Seughaksan Busan

Seughaksan Busan

An Adventure Teaching teacher, Alex Mottern went hiking Seughaksan in Busan last week and took some beautiful photos:

“I went hiking to Seughaksan a second time and finally made it to the top! It has beautiful views of Seo-gu (Hadan, Dongdaesin and the island Eulsukdo). There are some lovely flowers up there as well, and the trees seemed to be changing colors perfectly for the day we went. The sun was not out, but was shining though the clouds onto Busan.”

To follow more of Alex’s adventures, check out her Twitter account and travel blog.

DMZ

DMZ

Korean Demilitarized Zone: Korea is the only divided country in the world, and the DMZ is that area between the two Koreas. After the Korean War (June 25 1950 – July 27 1953), South Korea and North Korea established a border that cut the Korean peninsula roughly in half.

Various organizations offer DMZ guided tours.  Itineraries differ, but most tours will take visitors to an observatory, (one of North Korea’s infiltration tunnels,) a military base, and right into Panmunjeom,. This is the Joint Security Area in the middle of the DMZ where negotiations between the two sides are held.

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…from Adventure Teaching

Ulsanbawi

Ulsanbawi

The sound of a megaphone pierces the crisp autumn air as masses of people arrive, and stand around the shopkeeper. The man shouts, “Hot kopi! Hot kopi! 2000 won!” in Konglish, because he saw my group of foreign friends approaching. The sound of the megaphone reproduces his voice in a slightly tinny, distorted fashion, and the sound cuts through the peaceful breeze like a dagger. People are crowding around the shop, buying medals to prove their mettle. They are engaging in commerce on the top of a mountain in Gangwon-do. We are on Ulsanbawi Rock. Commerce is inescapable in Korea, even on the peak of one of Seoraksan’s most famous hikes.

We decline the offer of coffee, but the man still wants to help us. “Sajin,” the man says in Korean before quickly correcting himself. “I will take your picture.” At that point, we wonder how much he will charge for this service.

If you are an experienced hiker and you’ve not experienced a Korean hike yet, prepare to have your mind blown. Trails are meticulously kept, hordes of people march the trails like cattle, and there are plenty of stops for pajeon (a type of Korean pancake)and maekgoelli (an unfiltered rice wine), two favorites of Korean hikers. Koreans take to the trail in such volumes that stops as these are not only commercially viable, but a part of the Korean hiking experience. For purists and Western hikers used to open spaces and no people ahead or behind them, watch out for culture shock, or perhaps cultural frustration.

And yet, nowhere in Korea are the native people so friendly. Koreans are at their finest when sporting hiking boots and backpacks. They trade the trademark glum urban scowl and conservative clothing for warm smiles to compliment the cool weather, and colorful hiking apparel. Occasionally they will greet foreigners warmly, in English. Gone are the pointy elbows and “strong-willed” shoulders that can make walking in Seoul so unpleasant.

And no amount of commerce can hide the fact that Seoraksan offers some of the nation’s most beautiful scenery. Visiting the mountain in fall is an extra-special treat. Seoraksan’s diverse variety of trees promises a multicolored journey to the top of the mountain. The fall foliage burns red and orange like aerated cinders, and deciduous trees envelope the sides of the mountains until they give way to evergreens, which paint the canvas an entirely new shade of green. As you trek through the forest, you’ll hear the wind bouncing off the naked rock past the tree line. Up top, the jagged mountainous peaks prod out of the slight haze with vigor and determination, looking majestic.

Although Korea is relentlessly commercial today, the Ulsanbawi trek offers several reminders of the historical role Buddhism has played in the country’s development. No one can miss the gigantic Buddha on the way to the trail, but many will miss the humble temple housed below it. Right by the legendary Heundeulbawi Rock, a teetering rock that cannot be pushed over, is a small hermitage built in 652 by Jajang, a Buddhist monk who used the spot to practice asceticism in Seoraksan’s mountainous splendor.

Flash-forward to now: the shopkeeper is offering to take our picture, and we’re unsure whether he’s planning on charging us. We did turn down the coffee, after all. Nonetheless, Sarah offers her camera to the man and he takes our picture, free of charge. It is true that the scenery of Seoraksan is staggering, breathtakingly beautiful, but with all the hustle and bustle of the trail, it’s hard to call it a contemplative, meditative experience. But thankfully, those who are looking for a quieter, more thoughtful experience are in for a surprise.

