Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cycling from Seoul to Busan: Day 3

I just returned from a bike trip from Incheon to Busan last week. It was fabulous. It was easy to navigate, beautiful and a fantastic week spent in Korea with a couple of friends. Over the next week, I am going to blog about the daily logistics of my trip in hopes that you can learn a little and start planning your own adventure.

I also recommend checking out BikeToursDirect for guided bike tours in Korea. 

Day 3: Angseong --> Mungyeong (104 km/64 miles)

After a long sleep, we woke up to our first blue sky of the trip. We received word that circumstances that could end our trip early had improved, so we could keep cycling. This was lucky for us because day 3 was one of the most beautiful of the entire trip. We quickly and giddily pedaled into Chungju along some lovely river path and arrived at the certification center before 9AM thrilled with the beginning of our day. From there we met up with the Saejae Bike Path and headed into some of the most rustic parts of the trail. Outside of Chungju there is still some bike path construction going on. Once through that, you cycle along beautiful, desolate roads past rice fields, up mountains and through spa towns. We felt that this section could be the best part of the journey, even with some bike malfunctions.

The path from Angseong to Chungju was surprisingly lovely.
Bike Path: For most of this stretch you are on the roads. But do not to fear. Most roads are empty and the motorists we encountered seemed very aware of cyclists. The towns you cycle through: Chungju, Suanbo, Mungyeong are all worthy towns to stop in and spend some time. You will also encounter your biggest, but most rewarding climb in Ihwaryeong (이화령) a 5km climb. The ride down was exhilarating and the ice cream at the top is well worth the effort.  

What goes up, must go down. Look forward to your ride on Ihwaryeong. Beer or ice cream at the top! Screaming descent after.
Highlights: The path is fantastic(once past Chungju), the towns are friendly and there are plenty of places to stop. We spent a lot of time in Suanbo around lunchtime. I ate a delicious bowl of bibimbap, had a nice coffee at one of the resort hotels and soaked my feet in public hot spring in the town square. Need I say more? 

Suanbo is a tiny spa town with a public hot spring in the middle of town. Stop here for food, coffee and a foot soak.
Sleeping: We camped along the river between the Munagyeong Buljeong Station Certification Center and Sangpung Bridge Certification Center. Our tent was just off a public golf course. The golfers seemed unfazed by our tent and even greeted us with smiles at 6:30 in the morning. 

Again, camping was a breeze. Found a nice spot along the river, next to a golf course.
Quick tips: 

-We had some bike issues we weren't equipped for and found ourselves spending lots of time in Suanbo trying to find a bike mechanic. He was out of town, but the motorcycle mechanic gave us a hand. There are two tourist information booths in Suanbo that will point you in the right direction. One of the workers even helped us with translation. Try to work out issues in Chungju in case the Suanbo mechanic isn't there. Also, there weren't any obvious shops until we got to Gumi way down the path. 

-After coming down from Ihwaryeong you'll come into the first part of Mungyeong and there will be plenty of hotels and restaurants. If we had not planned on camping this night, this would have been a nice stop. There was also an outdoor climbing wall here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bigeumdo

We've been going to Bigeumdo for a while now and never seem to tire of it. Surprisingly, for us, it has rarely been an easy trip there or back, but once you get to the island it all feels worth the effort. To be clear, it isn't a place where you go for a beach scene or parties(unless you throw your own) or to meet foreigners. It's an island that you go to for island seclusion or to peer into regular farm life on a Korean island or to see amazing sunsets. 
The Heart-shape beach is a wonderful place to spend the evening. 
We easily spend two days here of doing almost nothing but hanging out on the beach or taking drives around the island. It's worth bringing a bike or a book or a group of friends to keep yourself entertained here. I can't sit still on the beach so I've spent hours playing soccer with friends, going for runs or taking bike rides around the island. All of those things are perfect on Bigeumdo.

Biking on the island was a treat. Few cars, decent roads and fun climbs along the coast.

There is almost no current and tiny waves. Perfect water for our little swimmer.
So if you are looking to escape the crowds of Haeundae Beach or just the craziness of your town; take a trip to Bigeumdo this fall. You'll be hanging with the local farmers and feel like you have your own private beach.

Quick Tips:

Getting There: Getting there should be easy, but we've always made it hard on ourselves. There is a cheap(less than 10,000 won) 7AM, 1PM and 3:00 ferry(2 hrs) that we always take to max out our time on the island. The next cheap one isn't until 1. If you are flexible and don't mind spending money(about 15-20,000 won) there is a 7:50AM, 8:10, 1 and 4 PM ferry that gets you there in half the time(50 mins) of the cheap one.


