dropped from 30C to about 15C with wind – and we were ill dressed for such extremes.
Finally though, we got the coals heated with the rainbow fire starter Jess thought to bring. We sat on our sleeping bags huddled, in our long-sleeved shirts, and watched the multicoloured flames as the stars faded in.
Despite what the Visit Korea webpage claimed, there weren’t any nearby restaurants. We settled for having jajangmyeon noodles from ramen cups we got at the convenience store on one of our trips to buy firewood, blankets, snacks, soju and beer. Oh and fireworks, because that’s what you do on Korean beaches. (Although some of the bangs we heard were not in fact from fireworks but semi-automatic weapons; the army was training nearby and two soldiers came up to warn us to stay out of the woods).
After we’d lit the fireworks and played Truth or Truth (our lamer version of Truth or Dare because we’re too lazy to pick dares), getting sufficiently tipsy, we turned in.
I woke up the next morning feeling like I was in a rice cooker. Head about to burst and skin sheened in sweat, I unzipped the tent to gulp fresh air and discovered Ricky sitting in the sand reading. We sat there for a bit before realizing the sun was rather vicious and that we should put on some sunscreen or feel its terrible wrath.
I must have applied sunscreen 3 times that day: it. was. a. scorcher.
Honestly, I’m not made for heat. I’ve suspected for a while that I have a thyroid problem wherein I can’t regulate my body temperature, so I was extremely grumpy and overheated.
Our tents were also in the full sun, there being no cover of shade anywhere else.
Thinking to find relief in the gorgeously clear sea right at our doorstep, I instead was met with water so icy it numbed my feet. Honestly I’m not exaggerating. I could not feel my feet after three waves lapped over my toes. There was no way you could swim in that.
And indeed, even the Koreans who later populated the beach in great droves didn’t go in but rather took shelter beneath big parasols or tented gazebos.
According to any objective lookers, it was a beautiful day: the bluest sky, a translucent sea, a powdered beach of fine white granules. Subjectively, however, it was oppressive. We could not escape the elements in our flimsy oven-like tents, and at last had to seek shelter in the shade under a bridge.
Meanwhile, Andrea and Scott were on their way to meet us after their party. We awaited their arrival with exhausted eagerness; they were bringing us food since the only restaurant we’d been able to find was a Korean buffet – the kind of which contains only rice, greasy pork stew and fermented vegetables. (We spent a good two hours bitching about how sick we were of Korean food).
We also hoped to god they were bringing a frisbee or something to do because we’d discovered that there really wasn’t all that much to do here, what with not being able to go in the water and needing to stay out of the sun lest we succumb to sunstroke.
Luckily they did bring just that – and Velcro ball too, which I hadn’t played since I was maybe eight! So that occupied us for a while.
Afterward, Andrea and Scott were pretty tired from all the travel so we decided to postpone the Penis Park for the next day and just chillax for the rest of the afternoon. They stayed in the shade on the blanket and Ricky, Jess, and I went to grab some cold coffee and charge up our phones (because you can’t be on a beach without looking at Pinterest. ..Please don’t judge.).
Once we’d waited what seemed an eternity, the sun dipped below the mountain peaks and it was safe to go outside again. We went to build a fire earlier than the night before (or rather the men had at it while I took photos of them lighting things on fire and the orange sunset lighting up the distant seagull-infested rocks).
In what seemed no time at all, we had a roaring fire. Andrea and Scott had brought sausages and samgyeopsal meat (basically uncured bacon), so we roasted the sausages on sticks first while telling ghost stories and then Scott fired up some sizzlin’ pork belly.
As the crowning moment of our perfect campfire experience, we toasted marshmallows and made Ricky his first ever smore while watching more fireworks set off by us and others also camping on the beach. It was a pretty wonderful night – even clearer and more starry than the night before – and if all day could have been like that night it would have been amazing.
If I was to rate Yonghwa Beach, though, I’d say it’d get maybe 2.5 stars out of 5. It had a really nice beach itself and the water was clear – albeit filled with dead and half-decayed fish (what’s in the water?!) – but there was no shade or respite from the sun.
It was also very out of the way. While this made it nice because there weren’t many people there, leaving most of the beach to ourselves, it also meant it was very difficult to get around without a car. The Visit Korea website claimed there to be restaurants, but these have either shut down or refer to the single buffet within walking distance.
I’m sure with a car you have a lot easier of a time driving for 15-20 minutes to a nearby eatery, but we found ourselves starving/subsisting on ramen.
That said, there was a lovely waffle truck set up in the area run by a deaf couple. They were very sweet and gave us free samples of their coffee bean bun bites.
Another thing that was out of date on the Visit Korea page though were the available facilities. Sure there were bathrooms (very clean ones, it should be noted), but the showers were locked for the whole time we were there. There were also no canoeing or snorkelling activities as was claimed (though I dunno if I could have braved that water to snorkel anyway). Nor was there a dense pine forest, unless they were counting the one scaling the rock escarpments.
So, in all, although the camping is free if you want to stay overnight, I think Yonghwa Beach makes a better day trip.
They have the famous Samcheok bike rail tour beginning there, so I think that’s the main reason this town is considered a popular “tourist” destination. We didn’t go on it, but it did look beautiful and if we’d had more time/the weather had been less extreme, I would have gone no questions asked.
Anyway, when we packed up the next day to make our way to the Penis Park, it wasn’t with too little regret.
But our adventures at the Penis Park will have to follow shortly since this review/travel log has already run dastardly long!
Until next time.