The next morning, we woke up to trek the Heulimgol Valley course, a course that has been closed for 20 years due to extreme flooding. Finally open to the public once again, this trail offers the beautiful scenery of Seoraksan Mountains with the quiet, gentle splendor of an uninhabited trail. About 25 people went in our group, and not one of us said a word for the first half hour, instead choosing to take in the scenery completely as we hiked slowly up padded metal stairs.

Upon reaching the top of some peak, we had a full scale view of two valleys. The Heulimgol Valley sat behind us, and on the other side, the Jujeonggul Valley stretched forward, revealing its natural treasures. Both sides were painted with gold, orange, red, and brown leaves. In the distance, barbed, craggy mountains reached in desperation for blue skies. The cold morning wind whipped our sweat-laced backs and necks. There was not one person in front of our group, nor was there one person behind. At that moment, we had escaped from the endless commercialism of Korean culture, and it was just the wilderness and us. Finally, that familiar feeling of union with nature was possible.

Written by: Phillip Ruane, Guri-si, Gyeonggi-Do, Korea

Photography by: Sarah Gray, Guri-si Gyeonggi-Do, Korea

How to get there: I recommend the trip with Adventure Korea as they are affordable and go on both hikes. You can also take the express bus to Osaek Hot Springs. For information on Osaek Hot Springs, click here.

When to go: For beautiful fall foliage, go to Ulsanbawi,Seoraksan as soon as possible.

…brought to you by Adventure Teaching 

 

Sinsa dong

Sinsa dong

Need a little break from Korean culture? Go to Paris!

Paris in Korea, that is. Pull out your beret, brush up on your French, and head to Garosu-gil street in Sinsa dong.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself – nobody there speaks French and the bakeries aren’t filled with baguettes, but this lovely little street definitely takes you out of Korea and leaves you with the lingering feeling that you could just as well be walking through a city in Europe.

We spent the afternoon strolling up and down Garosu-gil (which literally means “tree-lined street”) in Sinsa-Dong last weekend. Although it’s only about a kilometer long, it feels like a touch of Europe in Korea, and is filled with European-style cafes, pubs, and restaurants. We ate a delicious lunch at Casa Bonita, a little Italian restaurant that veers off of the main street, but there were so many quaint, inviting restaurants and cafes to choose from, we wanted to to try them all. And there are endless coffee shops – mega coffee shops in Japanese style, European looking coffee shops with beautiful verandas, bohemian coffee shops where you can relax for the afternoon with a good book – rest assured that you will find a coffee shop that suites your needs!

Sinsa dong is also a haven for shoppers. There are boutiques selling clothing, jewelry, bags, and accessories of all kinds, as well as a few very cool vintage shops. And if you want to browse for arts and crafts, this little street is filled with trendy art and stationary stores.  Things are a bit on the pricier side at a lot of the shops, but the quality is good and the style is unique.

 

This hip little street is also a hot-spot for a chilled night on the town. It’s definitely a great place to get a nice dinner and some good drinks (perfect first date destination), and there are a few joints that have live music. There’s a jazz club called “Crazy Horse” with the smallest entrance door I’ve ever seen! It’s worth checking out just to go through the door!

All in all, Garosu-gil street in Sinsa-Dong is a great spot to hit up if you’re looking to take a time-out from Korea and soak up some European culture – and it’s a lot cheaper than a flight to Paris!

  • How To Get There: Garosu-gil street in Sinsa-Dong is an 800m walk (about 15 minutes) from Exit #8, Sinsa Station, Subway Line 3. When you reach the tallest building on the street (you’ll know what it is because it’s much taller than all the rest!) turn left and you’ll be on Garosu-gil street! If you’re taking a cab, make sure to indicate to the driver that it is Sinsa-Dong in Gangnam-gu, since there are a few different places called Sinsa-Dong in Seoul!
  • Contact Info: For more information on Sinsa-Dong, click here.

