There is a certain magic in a landscape that has just been dusted with a fresh coat of snow. Drab scenes suddenly pop out in new and unusual ways. My first real experience with snow was during winter in Korea and for a South African it was mind-blowing! So with our decision to leave Korea this year I have decided to put together a surrealist photoscape of my favourite photos from our winters in Korea.
A background to snow for a summer child
The first time I saw snow I was about 10 years old. It had snowed in the mountains around our home town in South Africa and we went hunting for somewhere to play in the snow. That was when I fell in love with snow and I’ve wanted snowy winters ever since. I was 23 and in Germany before I ever saw snow falling. The snowflakes floating silently from the sky had me entranced, I could have stood there for hours. That day I also started a little personal tradition of building tiny snowmen because there wasn’t enough snow to build anything bigger!
First taste of winter in Korea
Fast-forward about 5 years and we had just arrived in South Korea. Although the Korean winter was on its way out, we had our first taste of what winter in Korea would be like. Daily temperatures were around 0°C and we were woefully unprepared for that level of cold. On our second day of work we left our apartment walked straight out into our first Korean snow fall. It was exceptionally light and nothing settled but it made our sunny South African hearts happy!
Seongju is right next to Daegu, which is the hottest part of South Korea. We were warned that we shouldn’t expect much snow there, but as the relentless summer heat wore on we were holding on to the hope of winter snow. As summer became autumn and it slowly slipped back into the icy temperatures of winter I was watching our weather app every day to see if some snow would be predicted. Despite the maximums sitting around 0ºC there was no sight of snow. Until one fateful Friday the heavens opened and we had the first snow of our first full winter in Korea. The snow was so unexpected that no one was prepared for it and the whole day of school was written off because of traffic delays and students (and teachers) wanting to play in the snow.
That was at the end of November and I was having dreams of a snow-filled December, my first snowy Christmas! Unfortunately it never snowed properly again while we were in Seongju.
Further adventures to enjoy winter in Korea
Despite the disappointing lack of snow in Seongju we decided to take matters into our own freezing hands and do some travelling during the long Christmas weekend and lunar new year so we could properly enjoy winter in Korea. The first trip we made was to the High1 ski resort for a skiing weekend with friends. Neither Monique nor I had ever skied before but it sounded like great fun. It was a weekend of eating snow and trying not to die, but I had a blast and snowboarding has been added to my bucket list! Then, over the Christmas weekend we took a trip to Nami Island just outside of Seoul. We spent the day wandering the snowy paths, carving ice, exploring ice castles, playing with grumpy snowmen and eating wonderful Italian pizza.
Finally, we finished our first winter in Korea at the Winter Olympics. We had managed to get tickets to one of the snowboarding events. It was open air seating and I have honestly never been that cold in my entire life but it was worth it! We played around with a little of the snow that was still piled up around the venue and the train station. Although the season had been light on snow for us, it was a fantastic finale to our first winter in Korea!
Our best winter in Korea
If you have been following our blog at all you will know that last year, 2018, we took up teaching positions on Ulleungdo, Korea’s mysterious island. Although Ulleungdo’s average temperature is higher than mainland Korea, it is said to have the deepest snow in South Korea. Our co-teachers were feeding us rumours of snow being 1.8m deep and elementary students getting lost in the large drifts. I nearly died with excitement. As much as I loved snorkeling in the pristine water and hiking all around Ulleungdo, all I wanted was the winter to come round so I could spend every free minute playing in the snow!
I had spoken to several of my friends on the island and I had been promised that the snow would start anywhere from mid October to the end of November. To my utter horror, mid December had come and gone without a trace of snow. I really thought it wasn’t going to snow at all. You can ask Monique, I was getting really down about the complete lack of snow. I felt quite betrayed by all the hype around having the most snow in Korea. Our second winter in Korea was turning out to be just as barren of snow as our first.
Finally, on another fateful Friday, it started to snow. Again there were rumours that we were going to have several metres of snow which were all proven woefully untrue, but it was the deepest snow I’ve ever had in my life. That weekend I hiked up Seonginbong to get the most of the views. I was the first person to hike the trail that day so the snow was untouched and I had the mountain to myself. Suddenly winter didn’t seem like it was going to be such a disappointment.
Unfortunately, by the Monday all the snow had melted and it only really snowed again in January so we missed out on having a snowy Christmas for a second time. In total we only had about 10 days worth of snow and the deepest it got was about about 15 centimetres. So, not the winter wonderland that I had dreamt about, but I still promised myself to make the most of every second of snow.
Winter in Korea on Ulleungdo
I managed to get Monique out for a winter hike, though it didn’t take too much convincing because the views were amazing. We had thought all the snow had melted on the island, but during winter the northern mountains are almost completely shaded from the sun. Heading up along the Dullegil trail from Seokpo to Naesujeon we found some great snow and even stumbled on some snow puppers!
There is something quite special about a temple covered in snow and during this winter in Korea we had a temple all to ourselves to enjoy the view. After slipping and sliding up the steep hill towards the Dokdo cable car there is a Buddha laughing at your efforts. He sits in front of a beautiful temple tucked into the mountain and we spent ages there taking photos in the snow.
The view over the Buk-Myeon coastline is considered one of the top 10 views in South Korea. There are 2 different viewing platforms. The unofficial, secret one is described in our posts on Ulleungdo and offers the best view of the coastline. At the official viewing platform, the Taeha lighthouse, there is a bronze squid. After the snow it appeared to be climbing out of the snowy ground.
With there being a road around the entire island it now only takes about an hour and a half to drive from Dodong all the way back around. The west side of the island has the thickest snow as it only gets the afternoon sun. At Tonggumi, the beach and Turtle Rock were covered in snow. I wish I had gotten out to explore that area more but I wanted to get to Taeha to see the coastline and I didn’t have time to do both!
Having grown up in South Africa I don’t love the heat. It took a while to get used to winter in Korea and the cold and grey did get to me but I managed to live many of my dreams in the brief days of snow I got to experience. I hope I managed to capture a degree of the magic, that I have personally experienced in the snow, in my photos.
Check out our YouTube channel for more videos from our adventures!
Happy travels and blue skies!
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