Seaside Sokcho shows off its artistry : The once-sleepy fishing village has seen an increase of creative entrepreneurs moving to the city

May 13,2017
The coastal city of Sokcho, known for the beautiful Seoraksan National Park and its beaches with white sand and clear water along the East Sea, is more likely to be thought of as a sleepy fishing town than a tourist attraction. Only about a two-hour drive from Seoul, Sokcho made headlines last summer when it was discovered to be the only spot in Korea where people could play the much-buzzed Pokemon Go mobile game. Nowadays, more people are settling in Sokcho to escape from the dusty skies in the cities, and many handicraft shops and local cafes are popping up around town.

The Arts Council Korea, together with The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism published the “Humanities Map,” which acts as a guide to the scenic spots of the city that many tourists are unaware of, and also tells interesting stories going around the neighborhood. This new side of Sokcho is home to a local coffee shop, a bookstore which doubles as a guest house, and a handicraft studio run by two sisters.

The Gong sisters, Gong Jae-yun, left, and Gong Jae-yeong, are the owners of the ceramic studio “Dojagibyeol,” which both sells and produces pottery that embodies the beautiful nature of Sokcho.
1. Dojagibyeol

Gong Jae-yun and Gong Jae-yeong, two sisters who majored in art, are the owners of the handicraft workshop Dojagibyeol. The ceramic studio sells knickknacks that embody Sokcho’s mountains and sea.

They opened the shop two years ago in the same spot where their mother once ran a restaurant. “After I lived in Seoul for over nine years, the bright stars in Sokcho really caught my eye. I was so amazed by the twinkling stars, so I went out to see it every night by the beach. That’s why I named our studio Dojagibyeol, [ceramic star in Korean],” said Jae-yeong. Products that reflect the nature of Sokcho, like magnets in the shapes of stars, boats, and flowers, as well as a business card holder in a shape of a lighthouse, are some of the products that can be found. There are also a one-day pottery classes available for tourists. Once the pottery is finished, it is then baked in a kiln, and is sent via mail one month later. “Now that I am back in Sokcho, I know what it feels like to feel relieved. I am so delighted to be surrounded by nature and doing what I want,” said the younger sister.

Address: 109-1, Subok-ro, Sokcho

Phone: (033) 638-0853

Operating hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Closed on Sundays and Mondays).

Kim Il-su, left, and Kim Yong-geon, are operating the bookstore that opened in 1956, called the Bookstore Donga.
2. Bookstore Donga

One might wonder why a bookstore is a tourist attraction, but Bookstore Donga, which opened in 1956, is a special place that cherishes the history of Korea’s book industry. It has been run by the same family for three generations. Kim Yong-geon, who is the manager of the bookstore, said that this store was opened by his granddad in 1956, and beginning in 1978, his father Kim Il-su took over the business.

After the store moved its location to where it is now, the store expanded, as well as the selection of books, which now includes genres ranging from philosophy, social science to study books for kids. Kim said he especially pays attention to the curation of the bookstore.

“The biggest merit of an offline bookstore is that visitors can come across books they did not expect to see,” said Kim. He lays out books based on trends, and on one wall hangs a poster highlighting the best sellers of each month. “Local bookshops should possess the distinct culture of the neighborhood. We strive to keep communicating with the locals,” said Kim.

Address:108, Subok-ro, Sokcho

Phone: (033) 632-1555

Operating hours: 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

From left, Choi Yun-bok, Lee Dam-in and Ha Ji-min are the trio behind “Perfect days,” which is both a guest house and a bookstore.
3. Perfect days

Located behind Sokcho Bus Terminal, Perfect days is a two-story building, that features a bookstore, a cafe and a guest house. Husband and wife Choi Yun-bok and Ha Ji-min run the building along with Ha’s friend Lee Dam-in.

The couple met in Seoul and then moved to Sokcho, Choi’s hometown, after getting married in 2013. At first, Choi came to Sokcho just to help his brother make kayaks and canoes, but he eventually decided to stay. “I loved the nature. When I feel drowsy, I can just go to the beach and have a cup of tea. When I lived in Seoul, I wanted to run a small bookstore, so I could give lectures and have book meetings,” said Ha.

There are about 1,000 books, and Choi hopes to introduce books that can make people think. Beginning this spring, the book store will start to host book clubs. The name of the bookstore comes from American poet Mary Oliver.

“We want to do what we can, and want to present the tourists a perfect day that they can look back on,” they said.

Address: 259-7, Subok-ro, Sokcho

Phone: (033) 947-2319

Operating hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (The cafe and book store are closed on Tuesday).

Park Soo-il, CEO of Coffee Belt, which was the first coffee shop to serve hand-dripped coffee in Sokcho.
4. Coffee Belt

Walking towards Sokcho Elementary School, you come across Sokcho Market, which is the biggest traditional market in the area, where tourists can get a taste of local snacks.

In the streets, you come across the aroma of coffee. The first cafe to make hand-dripped coffee in Sokcho, the antique-looking cafe Coffee Belt was opened in 2008 by Park Soo-il, a certified barista.

In one corner of the cafe, there is a huge coffee roaster, as well as a huge rack of coffee cups that are neatly organized. “There are a lot of famous cafes in the nearby town of Gangneung, but it was hard to find hand-dripped coffee in Sokcho,” said Park. There are also coffee lessons every morning for loyal customers.

A popular destination for tourists visiting Gangwon province, this cafe, with its vintage decorations, offers coffee beans from 12 countries, including Papua New Guinea, and Costa Rica.

Address: 124-1, Subok-ro, Sokcho

Phone: (033) 637-1243

Operating hours: 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

A taste of the coastal city’s local delicacies

Located alongside the East Sea, Sokcho is home to some of the freshest seafood in Korea. There are many sushi restaurants and fish markets along the beach, but that is not everything on hand for seafood lovers.

Located in Mulchi Raw Fish Center, there is a food truck that sells a shrimp box. Once it was introduced on the beaches of Sokcho, it was immediately a hit. A shrimp box consists of rice and shrimp, which is peeled and cooked with butter and garlic, giving it a rich garlic flavor. To find out where and when the truck will be operating, visit the shop’s Instagram @shrimp_box_donghae for updates. The Gong sisters recommended a tteokbokki (spicy stir-fried rice cakes commonly mixed with fish cakes, boiled eggs and more) shop called Jorongbak Tteok-bokki which is next to their shop. Strawberry milk and vegetable bread is also a popular snack in this store. Located in the shopping arcade of the Okto apartments on Misiryeong-ro, a bakery called Bong Bread has garlic baguettes, rolled in saucy and sweet garlic sauce, which has become a popular snack for both locals and tourists. Bread with blueberries and filled with mocha and cream are also hot items at the bakery. Dakgangjeong, which is a sweet crispy chicken dish glazed in sweet and spicy sauce, is also a delicacy to try in Sokcho. In Sokcho Market, there are dozens of dakgangjeong stores. Manseok Dakgangjeong and Jungang Dakgangjeong are the most famous stores, as both of them have been around for more than 30 years.

BY LEE YOUNG-HEE [jeon.sohyun@joongang.co.kr]

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