Korean summers are hot and humid, and if you can walk out the door without breaking a sweat, you’re a tougher person than I! I am Australian. I have lived through 30 something summers with 40° celsius days, but I’ve never felt as uncomfortable as summer in Korea. It’s the humidity! Still, there are plenty of places to cool off and beat the heat. Of course, there are beaches and mountain streams and even shady spots or air-conditioned oases within the city. Here are the top places I’ve found, so far, to escape the summer heat! I’d love to hear your ideas to add to my repertoire.
Hit the Beach
Being a peninsular, Korea is surrounded by beaches. Although not the most beautiful, the closest to Seoul are off the west coast. The beaches on Yeongjungdo Island (the home of Incheon Airport) can be reached in just an hour. Considering they share the island with an international airport, they’re actually pretty decent beaches. We recently visited Yongyudo Beach, and it was a decent spot to escape the city heat. On the same island, Eunwangni Beach has a popular reputation.
If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive, it’s the East Coast you want to head to. We loved Hajodae beach! If you leave early morning, it can take as little as two hours. But, if it’s peak time, it’ll be closer to three! Time your trip wisely. We left early morning, stayed the whole day, and came home after dinner to avoid the evening traffic. You can hire a deck with an umbrella for 30,000won for the day. It’s definitely worth it if you don’t have your own shade.
To the right of the beach, you can walk up to an observation deck for a great view of the coast. If you walk down the other side, you’ll see a pristine, secluded beach with clear waters. We wondered why no one was on the beach, but upon further inspection, it turns out that it’s military territory. We were rather close to the North Korean border, after all. People were snorkelling in the water below, but I don’t think they’d be welcome onto the beach!
There were quite a few decent food options. We ate bánh mì and fries from Cowabunga Pizza and the little truck next doot. We later enjoyed a pizza and cool drinks in the garden at Hello Peace Cafe snd Pension.
Cool off in a Mountain Valley Stream
Since 70% of Korea is mountain terrain, there are countless mountain valley streams. The difficulty is in finding one accessible via car. Recently we’ve discovered two decent spots within easy reach of Seoul.
The first was Yeoldu Gaeul Valley. Only an hour and a half to two hours from our home in Seoul. It was peaceful and not too busy, but with all the essential amenities. Toilets and stores. But most importantly, the water was icy cold and so refreshing!
The next spot we discovered was in Baegun Valley. This area was even more beautiful than the last. A little busier, but we were able to find a place to ourselves. This one is closer to 2 hours from Seoul, but it’s so peaceful, and the water icy cool! Picnic benches line the stream. Apparently, they were all controlled by local businesses, but Gyeonggi Province decided to name the whole area ‘public’ land so businesses can no longer make you pay to use the picnic tables. Still, you might want to support the locals by ordering food to your table.
Hide out in an Air conditioned Mall
Well, if you can’t manage to get out to a beach or a mountain valley, there are plenty of air-conditioned malls to explore in Seoul. We recently met friends at Starfield in Goyang. We hired ‘shopping cars’, and the big sisters had a ball pushing their little brothers around in the cars!
Starfield is our closest, but Times Square in Yeongdeugpo, or COEX Mall in Gangnam, are just a few of the big shopping centres that will keep you cool during this humid summer!
Discover the Shadier parts of the City
If you’re a tourist (or even if you’re not), there’s always Cheonggyecheon. I hear that it is a few degrees cooler than the rest of the city. Take your shoes off and dip your feet into the cool (not as cool as a mountain stream) water. It’s probably the best way you can cool off without leaving the city!