Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hiking and surfing in South Korea

During Korea's equivalent to Thanksgiving (Chuseok) I was able to spend my time up north in the Gangwon-do province, home to one of the country's favourite mountain ranges and also home to one of the very few surf beaches in the country.

Seoraksan National Park is famous for its hiking trails and its variety of flora. It is especially popular during Autumn as the beauty of the place just gets amplified as the leaves start to turn red and orange. This park is also home to the 3rd highest peak in Korea, Daechongbong, which is 1,708 metres tall.

Myself and a group of friends decided to do a three day, two night hiking and camping trip through the mountain ranges here. My excitement was a mix of knowing the scenery would be amazing and also this was my first time doing something like this. A couple of people in the group were quite experienced hikers and they did admit that this was one of the toughest hikes they had done yet. There was a lot of up-hill battling involved and while you're hating the strain it had on your body at the time, it was all worth it once you reached certain peaks along the way. As we got higher the surrounding views just got more breathtaking, and the higher you climbed the number of autumn-coloured leaves increased as well. We all couldn't stop saying how amazing/wonderful/beautiful everything was every five to ten minutes; so many ooh's and aah's along the exaggeration! This has got to be one of the most beautiful places I've been to  in Korea. It was also refreshing  and such a nice change from the concrete jungle most people know Korea to be.

There are many, many trails that this park offers whether you just want to do a day hike or do something like what we did and stay there for a few nights. If you are going to do just a day hike I would highly recommend doing the Ulsanbawi Trail. This trail is a challenging one but definitely worth the effort. Not only does the peak offer amazing views but the rock formations that this trail has is something extraordinary. Once you reach the peak there is a man there who sells hot chocolate or coffee if you planned to stay up there for a little while. There is a bit of chill at this peak so if you can I would bring something warm to wear once you get up there.

Hiking up to Ulsanbawi (photo compliments to Kat Yetka)

Ulsanbawi Rock

Many valleys and waterfalls along the hike.

Along all the trails there are shelters where there are bathrooms (as in long drops), a place to rest and sometimes a place to set up camp. They also have a tiny convenience store but it is only limited to mainly water, canned coffee and noodle packets. Note that they don't offer hot water so the noodle packets are best if you did bring your own cooking utensils. Also, no ATMs so cash only and make sure to bring your own toilet paper!

The colours changing

The gang at our first nights campsite. (Photo compliments to Kat Yetka)

Temple in the sky. Buddhist temple that gave us a free dinner.

View from Gueggangul. (Photo compliments to Kat Yetka)

View of Sokcho from Ulsanbawi

At Daechongbong Peak. (Photo compliments to Kat Yetka)

We ended our hike at the Osaek entrance as this was the best access point to get to Dongsan beach, one of the very few surf beaches that South Korea has to offer. This is in the town of Yangyang, which is also known as the 38th parallel. Dongsan beach has waves that are perfect for beginners or those that are wanting a bit more practice. While I never made my way to the 38th parallel, I was told that these waves were slightly bigger if this is what you were looking for.

There are a couple of surf shops that line the beach but the one I decided to rent from was called 911 Surf. This shop offered slightly cheaper rental cost, which was 25,000 won a day for a surfboard and wetsuit. With the boards he gave you the options between a foam or hard board, as well as whether you wanted a long or short board.  In terms of accommodation, this shop and the other one down the road had a guest house attached to it but there are also pensions you can rent from or for the cheap option a jjimjilbang not too far away, which is what I ended up doing. Or else, you are welcome to camp on the beach if you have the gear.

Unfortunately, I only found this place as the summer was ending but I know for sure that once the weather starts warming up again I'll be spending some of weekends up here.

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