The Taebaek Mountains, sometimes called the backbone of Korea, run the length of Gangwon-do (Gangwon province). Because of this geographical division, the province has two distinct regions: Yeongseo, the region west of the mountains, which has a small amount of farmable land, and Yeongdong, the region east of the mountains, whose people primarily rely on food from the sea. Because South Korea's three largest rivers (Namhan, Bukhan, and Nakdong) all originate in the Taebaek Mountains, Gangwon-do was traditionally known as the "area that started our ancestor's life."
The province covers some 16,894 sq. km (6,523 sq. miles), but more than 80% of that land is thickly forested. Indeed, very little of the land is even flat, making farming difficult. So, not surprisingly, the people who settled here either stuck close to the coastline and relied on fishing, or moved into the interior, cultivated potatoes (which can be grown in rocky terrain), and learned to supplement their diets with wild plants. Regardless of the scarcity of farm products, the people of the region are known for their generosity.
Traveling through the region, you will discover the beauty of the land (with unfettered forests), and learn about the history of the people. There are a handful of cities, but none of them is highly developed or very large in size, so the region retains some of the natural beauty it has had for centuries, although the carving of the mountains for new roads coupled with severe rains have eroded some of the terrain's green splendor, leaving exposed dirt and unsightly concrete supports.
Still, lovers of nature will find everything from the majestic landscape of Seoraksan to rafting down the white waters of the region's strong rivers. All seasons bring tourists escaping the insanity of Seoul, but the changing colors of autumn draw the largest crowds. Winter attracts skiers, sledders, and ice fishermen. Summer brings campers and hikers, and spring attracts nature lovers to its blooming forests.
Gangwon-do and its North Korean counterpart, Kangwon, are together called the Gwandong region. The area west of Taebaeksan is called Yeongseo, while the part east of the mountains is called Yeongdong. Other than the main cities highlighted earlier, other major cities in the province include Donghae and Wonju, which are discussed below.
Now that the government has removed most of the barbed wire along its coasts, its beaches have lost some of their hard military edge. There has been a strong push for further development in the region, so be sure to visit before the entire province is ruined by the industrial signs of "progress."