By Park Boram
SEOUL, July 22 (Yonhap) -- Kim Ji-young, a 29-year-old office worker in Seoul, enjoyed her second getaway vacation this year at a remote country house on the periphery of the southern agricultural city of Sangju last month.
The rustic old-style farmer's house, built with clay and wood, came with few of the amenities and services offered by fancy vacation accommodations.
Standing almost isolated from neighbors and encompassed by swathes of open verdant spaces, however, the rental house proved to be a perfect retreat place during the pandemic.
Kim and her boyfriend made the most of their four-day stay at the country house, which they had all to themselves -- elaborate cooking every mealtime, campfire at night, early morning strolls around the serene neighborhood and picking up a basketful of veggies in the backyard kitchen garden -- all without fears of COVID-19 infections.
Such a vacation is gaining popularity in South Korea under the name "choncance" against the backdrop of the raging COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the growing appeal of a slow lifestyle in today's hectic digital age. Choncance is a new coinage that combines "chon," meaning a rural area in Korean, and "vacance," the French word for vacation.
"We freely walked around almost every corner of the neighborhood and still barely needed to wear a mask because the distance between each house was usually very far in the sparsely populated village," Kim said.
"I realized how valuable the previously banal experience has become after the pandemic. I felt like the stress from my everyday life in Seoul, as well as the pandemic, was going away."
Like Kim, many South Koreans are opting for summer vacation options that can minimize exposure to crowds, such as camping or stays at luxury hotels, popularly called "hocance," as the long-running COVID-19 pandemic brought overseas trips to an abrupt halt and renders vacationers reluctant to visit crowded local tourist destinations.
As this summer's peak vacation season, kicking off in late July, coincides with the country's worst wave of mass coronavirus infections, in particular, many are still canceling or indefinitely postponing vacation plans as fears of COVID-19 transmissions grow.
According to a survey released last week by online recruiting company JobKorea, only 4 out of every 10 office workers here said they were planning to go on a summer vacation.
The rest of them responded they were either undecided or not going on a summer vacation at all, a result that JobKorea said reflects the rampant pandemic.
The country recorded yet another fresh high of over 1,800 daily new coronavirus cases Thursday on the back of the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Health authorities and municipalities remain on high alert over the possibility of the pandemic spreading further during the upcoming peak vacation season when the flow of travelers is expected to increase across the country.
Bracing for a possible hike in inbound tourists, a slew of municipalities earlier this week elevated their social distancing guidelines to the second-highest Level 3, including the southern port city of Busan and the popular resort island of Jeju.
On top of the nationwide ban on private gatherings of more than four people to remain effective till Aug. 1, Busan prohibited nighttime eating and drinking on all of its beaches for two weeks, while Jeju was also tinkering with an option to shut down beaches and parks at night if its ongoing pace of COVID-19 transmission is not curbed in the near future.
In Gangneung, an upper eastern coastal city famous for scenic beaches, the city center and the beaches remained visibly empty late Monday, the first day the city went under the highest social distancing of Level 4 as the first region outside the greater Seoul area to do so.
More than half of the restaurants in the city's busy commercial districts temporarily closed as the city enforced a shutdown of restaurants, cafes and beaches after 8 p.m. for one week, as well as a blanket ban on the operations of bars and other nightlife establishments.
Disheartened by the piling on of social distancing restrictions and COVID-19 infection cases, Lee Min-ju, a 40-year-old freelancer, decided to call off her plan to tour Busan and the nearby southern touristic county of Namhae this summer.
"With the option to go travel abroad entirely unavailable this year, I had no other choice but domestic tours," she said. "But I gave up on that too due to the COVID-19 situation."