I left the hostel in Gangneung with no real idea about how far I would get. I decided to just ride and enjoy the seaside towns that I passed. I took the cycleway to the sea where I watched the sun turn the water to gold. A random cyclist on a really cool MTB stopped to say hello and took a photo of us together. It made me smile and was a good start to the day.
I followed a range of small roads and paths through the rice paddies trying to find my way out of Gangneung. It took me 15km before I found my way back to the number 7 road but I enjoyed the detour through the paddies, which gave me plenty of time to get close to the fields and take photos.
The rice harvest looks like it is backbreaking work. While it looks like machinery is used to cut the rice, women and men still bundle it up and carry it off the fields by hand. I am impressed by the farmers’ work ethic and strength.
Once on the coast road I wound my way ever southwards. Navigation was a challenge because I didn’t really want to follow the highway but I also didn’t want to spend all day checking my location on Google maps or Naver. So at first I just followed the signs to the Unification Park where I got to explore a captured North Korean submarine and a massive South Korean warship. A group of young sailors were also touring the warship; one in particular was friendly and keen to practice his English. Nineteen out of the twenty-seven rooms on the ship were open to the public, making the ship a worthwhile stop on the road south.
My favourite “room” was the pilot’s station. It was interesting to see just how limited the view is from through these windows.
And I also liked the helm with it’s old-school controls. It looked like something out of a movie.
Speaking of movies. Where else but Korea would you see a romantic photo opportunity on a warship? Unfortunately, I am traveling alone on this trip so I couldn’t get a photo; though I did try to find a spot to use the self-timer on the camera.
A little further down the road again I climbed a hill to this pagoda. It was so pretty tucked away between the trees. As I descended to return to my bike a group of ladies were setting up a picnic behind their parked cars on the street. They placed down a mat, took off their shoes and proceeded to pour coffees. A polite invitation was extended to me but I decided to decline as it was obviously just that: an invitation out of cultural requirement. And besides, I really don’t like coffee.
From another mountainside pagoda I could see the road I was about to ride stretch out before me. This section of road was advertised on the tourist map as one of the most beautiful sections of the Romantic Road of Korea, which I have been following since Yangyang. The road hugged the cliffs but was also exposed to the sea.
I stopped on the side of the road to watch as waves crashed all around. There were warning signs about the potential for waves to break over the road and I imagine at times it could get quite dangerous here if the seas were high.
The sea was actually breaking over the road in a few places and I had to time my crossings carefully so as not to get wet. There was no risk of being swamped and taken out to sea but I still preferred to stay dry.
A beachside pagoda made a good place for lunch. I tried some of these honey bread things but found them quite dry so I heated a couple up and lathered them in Nutella to make them more palatable. The beaches here are wide. It really struck me all the way down the northern sections of the east coast. You could fit a lot of people out there on a nice warm summer’s day.
Every cove seemed to have it’s own fishing harbour. Small boats proudly flew Korean flags and the salty air was filled with the sight and smell of fresh fish being dried.
It was mid-afternoon when I reached Donghae and saw the signs to the caves near the centre of the city. I didn’t expect much so was surprised when I was handed a helmet and instructed in it’s proper adjustment. It turns out that you actually do need a helmet in these caves. Unlike so many I’ve visited in the past, there are places where you actually have to get down and almost crawl under low ceilings and dodge your way past real stalamites (or are they stalagtites?).
The formations in the caves were stunning. While my guide book of Korea criticises the caves here of having garish lighting, I quite like the colourful effects. It’s quite cheerful.
I didn’t make it much further after leaving the caves. I rode for about 10km but was still in the city itself so stopped next to a cycleway in a riverside park where I waited until after sunset to pitch my tent.
Despite the heavy industry humming away across the river, the sunset was superb and I found myself able to relax.