You don't have to cross an international border to find a great getaway or holiday destination. Due to overseas travel restrictions in the COVID-era, Koreans are beginning to adapt to a new trendy, outdoorsy, and social distancing-friendly style of travel called "Chabak." This is a recently coined term that combines the Korean words 'cha' (car) and 'bak' (stay). It's a type of local travel that involves accessorizing one's car or SUV with special camping gear to turn it into a make-shift camper for a weekend getaway.
SUV Tents by Korean tent manufacturer "Wolf Launch"
SUV- awning style tent by Korean tent manufacturer "Wolf Launch"
Chabak-in-Action: Here's a great vlog from YouTuber "28, One day" where she captures
the calm and charm of chabak in her Kia Seltos SUV for a solo seaside camping trip.
Here are two 'chabak' hotspots that many non-locals or foreign tourists might not know about, but are worth exploring for that future bucket list trip to Korea.
Gapyeong is a popular hotspot known for its scenic landscapes, picturesque mountains, and shimmering lakes. It's a top destination for locals in Seoul, especially since it's only an hour's drive west from the city. It makes for an enjoyable road trip along the "Han River," which divides Seoul into two halves, and flows through to this area into reservoirs and waterfront resorts.
The most well-known landmark in this area is 'Nami Island,' which was made famous from the smash-hit Korean TV drama, "Winter Sonata." This small moon-shaped island located in the middle of the Han River is renowned for its romantic tree lanes, woodlands, and riverside walks in picture-perfect scenery.
But if you want to "chabak" like a local, then the place you want to pull up your car to and camp will be along Local Road 391. This road goes all along the river's edge. There are many "pensions" (Korean countryside-style cottages), which have decks and docks for watersports. Stop off at specially designated areas to set up camp, and quickly drop by docks with rental shops for watersports and activities. A useful tip for those looking to wakeboard or water ski is to do it before there are too many motorboats out on the water (6:30 am ~ 9 am). You'll also be able to soak in epic views of rolling fog along the surrounding mountain peaks.
For any thrill-seekers, be sure to any of the ride wide variety of rubber rafts, which are attached to high-speed boats that jet across the lake. These inflatables are pulled along at high speeds and can feel like a rollercoaster and can even get airborne. Fun insider tip: try out the Flyfish, a winged raft meant for 2 people with an aerodynamic shape that lifts into the air when pulled at high speeds before crashing back down with an exciting thump on the water.
But for those seeking a more relaxed stay, we recommend taking a calming river ferry cruise around the area. You will be surrounded by majestic mountains, lake river, pensions, and colorful skies for that classic romantic Korean TV drama scene ambiance.
The motto of this private beach is, "Surf all day, party all night". This summertime location is another popular "chabak" destination. The best beaches are usually found on the east coast of Korea, such as Haeundae located in the southeastern coastal city of Busan. But for locals trying to avoid significant crowds, one of the hottest spots these days is Surfyy beach in Yang Yang near Seokcho. This area is in the northeast coastal side of Korea and was inaccessible to the public for over 40 years due to its proximity to a military base. It only recently opened up as a surfing only beach.
Surfyy, as its name implies, is just for surfing. The beach is incredibly clean, and the atmosphere is laid back and stress-free. Beautiful cabanas and lounge chairs are usually available for rent. And this area does make for very 'Instagram-able' snapshots and is where you can find many of Korea's hottest influencers. Surfyy is a bit sparse for local eateries and shops, so if you are not looking to camp around the beach. Then we recommend head over to Seokcho, which is a short ride away and has a more extensive selection of restaurants, entertainment, and all the amenities of a trendy area while still making for a great getaway.
*Tip: Stay late and enjoy the beach parties that happen each night with the biggest ones being on Friday and Saturday night.