…brought to you by  Adventure Teaching

 

Hiking Korea: Mt. Pyeongnae

After a long night of partying in Seoul, I woke up at the crack of dawn (12:30pm) to the sound of incessant ringing. It was Daniel and Phil: turns out, it was a beautiful day, and they wanted to hike. Instead of sitting in bed massaging my throbbing head, I decided to get out of my apartment and give it a shot. I have been in Korea for 3 months, and that’s been more than enough time to discover that Koreans love hiking. It is impossible to miss the hordes of middle aged men, decked out in the latest hiking gear from head to foot, backpack and ski pole walking stick in tow, returning from a day of hiking on the metro. But I’m from the glorious, mountain-rich Pacific Northwest and I get a bit snobby when it comes to hiking, skiing, and mountains.  I spent the last 4 years going to college in the Northeast United States making fun of their mountains.  While the Northeast has a few nice mountains that provide some decent skiing, I think they are better classified as hills when compared to the Western United States’.  So after moving to Korea, it didn’t take me long to start turning my nose up at the Korean mountains.  But I looked out my window; indeed it was a beautiful day.  I decided to put my prejudice aside and join them: a little fresh air goes a long way in vanquishing a hangover.  Worst case scenario, I vomit on the trail.

The trailhead to Mt. Pyeongnae was literally five minutes from my doorstep.  This is, in and of itself, representative of how accessible hiking in Korea is.  Turns out all of the hikers we’ve seen on and around the mountains are actually going directly to mountains.  It’s one of many staggering contrasts between Korea and the Pacific Northwest.  In the Northwest, I have to take a 3 hour car trip from Seattle to get to the good mountains (and make sure the four-wheel drive is working to handle the poorly maintained gravel roads near the trailhead).  There are a few trails much closer to Seattle, but the point still stands: taking the metro to the mountains is amazingly convenient and unique.

As the trail wound its way up the mountain it switched between mud and ice as it moved in and out of the sun.  I didn’t expect an actual steep hiking trail — I guess my Northwest mountain hubris got the better of me.  But I managed to make it to the peak without falling into the mud even though at one point we chose the steeper path when the trail forked.  While pulling ourselves up the last part with a rope tied to a tree, a Korean couple walked past us using walking sticks and wearing crampons.  They fired off a few rapid-fire Korean sentences, which were incomprehensible, but I assumed by their pointing that they were advising us to use the other path on the way down.  Looking down at my worn sneakers, I wholeheartedly agreed.

Rope-assent successfully completed, we continued up the ice and mud path to the summit.  As we walked we constantly passed small groups of Korean hikers.  Every last one of them was decked out, from head to foot, in hundreds of dollars worth of hiking equipment.  In my experience, a hiking outfit means basketball shorts, an old t-shirt, and a baseball cap.  But apparently in Korea looking the part is just as important as the hiking itself.  As countless Koreans walked passed us in their hiking uniforms I couldn’t help but think how silly we must have looked in our outfits.  Daniel was wearing a hoodie and shin length cotton shorts (but at least he had real hiking boots).  I looked the worst, wearing jeans, a hoodie, and old tennis shoes.  And Phil was wearing what would be considered a hiking outfit in the States: pants / zip off shorts and an athletic t-shirt.  But it was Phil’s footwear that really caught the Korean’s eyes.  The Koreans, clearly into the latest hiking gear, could not get enough of Phil’s toe hiking shoes.  Multiple groups of Koreans stopped and ooed and ahhed as Phil wiggled his toes in the air.

After about two or three kilometers, we reached the summit of Mt. Pyeongnae.  A two-story gazebo stood at the top of the mountain, rewarding victorious hikers a 360 degree view of the beautiful Korean countryside.  The view included several nearby“peaks,” Pyeongnae-dong, my humble home, and the neighboring administrative districts of Namyangju.  Standing on a man-made structure gazing out over towns that were built within the last decade isn’t exactly what I’m used to when I go hiking.  While it was nice to walk through the trees and briefly escape the city, I never really felt like I was fully out in nature; I could always see something manmade.  I got the feeling that the Koreans don’t really mind this: I saw one Korean man charging up the mountain, headphones in, phone out, watching TV.  A baffling sight for a nature enthusiast, but as my high school  French teacher used to tell us: Ce n’est pas bizarre, c’est different.

