November 30, 2010

Hiking in Korea

As I have mentioned before, hiking is one of the most popular Korean pastimes. Before arriving in Korea I had no idea how mountainous the country was, especially how many mountains were surrounding the city of Seoul. Now being here, I see a mountain everyday of my Korean life, go figure Koreans would love hiking. (I did not take this picture of Seoul, I wish.)
In my first three months here I have ventured to two of Seoul's top mountains. I went on a trip to Mt. Bukhansan in the north with my American friends for a Saturday hike. I also went on a Bugok Middle School teachers trip to Mt. Bugaksan, closer to the center of Seoul. One of the best things about these mountains is that they are accessible to the mass public via the Seoul Subway system.

My trip to Mt. Bukhansan was a blast. A large group of us decided to make our way to one of the largest and hardest hiking mountains in Korea. We got off the subway in a sleepy Korean town that had no signs or directions to the base of the mountain. We decided to follow a older Korean couple decked out in hiking gear down some back alleys and dirt roads (and saw some beautiful fall foliage).
After 30 minutes of wondering around we found our selves at the base of a mountain. There was a map in Korean and we had no idea how difficult or how long the trails were. We decided to just go right and see where it lead us. We ran into an awesome Buddhist temple and some amazing views. The hiking was more challenging than most of us expected; however, we learned later that we did not even come anywhere close to the peak. I guess I am going to have to come back in the spring and fully conquer Mt. Bukhansan.
As I mentioned before, my next Korean hiking experience took place at Mt. Bugaksan on a teacher field trip. 20-30 teachers from my middle school took a coach bus from our school to the base of the mountain on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon. None of the other English teachers signed up, so I was the only English speaker on the trip. It was a little intimidating at first, but all the teachers opened up and were so sweet to me the whole day.
Mt. Bugaksan is a newly opened mountain (2008) because of its proximity to the Blue House. The Blue House is the Korean White House, where the President of Korea lives during his presidency.
Because of the close proximity to the Blue House Korean's need to show a Korean ID and foriegners need to show their passport or ARC card to enter the Mt. Bugaksan area. You fill out a quick form, they run your numbers, and then if you are cleared you must read the mountains directions and sign. For the rest of the time you are hiking you have to wear a tag around your neck. You can only take pictures at certain points and you can not veer off the designated path. The mountain is under high military watch at all times. There are soldiers with huge guns patrolling along you as you are hiking. If they see someone take a picture when it is not allowed they will make you deleted it off your camera. Serious security.
Beyond the high security, it is a beautiful hike along the old Seoul fortress built in 1396.
During the hike, I bonded with my Principal and VP through Korean skinship (hand holding) and giggling. After the two hour hike, our group ate dinner at a new by restaurant that I was told was famous all over Seoul for its Mandu.
With two great Korean hiking trips under my belt, I think I am ready to hit up some more mountains in the spring including Seoraksan National Park.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. You are making us want to come visit:) MK &Jim