Asia South Korea Travel Destinations

Why You Should Take a South Korea Road Trip! | Travel Guide

Why You Should Take a South Korea Road Trip
Written by Duke Stewart

Take a South Korea Road Trip!

I love public transport but have to say that it was easier and more fun to drive through South Korea. The country is an up and coming tourist destination and some places are just too tedious to reach by train or bus. Granted, it’s possible to reach all parts of Korea by bus or even train but there have been many times that I wanted to make little stops along the way. That’s why I think a South Korea Road Trip is your best bet for exploring the country from your own perspective. Let me show you by focusing on some of my favorite spots found along the road.

Coastal Drives

South Korea Burn Night

South Korea has over 1,500 miles of coastline so it’s hard to not start here. I spent two years in a wonderful coastal city (Yeosu) and absolutely loved going for drives along the water, whether by car or scooter. When I wasn’t exploring beaches and other places to stare at water in Yeosu, I was trying to drive as much of the Korean coastline as possible. There are tons of wonderful spots to explore between Mokpo and Incheon on the west coast, especially Taean (technically an island) where we stayed for Korea Burn. One tip for camping in that part of the country is to pack extra intense mosquito spray because those little bugs are just too much!

South Korea Naksan Beach Early Morning

MyHighway 7 that runs up the east coast and ends (for now) at the Goseong DMZ. A friend once told me that Korea’s east coast is essentially one long stretch of beach and I think he’s right. Among the many we visited, I have to say that Naksan Beach was the best for camping and a sunrise walk at the nearby temple that overlooks it. We started this route by driving from Yeosu through Daegu to Pohang in the south, though many visitors coming from Seoul would likely drive all the way to Sokcho in the north and descend towards Busan. Bonus points if you can fit Gyeongju in because that’s a place I absolutely fell in love with when visiting!

Islands

Jeju Halim Beach

With a few exceptions, Korea’s best islands are mostly found off the south and west coasts. There’s a saying I’ve heard from Koreans that say islands are disqualified after a bridge connects them to the mainland. I’ll be sad when they connect Jeju via an underwater tunnel because how can you not recognize this beautiful place an island and travel around it? We drove around Jeju by scooter and car and loved every minute of it, enjoying the views of the ocean and Hallasan towering over us from the island’s center. Beaches galore surround the island but my favorites include Hamdeok on the Jeju City side and the touristy Jungmun Beach of Seogwipo.

South Korea Dolsan Island Rice Terraces

This photo originally appeared here

Sticking more to the mainland, I always start with Dolsan Island that’s just across the water from Yeosu. The Dolsan Bridge is partly responsible for the popular Yeosu Night View that Busker Busker sang about, but also for beautiful rice terraces, a really awesome café overlooking the water and Hyangiram that’s popular for New Year’s Sunrise. Jindo is best known for the annual “Miracle Sea” festival and for camping. Gyeongsang Province’s Namhae is a wonderful place to start for even more rice terraces and beaches. I also love Geoje for its abundance of windy roads and awesome German Food that comes with homemade sauerkraut!

South Korea Seoraksan National Park

The Big Two National Parks

As soon as our beat-up old Hyundai Sonata would enter a Korean National Park, there’s only one rule—all car windows must come down. I didn’t visit every one of them but certainly came close when driving around the country. Jirisan National Park dominates the southwest while Seoraksan owns a special place in my heart, as it’s where I nervously proposed to my wife. We’ll be back there someday, hopefully still able to hike those trails that range from casual to fear-of-heights inducing. If we’re lucky, maybe the same hotel will be there, not far from the beautiful Shinheungsa Temple Buddha statue.

South Korea Jirisan National Park Piagol Valley

Some people hike from the bottom to Jirisan National Park’s highest peak but I love swinging up and around its winding roads before getting started. There are other good spots along the way including the Piagol Valley streams and rocks that transform even the most desk-ridden humans into lizards for a day. Still inside Jirisan, Hwaeomsa Temple’s wonderful cherry blossoms in the spring and a cozy spot for green tea just outside. Come early because this temple fills up quickly no matter what day of the week, thanks to schools and other tours coming through here.

More Parks and Temples

South Korea Beopjusa Temple Buddha

Chungcheong Province’s Byeonsanbando could fit almost all of the pre-park categories since this unique National Park combines mountains and the sea. There are so many places to explore here and the picturesque views from the road tell half the story. Sognisan National Park’s beautiful rocky hikes stood out and it was a nice drive that led to Beopjusa Temple’s golden Buddha statue before heading up. Thanks to countless years and centuries of invasions and wars, it’s disheartening to know that most temples are recreations but what more can a country do? North and South Chungcheong Provinces go overlooked in many Korean travel itineraries but I’ll get back to them in just a minute.

