Vegan's Chronicles + [Vegan]

Gangwon-do, Part 1

This past Thursday, my family ended up unexpectedly joining my aunt, uncle, 2 cousins, and my halmunee on their vacation trip to Gangwon-do! I've said it before, and I'll say it again: one of my favorite things about Korea is its mountains, and Gangwon-do has no shortage of those. I don't get around to doing much nature-loving in Seoul, but when I do get a chance to get out of the city and explore Korea outside of its neon lights and concrete buildings, I'm always reminded of how this is actually a very beautiful country.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

When we were on the road, my two cousins, my sister, and I were packed into one car, which was a lot of fun. Driving alongside so many glorious mountains made us feel like we were in 'The Sound of Music,' so ofcourse we belted out all the songs from this musical favorite. "The hills are aliiiiive, with the sound of muuuusic~!"

Gang Won Do Family Trip

For our first night in the area, we ended up staying at this 'minbak' place that my aunt & uncle had been referred to by someone they know. We were expecting it to be a 'pension' with separate rooms and a kitchen, but in the end, it was little more than 4 concrete walls with very limited facilities. The blankets provided were smelly, and there was no kitchen for cooking, no sinks or buckets for gathering water, and no fans or a/c. It was pretty uncomfortable, but we made the most of it as a family, by finding joy in each other's company, and laughing the misery away.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

After a hot and cramped night, we woke up to a lovely Friday morning and assembled breakfast. Although there was no a kitchen, the place did have a rice cooker (Koreans can't live without their bab!), so we used that to cook up some sweet potatoes. We also had plenty of peaches, as well as some steamed corn and potato ddeok (not pictured) that we bought locally. It wasn't as good as my usual oatmeal breakfast, but it was still a satisfying, simple brekkie.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

The biggest redeeming factor of place we were staying at was that it was located right in the valley, next to a rocky stream. Obvi, we had to go check it out!

Gang Won Do Family Trip

The water was so refreshingly cool- perfect for dipping one's feet in to perk oneself up in the morning.

Next, after breakfast and exploring the stream and area a bit, we packed up our things and got back on the road, where we headed to the location for the Gangwon-do 'Rail Bike' tours. Basically, it's a tour where you get to experience the gorgeous landscape and scenery by peddling buggy-style carts along old railroad tracks.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

At the starting point of the tour, there's a cafe/restaurant constructed from remodeled trains that represent two grasshoppers getting it on! Don't ask why...

Gang Won Do Family Trip

The 7k bike tour itself wasn't strenuous as the terrain was mostly flat or slightly downhill, but it was kinda rough on the be-hind, if you know what I mean. My dad and I did the pedaling for our 4-person cart, while my mom and grandma sat in the non-pedaling seats in the front. My sister and cousins were in the cart right ahead of us, so you get to see them in all of these photos. :)

Gang Won Do Family Trip
Gang Won Do Family Trip

Fortunately, any pain we felt in the rear end was dissipated by the marvelous and peaceful scenery that we witnessed around every corner and out the other end of every tunnel. It was such a delightful, fun, active way to see the area!

Gang Won Do Family Trip
Gang Won Do Family Trip

Riding through rice paddies.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

Summer flowers lining the rail road~

Gang Won Do Family Trip

At the other end of the rail bike tour, we found more animal-cafes, but this time, they were fish rather than grasshoppers. At least they were G-rated this time. :) We snapped some pics before hopping on a trolley ride back to the starting point.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

After that bike tour, we had worked up an appetite for lunch, so we headed to this hole-in-the-wall restaurant that is known for serving up some unique local dishes, in particular, the 'Gondeurae' stone pot rice dish, which is a special local version of dolsot bibimbab that consists of just rice cooked with a local namul (wild greens). There were only a few ingredients in the whole thing, but it was rich and delicious. And the best part is that it's totally vegan- no eggs or ground beef. We even asked the server of the restaurant whether there was any egg in it, and he looked at us as if were were crazy for thinking they would add such an unnecessary ingredient. Awesome!

Gang Won Do Family Trip

We ordered this for 7 people, and it came out in a huuuuge stone pot the size of a basketball, filled to the brim with good ol' bab.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

After scooping some of the rice/namul into our individual bowls, we were told to mix it with either a soysauce/red pepper flake dressing, or a dwenjang dressing (both were scrumptious), and then eat it with some gim (nori sheets). I ate about three servings and would've eaten more if my tummy didn't feel like it was going to explode. Too good!

Gang Won Do Family Trip

Wrapped.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

The banch' lineup.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

More of the nutrient-dense 'gondeurae' greens.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

After filling our bellies, we headed to the next stop on our itinerary for the day: Arari Folk Village.

Gang Won Do Family Trip

So greeeen...

Gang Won Do Family Trip

So lush... .

Gang Won Do Family Trip

So peaceful...

Gang Won Do Family Trip

So awesome.

We weren't at the folk village for too long because it was just a scorching hot day and we wanted to get to our final stop for the day before it was got dark: the Hwa-Am caves!

Gang Won Do Family Trip
Gang Won Do Family Trip

Stalagmites and stalactites~

Gang Won Do Family Trip

At one point, we had to go down a ridiculously steep set of stairs, which were dangerously slippery due to the moisture. The temperature was freezing down in the caves. It definitely didn't help that I was only wearing a thin shirt and running shorts!

Gang Won Do Family Trip

There were also several wacky displays throughout the tunnels of the caves, such as this one with cave trolls and mushrooms huts. Whoever designed the cave tour was obviously high on... life. :)

Gang Won Do Family Trip

A Korean zombie couple at the cave exit... Apparently at night, the cave turns into a haunted-house theme park!

Gang Won Do Family Trip

Finally, to end a day of nonstop active sight-seeing, we feasted on mak-guksu (chilled buckwheat noodles) for dinner, which is another popular Gangwon-do specialty. I wasn't sure whether I could have this because some places use beef in the broth, but this restaurant's soup was vegan! Yayyyy!

Gang Won Do Family Trip

This was quite possibly the best bowl of mak-guksu I've ever had. I'm craving it as I type. I haven't been a big fan of cold noodles, but lately, I'm definitely "warming" to this Korean summer staple. It really is perfect for the hot season, and the sweetness of the soup mixed with the spicy red sauce, vinegar, and mustard, is just di-vine.

So that wraps up most of the touring we did on our Gangwon-do trip. We packed in three different tours all in one day before driving to our next lodging spot, which was far superior to our previous boardinghouse in every way. But that's for the next post- stay tuned for Gangwon-do Part 2!