On the advice of a friend, I joined a group of adventurous expatriates this weekend on an expedition to get out of the city. While Seoul’s a great place to be, often it can get a little overwhelming, so nature breaks are always welcome. What better place to take a nature break than the famous Seoraksan National Park – one of the best places to visit in Korea right on the Eastern coast.
We decided to book a trip with Seoul Hiking Group, a Facebook group of adventurous people always looking for a new challenge. The booking process was pretty simple and standard for Korea. You sign up on Facebook, send an email with all your details and requests, and transfer money to an account via your bank’s ATM; easy-peasy.
Friday night rolled around and we rushed home from work, packed a few last minute items, and caught the metro into Seoul to meet up with our bus. We met up with a bunch of other expats, as two large charter buses pulled in. Lucky for us, the “easy” hike we picked was the least popular, so we had a lot more room on our bus to spread out. Our bus drove through the night and pulled into the city of Sokcho at about 4AM. Having slept a few hours, we decided to explore the beach and watch the sunrise (and take jumping photos, of course).
With our fill of jumping and exploration, we returned to the bus and slept for a few more hours before being awoken by breakfast. Food in our stomachs the bus drove us the short distance to Seoraksan National Park.
The entrance fee to the park was about 3500 won (which is about 4 Canadian dollars); a very reasonable price to pay for the chance to climb these amazing mountains. Our group of six took a nice easy route to the summit, stopping by several waterfalls along the way. I’d say we spent more time eating and resting, than actually hiking, but it was nice to be out in nature.
I’d declined the 14 hour hike not out of laziness, but out of my previous experiences with Bukhansan. Hiking in Korea is serious business, and there’s no way I’m going to tackle real mountains again without real equipment. Luckily though, the stairs to the top of our summit were easily handled by my bald running shoes.
A full day of “hiking” behind us, we caught our buses and returned to the beach in Sokcho to eat dinner, pitch tents, light fireworks, and socialize before getting a good night’s rest. I’d almost forgotten how much I loved beach camping until I laid down on the sand.
The next morning we packed up our tents, had some breakfast, and with the group rented bikes. The plan was to bike about 50kms from our town, to the North Korean border to see the DMZ.
We started off at an easy pace with the group eventually splitting into two (slower and faster riders). The ride took us through fishing villages, rice fields, pristine beaches, and stunning mountain ranges. I couldn’t imagine taking the other tour option of lying on the beach all day when we were treated to these incredible landscapes.
A few breaks to get ice cream and water, and one long break on the beach to go swimming (only the Canadians, Swedes, and Finns went in the water), and we had arrived at the border. While the original plan was to see the DMZ observatory, there was a problem with our bus driver. Since we had arrived a bit late, he had thrown a fit, refused to drive, kicked us all off the bus, and left us stranded on the beach. Luckily the tour leader was on top of his game. He ordered us a new bus, and we must have only sat on the beach for an hour and a half before a charter bus came rolling by. While we didn’t get to see the DMZ, it was a great end to the trip. The tired troop of bikers all napped on the beach as the sun set behind us.
If you’re interested in doing some hiking, or any outdoor activity of any kind, I recommend checking out Seoul Hiking Group (Facebook, Meetup). The laid back attitude towards the tours was exactly the kind of break I needed from the uptightness of Seoul I deal with day in and day out.