South Korea Wolchulsan National Park Cloud Bridge

This photo originally appeared here

Juwangsan and Gayasan are two great parks in Gyeongsang Province, with the former filling our bellies with delicious apples and the latter’s Haeinsa Temple impressing us with its prayer maze and Buddhist Sutras that are an officially designated national treasure. Heading back southwest to the Jeolla Provinces, Naejangsan is most popular during the fall as its huge collections of maples change colors. Wolchulsan’s Cloud Bridge tested my fear of heights and though I still haven’t completely overcome it, taking a walk over that helped a little. I can go on but just ask you to visit a few of these parks and you’ll see what I’ve been raving about. Oh, and buy a souvenir handkerchief, will ya?

Random Drives through the Heart

South Korea Chuncheon Soyang River Maiden

Parks, islands and coastal drives are great but what about driving through the heart of Korea? Are there interesting things there as well? Of course, there are and one of the best ways to start is by heading towards Gangwon Province’s Chuncheon for dak galbi or a walk along its lovely river. It’s a good start if you’d like to drive north to south and from there, head down towards Gyeongsang Province’s Andong for some delicious chicken (jjim dalk) but first stop halfway at North Chungcheong’s wonderful Guinsa Temple inside Sobaeksan National Park, which I know is a violation of my promise to quit talking about parks. This beautiful temple mountain is just too marvelous to ignore but nevertheless, I apologize for mentioning it.

South Korea Jeonju Hanbok Ladies

South Chungcheong Province stretches to the west coast and has plenty of hits close to Daejeon. My favorites include Gongju and Buyeo, which give you a nice look at the lesser-known Paekche Dynasty that was strong during Korea’s 3 Kingdoms period. Another marvelous drive starts in the south, from my very own Yeosu all the way up to Jeonju in North Jeolla Province. Jeonju is great as a standalone visit, thanks to its scenic folk village, yummy bibimbap and awesome PNB choco pies! Wanju is a small town nearby and a temple there (Songgwangsa, not the Suncheon one!) blew us away during the months leading up to Buddha’s Birthday. I’ve never seen beautiful temple pyramids elsewhere in Korea so keep that in mind if you’re narrowing things down.

.

Full disclosure: You can see most of this stuff by public transport but not as easily, I promise you. I used to love adventuring through taxis and buses but after a while, time becomes too precious of a commodity to freely let go. I would give a fair warning to those who are not used to driving in Korea that you must practice patience there. People drive like they walk in Korea so prepare for sudden cutoffs and actions by people who might not be paying attention to what you’re doing. Another big problem that’s yet to be fully addressed is parking, and a Facebook group brings up some… let’s call them issues that arise. Just keep alert and you shouldn’t have any major problems, okay?

With all that said, I still think a South Korea Road Trip will show you just how beautiful that country is to me and everyone else who enjoys traveling through it!

Don’t Own a Car?

Here’s Where and How to Rent a Car in Korea

Courtesy of Korea Tourism

You can rent a car from any airport and will have your best luck finding English help. Avis and other big names can be found throughout big cities as well, and are most reliable in terms of service standards.

Requirements

  1. Valid International Driver’s License or Korean Driver’s License
  2. Cars come with “basic” insurance though it doesn’t cover damage or theft. You can purchase additional insurance from the rental company.

For more information on renting a car in Korea, check here.

So what do you think? Are you ready for a South Korea road trip now? Ever driven through the country? Let me know if you have any drives to recommend! Either way, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below!

About the author

Duke Stewart

As a recovering Expat, I write about Life through Travel and want you there with me through captivating stories followed by guides on how to do the same. My work has been featured in various magazines throughout Korea and in online publications including the awesome Hipmunk.com. I am also a nerd and love to point out a situation's similarities to any of my favorite movies, books, or tv shows. You've been warned:) Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily updates.

4 Comments

  • I have never been to Korea and this article makes me want to jump on a South Korea road trip immediately! Nice photos and thanks for the information. I believe you will be able to make it back to Seoraksan and stay in the same hotel. Happy travels and writing – Julie

  • Great article and pictures. I live in Gangneung and I agree that hwy 7 makes for a stunning drive. I think you can appreciate it even more if you ever get the chance to bike it. About 7 years a go I took a road trip to the Southern coast and I was blown away by places like Geogje-do, Yeosu, and Namhae. One of the best parts about driving in Korea is that your never too far from a highway rest stop. These places are always full of activity and a great way to break up the drive.

    • Wow, Gangneung is pretty awesome, I must say. Ojukheon was a cool place to visit there. I do agree about the highway stops, considering I’m now in the US where you wait a bit more for one. Thanks for stopping by, Andrew! I’d love to have your insight on that part of the country, if you’re ever interested in writing a Guest Post. Shoot me an email to dukestewartwrites @ gmail if so.

      Cheers!
      Duke Stewart recently posted…Why Travel Writing Should be More than DestinationsMy Profile