Timetable for the fast and more expensive ferry.

Taxis are usually waiting at the ferry terminal and there is also an infrequent bus. If you are looking for the big beach with windmills ask to go to 원평해수욕장 (Wonpyeong Beach). If you want the heartshape beach ask for 하누넘해수욕장 (Hanuneom Beach). Both are lovely.

Places to stay: We've camped and stayed in a minbak on Wonpyeong Beach and both have been great experiences. If you have a tent, take it. For us with small child and July weather the pension was more convenient.  Check out this link for more places. I also found a

바닷가펜션(Beach Pension) 261.0001/017.631.1258 in high season it costs about 100,000 a night and has a kitchen. Do yourself a favor and order some of the owners kimchi jjigae. Amazing. 

These days you can rent a platform for your tent, otherwise find a dry place and camp.

Though I've never stayed here, this looked like a fun, traditional place to stay Just 100 meters from a secluded beach.

Things to do: Hire a taxi to drive you around, bring your bike, drink, lounge, play, be. We've done them all and they've been worth it. The people on Biguemdo are lovely.


Sunset on Bigeumdo is one of life's great joys. So peaceful and beautiful.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cycling from Seoul to Busan: Day 2

I just returned from a bike trip from Incheon to Busan yesterday. It was fabulous. It was easy to navigate, beautiful and a fantastic week spent in Korea with a couple of friends. Over the next week, I am going to blog about the daily logistics of my trip in hopes that you can learn a little and start planning your own adventure.

I also recommend checking out BikeToursDirect for guided bike tours in Korea. 


Day 2: East Seoul --> Angseong (107 km/66 miles)


We woke up early in our tent on the edge of a soccer field while the groundskeeper worked around us. It was a beautifully, cool, gray day and we were ready to cycle. The night before had been a bit of a bummer after getting denied at full campground. We set up camp late, without water and no store in sight. We eventually found everything we needed (after cycling a bit into town) and fell into a restless sleep. The dawn of a new day felt glorious and all we had to do today was cycle.


Bike Path: We started right in between Seoul and Hanam where you start to leave the crazy streets of the city behind. The river gets wide, the path gets quiet and the coffee shops and rest stops get more infrequent (though there are still some cool cafes along the way). You go through several tunnels and stay relatively flat as you do along the Ara and in Seoul. There are some road sections on this section, but they are relatively quiet.

Highlights: Going through Hanam and Yangpyeong really are beautiful semi-urban sections along the Nakdong. You go along old railroad path, past lots of cool cafes and can even stop in at the art museum in Yangpyeong. The art tunnels along the way also lift the spirits. The lights and music and work put into these tunnels give you the feeling that Korea is really interested in keeping these trails maintained.


Sleeping: For 60,000 won we stayed in the UN Motel in Angseong, but there are other (probably cheaper) options in town. I've stopped for duck soup in Angseong before and had a nice meal and experience. It's a small spa town with plenty of restaurants. We went searching for food around 8 and found most places to be closing. On this night, too, there was an absence of the Korean hospitality I've grown accustomed to. However, the staff at the UN made up for that the next morning when they sent us off with a complimentary coffee and a candy bar.


Quick Tips:

-If you are planning to stay on the outskirts of Seoul make sure you are stocked up on water or any camping supply you need. There is about 20km of desolate trail just outside the city before you get to Hanam. Best to stop at a shop while it's convenient.

-After Angseong the next big city is Chungju. That was our goal that day, but 107 km was all we could manage on our second day of cycling. Chungju is a short 25km from Angseong, but was just a little too far for us that night. If you are staying in hotels, Angseong is the last easy stop until Chungju.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mokpo

We spent the first week in August traveling around our old home province, Jeollanamdo. This is the first of several blogs about our second "Korea Without a Care" trip.

The Mokpo that I know well is a very small part of the city. But it must be the most potent pocket of this funky little town. It is at times, my favorite little corner of Korea and at others, the most frustrating.


It's the small corner in between the base of Yudal Mountain and the International Ferry Terminal. Every time I go to Mokpo, it's to head out to the islands, but I usually spend a night there just to get a little bit of the city in my system. Once, my wife and I went to Mokpo just to hang out around this area and had a great time. It's dirty, loud and generally unkind. It's the kind of place where you might see an old lady punching a young man to run him off or get yelled at by a drunk passer-by. 


But I still think of Mokpo with lots of nostalgia. Even when my waitress, visibly annoyed with my presence, brings me a side dish of pickled garlic with the longest, blackest hair laid across it; or when the ferry terminal ticket saleswomen has no interest in selling me a ticket, I still wonder when I'll be able to return to that magical place.

