There's a lovely little seaside town in South Korea called Sokcho, about a two-hour bus ride away from Seoul, where you can lay on the beach and have some fried chicken and beer delivered by foot. But this idyllic summer spot is being visited by a new type of tourist: the pokémon master. Besides being a popular getaway, Sokcho is the only place in South Korea country where the popular app works.
Pokémon Go isn't available in South Korea because the game uses data from Google Maps, which is restricted by the South Korean government due to security concerns. South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea, and the government has stated that it could release its map data only if Google deletes information on key security locations like military facilities. It's unclear whether the game will ever be made available, but in the meanwhile, South Korean gamers have found a loophole.
The rhombus-shaped cells below show the areas that Niantic has labeled in its mapping system as restricted areas, and Sokcho just barely makes it out:
Since word got out that it was possible to play Pokémon Go in Sokcho, the town has been bombarded with tourists looking to play. Bus tickets from Seoul to Sokcho are sold out, according to the Associated Press, and tour packages including shuttle buses and hotel reservations have been popping up on deal websites:
티몬에서ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ속초 셔틀버스가ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ pic.twitter.com/WVf9uPfQHE— 마디 (@INMADIHAN) July 14, 2016
Sokcho Mayor Lee Byung-seon has fully embraced the Pokémon Go craze, announcing he would increase free Wi-Fi hotspots and battery charging stations. Below is a map of all the free Wi-Fi spots in Sokcho, posted on the city's Facebook page:
The Mayor even caught a Machop (Fun fact: its Korean name translates to 'Muscle Monster') in this adorable Facebook Live interview with The Huffington Post in Korea.
Sokcho restaurants are going out of their way to welcome Pokémon Go players with banners advertising water, charging stations and bathrooms:
속초횟집 ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ pic.twitter.com/FvqN2k6dXv— 칠색화#3730/七色花 (@Saeka_1600) July 13, 2016
Enterprising youngins are charging egg-hatching services at 1,000 won per km, which converts to around $1:
속초 신알바 ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ pic.twitter.com/wFI0ISm02T— 품명 (@k0904jh) July 14, 2016
For whatever reason, the area of Sokcho seems to be a hotbed of activity for pokémon. This player reported catching all of the circled pokémon below in the span of 30 minutes in #SokchoPokemonTown:
"I heard Pokémon Go works in Sokcho, so I downloaded it, and caught 11 pokémon just in my room."
속초에서 포켓몬 고 된다길래 깔아봤더니 숙소에서만 11마리 잡음;;;;우흐어우후아오냐뉴뉴ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅍㅍㅍㅍㅍ퓨ㅠ이브이ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ pic.twitter.com/PnW0cR0d8Q— 자퇴각이 온 듑 (@bywpf) July 12, 2016
With the summer season in full force, Pokémon Go is enticing South Koreans to make plans to visit Sokcho for a weekend trip. If you search 'Sokcho' online, you'll find people sharing travel tips and restaurant recommendations. This tweet reads, "The 7 foods you need to eat if you're in Sokcho to catch pokémon":
The game's been a blessing for Sokcho, which people are now calling "Pallet Town." Hopefully, all this enthusiasm means it'll be released for the rest of Korea to play as well.