In addition to seeing civilization, civilization was brought to us in another form: vendors.  Phil told me as we neared the summit: “If there isn’t a shop on the trail then you’re probably not on a trail.”  And lo and behold there was a vendor at the base of the gazebo structure offering us a cold bowl of makgeolli for 1000 won.  Ce n’est pas bizarre, c’est different.  Without a moment’s pause we jumped on the offer.  Who cares if we had been drinking the entire night before? It’s a cultural experience!  So we each grabbed a bowl and headed up to the second floor of the wooden gazebo.  But we were not left in peace to enjoy the view.  It turns out three young white guys at the top of a relatively obscure mountain in Korea pass as rock stars.  Beore we even sat down, a group Korean men (who turned out to be ex Korean Black Berets) were taking pictures of us.  One of them crossed over and posed for a picture with us.  When we were finished with our first bowl of makgeolli they brought us refills and gave us Korean hiking snacks (that complimented makgeolli very well).  It didn’t take long for them to get comfortable and treat us like one of the guys.  After a few minutes of talking (and a few bowls of makgeolli) we were the objects of jokes involving nipple pinching.  Next, one guy started gyrating his hips and using the makgeolli bottle as a prop (I’ll let you use your imagination for where he held it).  We had transformed the top of the mountain into our personal bar!  But when a woman walked up and sat on the bench beside us the men immediately shaped up.  Pretty soon the woman started asking us questions too, although she didn’t follow them with sexual jokes.  Instead she offered us some coffee — I think she was worried about us making it back down the mountain.  After about an hour of basking in pseudo-fame, we took one more look around and headed back down the trail for Pyeongnae.

Heading into the day with an open mind and no expectations, I was more than happy with Korean hiking.  Nothing was what I expected.  The trails were steeper; the summit was more built up than any peak I have summited; makgeolli was sold at the top; and although different from the majestic mountains of the North Cascades, the views were breathtaking in their own right. It was one of the most unique days of hiking I have ever had and I look forward to seeing what other hikes Korea has to offer.  The season is just starting, after all.

Nick Hamilton

  • How to get there: Pyeongnae Mountain is one of a couple of trails in Pyeongnae-Dong.  The best way to get there is by the new Gyeongchun line to Pyeongnae-Hopyeong Station.
  • Cost: The subway ticket should be less than 2,000 won.  You might want to wear some proper hiking gear though.

…brought to you by the Adventure Teaching Korea team…

 

Yongin fountain

Yongin fountain: Cooling off

Korea has hot, sometimes unbearable, summers, and since the country is so densely populated, swimming pools are few and far between to cater to all citizens. Something that is very popular and effective though, is the in-ground fountain, such as the Yongin fountain.

You rarely notice them until they are switched on, which happens a few hours each day. They’re fun, free and work to cool off everybody. They also bring a beautiful visual aspect to the area. I mean, who doesn’t love a great fountain? Here are a few of our favorite shots from the Yongin fountain (just south of Seoul). Send us your photos – [email protected] – we’d love to see!

…brought to you by Adventure Teaching

 

Namdaemun Market, Seoul

Namdaemun

Seoul is full of beautiful markets with a huge range of products sold – shoes, bags, clothes, hats, sunglasses, candy, fruit, vegetables, fish, meat. The list goes on.

One of our favorite markets in Namdaemun – it’s a great location (just one stop from Seoul Station or Myeong-dong) and is a great spot for people watching! Here are a few of our favorite photos from the market:

Namdaemun Market4

Namdaemun Market5

Namdaemun Market6

Namdaemun Market7

Namdaemun Market

Namdaemun Market2

Namdaemun Market3

To get to Namdaemun, take the light blue line (#4) to Hoehyeon and use exit 5. Take a right out of the exit and you’re headed right into the market! Enjoy.

…brought to you by the Adventure Teaching Korea team…

Ganghwa Island

Gangwa Island: An island off the northern west coast

Summer has arrived and here’s a little adventure that is truly off the beaten path.

A couple of weeks ago, a group of us girls were looking for a little weekend getaway to enjoy some warm weather and green scenery. After a little research, we headed to Ganghwa-do, an island off the northern west coast. I went there a couple of years ago with my Korean friend’s hiking club to climb Mani San (the famous mountain on the island) and had vague memories of an ocean view, quiet farmland, and wishing I had better hiking shoes to climb the seriously rocky (and also seriously beautiful) paths up the mountain.

So we headed out on a Saturday morning from Sincheon Express Bus Terminal. The bus to Ganghwa-do leaves every hour, so we caught the 9:20am and were on the island a little after 11. We were greeted by a little Korean man from the pension we had booked rooms at (Dangmakvill Pension), and after throwing our backpacks in his car, we were driven to a cute little wood pension tucked in front of the mountain and a 5 minute walk from the seaside. The excitement from the fresh air, quiet roads, and serene ocean views were almost to much to handle!

