The first week of August is peak summer vacation season in South Korea. Highways to popular destinations are clogged, beaches are crowded and life slows down in normally hectic Seoul.
But this year, a double whammy of heavy downpours and a deadly virus epidemic is ruining the holiday mood, as well as plans for many people.
Jay Kim, a 38-year-old man living in Seoul, would have been in Amsterdam, Netherlands, by now to attend the world’s biggest nautical event organized once every five years. The global COVID-19 pandemic and the record-long monsoon season at home forced him to forgo getaway plans.
“I made all the plans for my summer holiday in Amsterdam with my friends and now I have to wait until 2025, as this year’s event got canceled due to the coronavirus,” Kim said.
“I just postponed the holiday until the end of this month because of rain,” he added.
The coronavirus pandemic made international travel complicated and difficult, if not impossible.
As of Wednesday, Koreans are denied entry for the purpose of tourism in 165 countries. Even if they do manage to get abroad, they have to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return, as required by local health authorities.
In 2019, some 28.7 million Koreans traveled outside the country.
Stuck in Korea, many have turned their eyes to domestic holiday destinations. It is safer to be in Korea, as the country has managed to bring the virus spread pretty much under control. The country reported 33 new confirmed cases Wednesday, with 18 of them imported from outside the country.
“I wanted to go to Guam for the summer holiday with my family, but I changed the destination to Gapyeong,” said a 39-year-old office worker surnamed Lee. He plans to take his vacation at the end of the month.
Gapyeong in Gyeonggi Province is among the areas that has been most heavily hit by torrential rains in the past few days. A mudslide killed three at tourist accommodations there Monday. Torrential rains, which started Saturday and have continued for five days in many parts of the country -- including popular tourist destinations in Gangwon Province -- had left at least 15 dead as of Wednesday.
Lee could only hope for the situation to get better in Gapyeong by the time he vacations there, as he has already paid in full.
“The cost of accommodations got a lot more expensive, so I had to spend as much as I did when I went abroad,” he said.
As stepping outside of home carries the risk of coming into contact with others and contracting the coronavirus, Jang Min-ji, 33, decided to avoid the risk all together by either staying home or spending a night at a luxurious hotel to get herself in the holiday mood.
“As this is the very peak season and holiday spots are likely to be crowded, I will just stay in Seoul,” said Jang, adding she is worried about people not properly wearing masks outdoors.
Despite the coronavirus situation showing no signs of abating and continued downpours, some are seeking to make the most of their holiday here.
“This is my first holiday of the year. I wanted to go to Bali, but I decided to go to Yangyang instead,” said a 42-year-old office worker surnamed Song. She will go on a surfing trip to the seaside county next week despite the heavy rainfall forecast in Gangwon Province.
“If I maintain personal hygiene and keep my mask on, I think it will be OK. Real surfers go on surfing even when it rains!”
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com