It's a city in Korea that just doesn't give a damn, and that forces you to have some kind of reaction. Sometimes it's love, sometimes it's distaste. But it's never indifference.




Still interested? Check out this page about Mokpo for things to do!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cycling from Seoul to Busan: Day 1

I just returned from a bike trip from Incheon to Busan yesterday. It was fabulous. It was easy to navigate, beautiful and a fantastic week spent in Korea with a couple of friends. Over the next week, I am going to blog about the daily logistics of my trip in hopes that you can learn a little and start planning your own adventure.

I also recommend checking out BikeToursDirect for guided bike tours in Korea. 


Day 1: Ara West Sea Lock-->East Seoul (63km/39 miles)  

The Ara Bike Path is a nice path without much to see. A flat cruiser.

Our first day began around noon after a train ride from Daegu. We didn't have any firm plans about our days other than get as far as we could without overdoing it. We took long breaks, stopped for meals and usually had camp set up by 7PM. We ran into groups doing our trip in half the time. Cranking it out wasn't our goal. Here are some quick facts about day 1.

Getting there: From Daegu we took the slow train (Mungunghwa-무궁화) to Seoul Station (about a 4 hour trip). From Seoul Station take the Airport Link Rail (every stop not the express) to Geomam Station (검암역). Exit Geomam Station take a left and then another left at the next light to get to the Ara Bike Path. To get to the beginning and the first certification center, take a left on the path and cycle for about 6-7 kms to the certification center at Ara West Sea Lock.

Not always recommended, but the slow train has been fine the 3 times I have taken my bike on board. Buses are always okay unless there is too much luggage underneath. This is probably never a problem unless you are going to an airport, but generally there is little luggage to compete with.

Highlights: On our first day of cycling the thing that really stood out to me was the great recreational space on the banks of the Han River in Seoul. I found this so impressive that I am planning on taking a day with my son and wife and bike down the river. It's crowded for good reason. There are coffee shops, water parks, playgrounds, campgrounds and vendors all through Seoul. You could easily spend a fun day pedaling the banks of the Han.

Bike shops: I imagine that there are bike shops at almost any given exit from the river but we coincidentally got off at a biker's Mecca just past Olympic Stadium in Gadonggu (강동구)  on Chunjungro (천중로) less than a kilometer off the path. There were shops that harkened Ferrari showrooms with high-end bikes majestically placed in display cases. There are also helpful mechanics if you are in need of repair for your bike. One mechanic spent about 15 minutes with my buddy's bike, fixed it and didn't charge him a dime. There is also a cute boutique hotel right on the corner as soon as you come out of the tunnel off the river on this street if you're going the hotel route.

It was gray when we rode on the Han, but people were still out enjoying all of the parks along the way.
Sleeping: We alternated between camping and hotels on our trip. I thought that getting a hotel in the cities would be the way to go, but in Daegu and Busan this proved to be the biggest headache. In Seoul, we went out of our way to find a designated campground called Gangdong Greenway Family Campground. When we arrived, they were full and not willing to set us up anywhere(you're supposed to reserve a spot online). We retreated back to the river, found a big soccer field and camped on the sideline. The next morning the groundskeeper worked around us like we weren't even there. I recommend "backcountry" camping to campgrounds and camping on the river (look for baseball or soccer fields and camp on the sidelines) in big cities to trying to find a hotel.

Quick tips: 
  • For train travel you might get push back from ticketing about taking your bike onboard, but that only happened to us once. She also thought we wanted to board the KTX, which isn't allowed. Eventually she relented when we booked the slow train and just asked we take our front tires off our bike. On both train rides we were able to put our bikes between trains well out of the way of anyone. The conductors onboard weren't bothered at all by our bikes. For even less resistance take the bus. The bus drivers could careless about what goes underneath. Which also means they don't care if your bike gets damaged. Just be sure to secure it underneath somehow. Perhaps with a lock or bungees.
  • Don't be afraid of camping in cities. On the river, you can generally find a nice quiet place to camp. Try to be inconspicuous, even though camping is tolerated. We were never hassled. When we tried to get a hotel in the cities (Daegu and Busan) it was surprisingly a hassle.
  • Pay close attention to the route in Seoul. It wasn't always clear to us, but there are signs indicating which way to go. Make sure you know when to cross over the river to stay on the path toward Hanam. The bike path goes on both sides of the river, but only one way gets you moving toward the Namhangang. You could be stuck doing some backtracking if you miss your crossing. Naver Maps offers great maps of the bike paths, but it requires being able to read Korea. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