We spent the afternoon strolling along the ocean, watching the tide come rolling in, and then watching it slowly move back to reveal stretches of glistening mud flats underneath. The little town along the ocean front was only a 15 minute walk from our pension, so we took the opportunity to enjoy a view of the sea while eating delicious sashima (raw fish) — it can’t get much fresher when it’s right by the ocean — and drinking magkeoli. And then we topped the evening off with the local noraebong! We woke the next morning and squeezed in a little hike before heading home in the afternoon.

Ganghwa-do is only an hour and a half from Seoul, so if you’re looking to get out of the city for a day or a weekend, it’s a great place to go. With mountains to hike, anocean to gaze at, freshfish to eat, and quiet rolling farmland to rejuvenate your spirit, it’s the perfect trip to get some space and take a break from the hectic pace of Seoul.

Dongmakvill Pension (016-286-8042) cost 120,000 a night for the 5 of us in one room. It was a great place to stay, and even has a pool in front that opens in the summer. There are a lot of pensions in the town and along the ocean, so you could probably just go and find one when you get there. Another popular place is Sea and Gallery “Sea & Gallery” (032- 937-0416). Most places there don’t seem to have someone who speaks good English, so if you’re booking before-hand, it’s probably best to have a Korean call for you.

With the weather warming up, and our pale skin itching for some sun, Ganghwa-do is the perfect place to add to your list of ‘Korean Summer Must-Dos.”

  • How To Get There: Buses to Ganghwa Island leave from Seoul’s Sinchon Bus Terminal, reached via Exit 7 of Sinchon Station, Line 2. The trip to Ganghwa Town takes about an hour and 10 minutes. From Ganghwa Terminal, you can take local buses to destinations throughout the island.
  • Info: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=943519

…brought to you by the Adventure Teaching Korea team…

Muui-do

Muuido: : The Island With It All

 

A little south of Ganghwa-do is an island called Muui-do that should be on everyone’s ‘Korean Summer To-Do’ list.

Muui-do, like Ganghwa-do, is an island that can be reached within a couple hours from Seoul.

From Incheon airport,  you can take a bus to the ferry, and then the very short ferry ride to the island. From there, a bus can take you to either Hanagae or Silmido beach. A big group of us spent a few days at Hanagae Beach last fall during Chuseok and had what was without a doubt one of the most memorable vacations we’ve taken in Korea. We strolled up to the beach with no expectations and found ourselves staring at a beautiful ocean view, waves smashing against scenic rock formations, a smooth sandy beach for us to dig our toes into, and rows of little huts lining the beach for us to sleep in.

 

One of the things that makes Muui-do such a unique place is the impressive mud flats you wake up to every morning. As we opened the door to our hut after a good night sleep on heated floors (bonus!), we fixed our gaze on the miles of mud flats that shimmered under the sun. Everyone took the opportunity to walk out into the mud, looking at the little crabs duck away into their holes and the wonders of what lies on the muddy ocean floor. In the afternoon, the tide comes back in, and you can swim or just lie on the beach and watch the waves crashing into the sand and the sun dip into the horizon.

We spent our days exploring on the rocks, gathering sticks in the woods to make a fire at night, eating fresh seafood at the little restaurant along the beach, and even managed to do some horse back riding and 4-wheeling! The set of the Korean TV drama, Stairway to Heaven, is still located there at Muui-do and when the tide is out, you can actually walk to Silmido Island, where the movie Silmido was filmed. Muui-do has it all!

Muui-do is a great place to spend a weekend out of the city. If you’re going on a holiday, I recommend getting there early in the day so that you can make sure to get one of the huts on the beach. Those little huts are what makes Muui-do so memorable! They cost 40,000Won per night. The only place to get groceries or supplies is a small shop next to the beach, so it’s not a bad idea to try to pack some food and snacks. In the summer, you can use a public shower for just a few won. Or you can rough it and not shower all weekend like we did!

 

Get a group together, pack your swimsuit, and hop on over to Muui-do!

  • How To Get There: From Dong-Incheon station (Seoul Subway Line 1) or Incheon Airport (F3 Platform No. 3,9), take city bus No. 306 bound for Eurwang-ri and get off at Geojampo. Walk 10 min to Jamjinnaru Ferry Terminal, Yeongjongdo Island. (4 minute, 1,000 won) Get off at Muui-do . Take the village bus and get off at Hanagae beach or Silmi-do beach.
  • Info: http://eng.icjg.go.kr/menu03/island_04.asp#

…brought to you by the Adventure Teaching Korea team…