Hiking is a pretty big thing in Korea. You’ll always find groups or individuals (generally of the older persuasion) hiking up mini-mountains with their hiking poles and latest high-tech super fancy threads. Obviously it’s not exclusive to Koreans and if you are a fan of hiking, given the undulating terrain, it really is worth taking a few days out of your trip to go on some hikes.
With the landscape being so many peaks and valleys, all the walks tend to be incredibly steep, ending with a nice plateau where you’ll get a really nice view of your surroundings. I’ve gone on a few hikes while I’ve been here, some involving a large amount of effort to get to the location, others being a 20 minute walk away from my hostel in the middle of Busan.
Starting with my first and most arduous hike we head west from Busan to an island called Saryang-do. To get there I had to take a 2 hour bus to a small town called Tongyeong, then another bus to the port, and then a ferry to the island. After setting off at 7:30 I arrived at the island just before 12. Coffeed up and with a crisp air I went to try and figure out how to start the trail. Thankfully everyone was very helpful and whilst their english skills aren’t perfect (unlike my Korean of course) they know all the key phrases as there is only one real reason you would be on this island as a tourist.
Hopping on a bus to the western side of the island where the trail starts the bus driver kindly let me know when to get off. There were other hikers but it appears they were starting at the halfway mark (amateurs!) but after having climbed through the first hour I don’t blame them. It’s very steep and woody at the beginning so the hike itself isn’t so interesting but if you want the extra exercise go for it.
It was quite fun and never too scary as it is a very well travelled path and you can always find tags from other hiking groups to give you an idea of the direction you should be travelling. It’s always more fun, in the words of Fleetwood Mac, to “go your own way” which in hindsight probably wasn’t the smartest of decisions. For the first half of the hike I didn’t encounter a single other soul. I was hiking alone. I was jumping over loose stones and rocks and climbing up vertical faces of the wall. It was super fun and much more exciting but probably a little dangerous without someone to collect the parts of your body incase you fell to your doom. Fortunately I didn’t fall and all was well.
There are lots of really fun parts to the hike where you’re walking on a ridge (with a rail provided for stability) or if you decide to make your own route, scaling rocky faces and then bum shuffling down the other side. You get some really good panoramas from the top and just some generally awe-inspiring views. Again, as with the Great Wall, the photos really don’t do it any justice. But here are some for a little idea.
On the way back down I bumped into a nice Korean couple, the husband happened to be a professor of Buddhism so he spoke very good english. We had lovely chats about pedagogical approaches and the importance of literacy, moving on to King Sejong and other nice things about travelling. Eventually he said he’d have to leave me as his wife was probably getting bored. He later bumped into me and gave me some ice tea (sweetcorn silk flavour) purely because he assumed I had never tried it and would enjoy it. This was something I encountered a lot on my hiking. The other hikers loved to share their food and drink with you.
Moving back to Busan and my new hostel I decided to take on some more local hiking with a few sights in mind. I went on one with a nice guy from America and another from England who had been living in Australia. The first hike was really nice and with a goal in mind in the form of Seokbul-sa Temple. A small little temple built out of the rock of the mountain. Again the hike was incredibly steep and the directions where all in Korean. We bumped into the Korean Flash who was heading in the same direction and let us tag along. Once we had reached the temple we continued to hike aiming for the peak. Various pit-stops laters after sitting on rocks over large drops and encounters with other hikers feeding us with apples, chocolates, pork and other delights. We realised we probably wouldn’t make it to the top and decided to head back down.
Overall it was really nice just walking around, getting away from the loud city so quickly and being able to hear the wind rush through the tall apartment blocks as well as the trees. The view gave a serene quality to the busy port city. The walk gave the legs a good push. The people left a nice impression with their generosity and kindness. When I get to Japan it looks like I won’t be able to go up many mountains due to weather conditions which is a shame as I’m sure they’re just as beautiful if not more so. Instead I’ll be hitting up a snow-festival, watching some monkeys use onsen, and taking my hand to fruit farming. Should be a laugh!