We've been quiet for a while. Family trips, bike trips, visitors. We've had a nice August. We'll try to catch you up on our adventures this week and give you some travel tips.
Biking on Bigeumdo.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

The future of Korea's dedicated bike paths looks good with more on the way. I personally can't wait for the East Sea Bike Path. It should be amazing. In August, some friends and I will go from Incheon to Busan. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Korea Bike Paths: Gumi-->Andong

The roughly 90-mile stretch from Gumi to Andong is an excellent leg of Korea's bike paths. It's beautiful, hilly and offers plenty of options for food, drink and shelter. This past weekend my friend and I did it over 3 days with two 3-year olds in bike trailers while taking our sweet time. Here is a brief log of our trip and what to expect along the way.

Day 1- Gumi-->Sangju 

Morning
We drove to Gumi and parked under the South-Gumi Bridge (남구미대교). You can find plenty of parking here and it is right off of the Nakdong River Bike Path on the west side of the bridge. We cycled along the Nakdong River through Gumi along mostly flat paths all the way to Gumi Dam(12 miles/21km) for lunch. There you will find a certification center and on the other side of the river a small mart where you can buy drinks and food.

Once you get north of Gumi there are some beautiful stretches of path. 
Afternoon
That afternoon we went from Gumi Dam(구미보) to the outskirts of Sangju(상주) (21 miles/37km) The afternoon ride was a little more challenging with a couple of climbs, but nothing too strenuous. You might have to push your bike up these steep hills, but without two kids and a heavy trailers they'd be mostly forgettable. You'll find these hills the closer you get to Sangju, but will be rewarded by beautiful farmland, small villages and quiet trails. Then you'll come back to the river and cycle by giant parks on the river that would be ideal for camping. They were preparing for a festival this weekend and we were looking to camp closer to Dowon Restaurant (도원식당) where we planned to eat.

Evening
We camped in between Sangju Dam (there is a certification center here) and the nearby Sangju Bike Museum (상주 자전거박물관) within sight of Donam Seowon(a Confucian Academy) (도남서원). The duck soup at the Dowon Restaurant wasn't worth the money (40,000 won), but the side dishes were great. Also, there isn't really any other restaurant options nearby that I could find on Naver Maps. However, they did have a big menu so you have plenty of other options.
Camping outside of campgrounds isn't a common practice in Korea, but not really policed. Make sure you leave the area looking better than you found it. 


Highlights
Good parking, easy cycling, plenty of places to stop. The scenery was a plus and the area around the bike museum offers plenty of activities(hiking, canoeing, museums, eating, amusement park, sculpture garden, karaoke!) if you aren't in a rush. The museum can be fun too. It isn't something you must stop at, but it's a great spot for cooling off and geeking-out over unique bikes. Areas around the dams usually have marts for food, water and drinks.

Total time: 7.5 hours

Day 2- Sangju-->Andong

Morning
We started our second day around Donam Seowon and cycled to the sculpture garden just past the bike museum (1.75 miles/2.8km) for a long break so the kids could play with a Japanese Rhinoceros beetle. Also we had to push up a relatively steep hill just before the garden so this gave us a nice break for play and coffee. Around the sculpture garden there are plenty of restaurants (on a trip last year I had a great bibimbap at one of them) and even an amusement park. We were up so early that everything was closed.
Surprisingly, biking Korea's bike paths is perfect with kids. It's relatively safe, there are lots of places to play and there is plenty to look at. 

Afternoon/Evening
The route from Sangju to Gudam (구담) (22 miles/35km) is a lonely, hot and beautiful route. Last summer, my friends and I ran out of water and we found it difficult to find places to replenish. This time we had enough water, but got hot and hungry and had to stop by the side of the trail. Usually you can stop at a shelter somewhere along the way, but there wasn't one nearby so we sat by the trail. Gudam, however, is a nice reward for your labor. The trail goes through this small town where you have lots of choices of places to eat or marts to pop in for a cold drink or ice cream. If you time it right you can see an old traditional market there. People here still kind of marvel at foreigners. I really love stopping here. See my post from a moment I had there last summer.

From Gudam you go a few more miles on trail, but then have a long stretch of road. It is a quiet road that leads you close to the entrance of Hanhoe Folk Village (6 miles/10km from Gudam). If we had planned it better we would have stayed here Saturday night, but our schedule didn't allow it. It's a great little walled village with nice guesthouses and restaurants around to give you a true traditional Korean experience.

