Gageodo (가거도): The First Instalment

Last year on Chuseok we opted to head out to Heuksando and Hongdo and had a fantastic time, so this year we thought we’d join Pat and Mel for a trip to an even more remote island: Gageodo. It takes roughly four hours to get from Mokpo to Gageodo, including a stop at Heuksando.

We caught the earliest bus from Gwangju to Mokpo and were on the ferry heading out to sea just after 8:00. We landed at Gageodo shortly after 12:00. The main village on the island is set back among several high rocks behind a high seawall. Aside from the (apparently) recent addition of a huge orange dry-dock structure.


Our first look at the village once we stepped of the boat.

Our first look at the village once we stepped of the boat.

A view of the village from above.

A view of the village from above.

The island is remote, rocky, and sparsely populated. Perfect for a quiet getaway from the noise and people usually associated with travel on mainland Korea and especially amplified on Chuseok.

First order of business was to find a place to stay for the weekend. There are several minbak and motels available on the main street of the village, but we opted for a pension. The first one that presented itself to us was 제일 펜션 (Best Pension). We had a look at a few of the rooms and opted to share one on the third floor looking out over the harbour for 60,000₩/night. Once we were settled in we had a few snacks before heading out in search of a beach.

There is a public beach just across a headland from the harbour, but we opted to explore a little farther can found one that is a bit more secluded and is surrounded by high cliffs. Gorgeous. It also has large rocks that are nice and smooth for sunbathing or taking a nap in between dips in the ocean. Pat headed off birding but the three of us opted to lounge on the beach and swim. Despite the fact that beach season is officially over in Korea, the water was really warm and relaxing.

After a long and relaxing time on the beach, Pat rejoined us with some fantastic news; he had spotted his 700th species of bird. We will leave the birding side of the trip for Pat to deal with on his blog here. We headed back to the pension to change, explore the town, grab some beer to celebrate, and find some dinner. Given that we had all been up before 4:00 AM, we suffered a slight setback in our plans.

Tired? Whose tired?

Tired? Who’s tired?

However, we did eventually manage to head out into the village for a bit of exploration. There are only two roads in the village, one along the waterfront and one across the top of the village to the school. Everything in between are these little alley-like paths and stairs. They are actually really neat.

There are two small stores on the main street. One, the one with a green awning, serves as something of a gathering place in the village. Throughout our stay, there were always people sitting outside the door or drinking and playing cards inside. We had dinner at the restaurant in the bottom of our pension — 매운탕 — spicy fish (bone) soup. When you’re on the islands, fish is the centrepiece of pretty well every meal. We wrapped up our evening with celebratory beers under the light house and were passed out by 9:00.

The village as seen from the lighthouse

The village as seen from the lighthouse.

Our first full day on the island, we headed up the road behind the village and out along the west coast. At the hill above the village the road forks, running high and low along the side of the mountain. The high road eventually crosses over the ridge to the other side of the island, but the low road goes along hillside overlooking the ocean and cliffs until it terminates at the second village about 6 KM away.

Hangri village sits in a low point between the main island and a large peninsula. There is a minbak and a restaurant (not selling food on Chuseok) that basically make up the entire village. There was also a goat which Tamara could not resist doting on. When we hiked into the hills on the peninsula we discovered several small herds of goats grazing. In some ways, the entire area feels like it could be on the coast of Scotland or the east coast of Canada.

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After a short time, we headed back down to the 2nd village and down a series of steps to the beach where we found a sheltered little nook, had lunch and then swam for the better part of two hours. It was amazing to be able to relax and swim and not be surrounded by other people. This is probably the most amazing part about Gageodo: you can actually get away from the people and the noise and the lights and just relax.

On our way back we stopped at the minbak to ask if we could fill our waterbottles. They were more than accommodating and just as we were leaving the lady came out and offered us a huge platter of japchae (made from noodles and vegetables) apparently in the spirit of Chuseok. We sat outside on a raised platform overlooking a gorgeous harbour and coastline while devouring the delicious dish.

After we thanked our hosts we headed back along the road to the main village for a bite in our room before crashing in short order.

Gangwondo Round Two: Seoraksan

Since arriving in Korea, we have planned to visit Seoraksan National park in the north eastern corner of the country. Relatively accessible from Seoul, Seoraksan is one of the best known parks in Korea, but is quite a long trip from Gwangju. We have been to Gangwondo once before to visit our friend Mica in Yeongwol and we planned to include a trip to Yeongwol in our itinerary this time to visit D. Because it was a long weekend and we knew that things would be pretty busy, we planned to leave Thursday as soon as Tamara finished camp a little after lunch. As things transpired, a homework assignment and a few other little setbacks meant that we didn’t get out of Gwangju until after 2:30. And that’s where the first little hiccup began.

