With the rainy season behind us and cooler evenings making their debut, it seems that the end of this summer’s record-breaking heat has finally arrived. Our beach days are limited, but there’s still time to get out and enjoy the tail end of summer.
On a recent Sunday, I escaped the steamy urban jungle of Seoul for Jangho Beach, a four-hour drive from the city center in Gangwon Province on Korea’s east coast. By the time I arrived mid-morning, the beach was already buzzing.
Dozens of snorkelers in life jackets navigated around rocks. Another couple dozen rowed in canoes or rafts. A few older men fished by the pier, while a pair of pre-teens walked along the coast with their fishing nets.
Tents and colorful, oversized umbrellas lined the shore, while children and adults cooled off in the inviting waters.
Meanwhile on shore, families, couples and friends dined on typical Korean beach fare of seafood, soups, kimchi and Cass. In my seaside restaurant, a friendly couple from Seoul started a conversation and offered me a bowl of makgeolli.
Jangho has been nicknamed the “Naples of Korea” by the Korea Tourism Organization for its alluring scenery and clear blue waters.
With 15-plus other beaches dotted along the eastern shore around Samcheok-Si, the nearest town, there are plenty of other sandy spaces to enjoy. What, then, is the draw of Jangho?
Simply put: for active folks who love the outdoors, Jangho is a haven.
Once a quiet locale, Jangho’s popularity recently skyrocketed thanks to television publicity and rising interest in marine sports.
Not only is it famed for recreation, it’s quite simply a beautiful destination. It’s been nicknamed the “Naples of Korea” (Hanguk-ae Napoli!) by the Korea Tourism Organization for its alluring scenery and clear blue waters.
“When you get to the beach, you’ll see why,” a KTO representative told me. Jangho was also named the 2011 Most Beautiful Village in Korea by the Beautiful Villages Association of Korea.
Sue, an English teacher in Daejeon who comes to Jangho in the summers to help her husband run their seaside pension and restaurant, said more tourists have ventured to Jangho as recently as this past winter.
Water sports like swimming, snorkeling, canoeing and rafting are most popular, and equipment can be rented on-site. There’s also a rock climbing wall, and rugged trekking over the rocky coast is all within a few minutes’ walk.
The beach itself is picturesque, with rolling, tree-covered hills behind, and jagged rocks rising out of the jade-colored water in front. In August, the sky is a cloudless, piercing blue and the air feels delightfully fresh in contrast July’s heavy humidity. Though Jangho isn’t a secluded retreat from society, it’s certainly not as crowded as, say, Busan’s Haeundae Beach. Here, one can relax with ease.
Like many small-time beaches in Korea, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Family Mart or a Baskin Robbins. Instead, local marts dominate the scene, selling all of your beach needs: wide-brimmed hats, small fishing nets, inner tubes, beach balls and instant ramyeon.
When meal time rolls around, Jangho is good for picnics. I saw plenty of families pulling out elaborate packed lunches. For most others, however, enjoying local seafood was at the top of the list.
A small market near the harbor is full of Jangho’s most popular menu item—seafood, naturally. Locals and tourists alike visited the fish market, sizing up octopus (a year-round favorite, according to Sue), fish and crabs.
Mul-hwae, specially-prepared raw fish, is special to the region and appears on nearly every menu in the coastal hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Some eateries have AC, while other restaurants are wall-less structures right on the coast.
Well-known soups like kimchi jjigae and doenjang jjigae are offered in many restaurants for the non-seafood lovers. Slushies, bingsu and iced coffee and tea are on-hand as well.
Jangho is small, and it’s possible to get your fill of seafood and snorkeling in just one day. Visiting the area can be a simple day trip for Seoul residents. However, with the four-hour bus ride there and a likely longer return trip due to traffic, a weekend excursion allows for ample exploration and rest.
Overnighting in Jangho is easy, if not luxurious. On nearly every block, there are at least a couple of quaint minbak, a no-frills Korean homestay or BnB of sorts. For a set price, rooms can be rented for 1–6 people. Large multi-story pensions can also be found in the area.
If you are planning an extended stay or are beached-out after a few hours, the area surrounding Jangho provides additional recreational activities.
With 6.2 kilometers of passageways, Hwanseon Cave is Asia’s largest limestone cave. It’s a short bus ride away from Samcheok town. There, visitors can hike or cable car up to the cave and walk inside along the guided path. Daegeum Cave is also nearby.
Close to Jangho is Haesindang Park, a large collection of phallic statues overlooking the ocean, and the popular Ocean Railbike that follows a 5.4-kilometer trail along the east coast. There are more than a dozen other beaches on the Samcheok coast (including Yonghwa, where the railbike ends).
How to get there: Buses to Samcheok leave from the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (subway line 2, exit 4) from 6:30 a.m. and depart every 30 to 40 minutes until 9:35 p.m. Tickets are 17,400 won. From Express Bus Terminal (subway lines 3, 7 and 9), buses start from 6:30 a.m. Regular fare is 17,400 won, while the “Excellence” fare is 25,700 won. Samcheok has two bus terminals (Express and Intercity) that are nearly next to each other, with a tourist information booth close by, too.
From Samcheok, hop on a green local bus (20, 21, 22, 23 or 24) and get off at Jangho 2-ri. It should take around 30 minutes. A taxi would cost about 30,000 won.
Where to stay: Jangho is minbak central. See here for a list of local minbak and pensions. It will be helpful to book in advance for weekend visit, and it will be helpful to have a fluent Korean speaker call specific minbak as there isn’t very much English spoken.