We cycled on to Andong (21 miles/34 km from Gudam). This stretch boasts two big climbs and two big descents. The second hill takes you down to the Nakdong River into Andong, a welcomed sight. We played along the river at a park with a pool and stayed in downtown near the Home Plus in the Mong (몽) Motel for 40,000KRW. They let us put our bikes and trailers inside in a hallway and gave us water and juice when we left the next day. They were lovely proprietors of a shady motel. I'd stay there again. Andong has plenty of restaurants and lots of green space on the river for the kids. I only wish we had arrived earlier in the day.
The paths often take you past parks and swim areas in bigger cities. In Andong, the river is a great place to hang out for adults and kids.

Highlights: Gudam, beautiful stretches of path, great descents, Hanhoe Folk Village and Andong.

Total time: 10 hours


Day 3-Andong-->Andong Dam-->Andong Bus Terminal

Morning
A formality for those looking to get their passport stamped. This was something that could easily be done on day 2, but we had tired kids and we were all hungry. It took us all of 15 minutes to get there from downtown Andong. There is a traditional village and other sights here, but we were hot and tired and ready to head home. 
We loved stamping our passport and our hands.

Afternoon
To get back to our car in Gumi we decided to take the bus as it was the most direct option. The Andong Bus terminal is as on the other side of Andong as you can get from the dam. We followed the river until the river path ran out and then hopped on the road for the rest. The road was narrow and a long climb to the top of a hill before it descends down to the bus terminal. Having a kid in a trailer is not recommended. Cars respected us with space, but I was not comfortable with the situation. Unfortunately it was that way or through the city. I think next time I'd slowly snake through the city. Alone, I'd go the way we went.

The bus just had enough space for 2 bikes and 2 trailers. It would have been difficult if people had lots of luggage. We probably would have had to take two different buses. The bus drivers were cool, no shaking heads or sucking air through their teeth in disbelief of what we were loading onto their bus. Just smiles and curiosity.

Highlights: Breakfast in downtown Andong. Lunch places out by the dam. Andong.

Total time(with time at the dam): 5 hours

Tips:


  • For maps see KTO's e-books or if you read Korean Naver Maps can be quite helpful. 
  • You can pack a tent and cooking equipment, but there is plenty of food and shelter along the way. We only used these things on the first night. I'm not sure I'd take them again for weight and simplicity sake. If you do camp there are plenty of green spaces along the river. Just be smart where you pitch your tent and be respectful of the land.
  • If you are traveling with kids bring toys and books and stop often. See a cool bug? Stop. See a playground? Stop. See a place to swim? Stop. It will keep you and your kid sane. For emergencies carry a lollipop. Immediate gratification and at least 20 minutes of entertainment.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Korea as a Cycling Destination

This weekend one of my friends and co-workers took our kids along the Nakdong River bike path from Gumi to Andong over 3 days. It was one of the more amazing trips of my life. It was safe, beautiful, and fun for 3-year olds and 30-year olds. We cycled, ate, played, broke up fights, hugged and made up, explored, perspired and took in Korea's beauty and culture. 

Heading up the Nakdong BIke path to Andong.
I've always been reluctant to convince my friends and family to travel to Korea because I was afraid that a week in this country wouldn't be enough to experience all the things I love about it. Ironically, in a country where everything and everybody operate at break-neck speed, falling in love with Korea takes time. A week is not enough. 

Or so I thought. 

Now Korea boasts hundreds of miles of dedicated bike path, with more under construction. These days, I'd recommend coming to Korea for a week to spend that time cycling from town to town. It is charming, romantic and beautiful. The food is delicious, the sights are breathtaking and the people are very accommodating. If you love cycling and you have an interest in Asia, come cycle Korea. You could spend all your time in rural areas or cycle in and around most of Korea's major cities, including Seoul. 


There is so much to see and do for kids on the path(trains, animals, playgrounds, tractors). Finding a trailer would be a challenge. Best to arrange bringing your own. Currently, they are not popular or easy to find here. 

Cycling these paths reminds me of my favorite backpacking trip along the West Highland Way in Scotland nearly 13 years ago. You are never too far from shelter, food or beer. There is something about spending all day outside and getting to a place in the evening where you can clean up, eat well and have a cold drink. We always had options for food or shelter within 10 km. Even in those areas that felt incredibly remote.  

Between Gumi and Andong there plenty of places to camp, eat or stay in a hotel.

If you love cycling and have an interest in Asia, then Korea should be on your list. You might just fall in love with it.


If you are interested in cycling Korea check out Lindsay's bike tour company at www.biketours.com. See all of their Korea tours at www.biketours.com/korea-south.