Because we were two hours later than expected reaching Seoul we discovered that all the tickets to Osaek, our intended entry point for Seoraksan, were sold out and we could not get a ticket to Sokcho, the main entry point for Seoraksan until after 11:00 at night. We grabbed a bite at a Turkish/Indian fusion place across from the bus station while we waited. It was actually really delicious so anyone stuck at Dong Seoul for a while, give it a look. Place is called Galata and it’s on the second floor in the building to your left as you leave by the front door.

We didn’t get to Seoraksan until after 1:00 AM and, in our sleep deprived stupor, made a terrible decision about which motel to stay in. FYI, there does not appear to be any good accommodation near the intercity bus terminal.

Friday morning we were a little late getting up moving, so our plan to catch a bus to Osaek and then hike from there to the peak fell through and we headed into the park from the Sokcho side. There are several hiking options from the Sokcho entrance. Most people who are pressed for time hike up to Ulsanbawi which is just over 3 kilometres. We chose to head for the highest peak in the park regardless of our late start. Daecheongbong is over 1700m high and roughly eleven kilometres from the park entrance. We had some idea that we could hike over the peak and down to Osaek on the far side of the summit. The Osaek route is a much shorter and steeper way to Daecheongbong, which is why we had originally planned to take that route.

The map of our proposed route into Osaak - map taken from  the Korea Parks website.

The map of our proposed route into Osaak – map taken from the Korea Parks website.

The buses out there from Sokcho are pretty simple, so we walked past the gigantic Buddha near the start of the trail a little after 9:00. The first four kilometres or so is quite easy walking with much of the trail made up of pavement or carefully laid rocks on a pretty minor incline. This is because up until about 3.7 kilometres there are semi regular places where you can stop and buy food and beverages and all the supplies for these places come in up the trail. Most of this trail quite closely follows a small, beautifully clear river full of amazing looking swimming holes. Of course, swimming is strictly forbidden in the park so all we were able to do was look longingly at the water.

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Although it appeared that the sun was trying to break through the clouds when we started out, the clouds rapidly won that battle and by the time we started to seriously climb we were pretty well surrounded by mist. Scattered along the trails are various shelters where hikers can overnight on their way through the park. As we understand it, some of these can be reserved and some appear to be drop in. Either way, they serve as good landmarks to judge your progress and take necessary breaks along the way.

Starting to wear down.

Starting to wear down.

By the time we passed Hulungak shelter and started the final ascent we were hiking through thick fog and were pretty well beat.

Taking a break on an observation deck just before Hulungak shelter.

Taking a break on an observation deck just before Hulungak shelter.

We decided to abort the full hike and just go to the first peak. By this time we knew there would be no view anyway. We were hiking through mist so thick it was almost like it was raining. We were completely drenched.


Heading back down through the fog.

Heading back down through the fog.

The higher we got, the thicker it got. It was pretty though.

The higher we got, the thicker it got. It was pretty though.

Socheong peak was about what we expected – white. However, from the looks of it there would be a heck of a view on a clear day. Of what, we don’t know, but there is a decent looking viewpoint.

The wonderful view from the peak. 1550 metres high.

The wonderful view from the peak. 1550 metres high.

After a few minutes break on the peak we headed back the way we came. The descent was relatively uneventful. By the time we got off the steeper sections, it was starting to turn dusky and we were nearly the only ones on the trail. Figuring this for the perfect time, Tamara opted for a fully-clothed quick dip in one of the oh-so-tempting pools. Fortunately nobody happened along. Of course, who knows – it might be on CCTV. It wouldn’t be the first waterfall we have encountered complete with video surveillance.

We hiked the last five kilometres with a pair of Dutch summer students who were just touring the country before heading home. Because it was completely dark when we reached the bottom, we opted to share a cab back into Sokcho rather than wait for the buses which may or may-not have still been running.

The Buddha lit up at night.

The Buddha lit up at night.

All-told, the trip to the express bus terminal came to 17,000 ₩ for those who are interested. What we had not counted on was the fact that the national holiday coupled with the major celebrations taking place on Sokcho beach would make a room nearly impossible to find. When we finally found a place that still had a room available we were clearly being gouged on the price. It was insanely high for a love motel – and of exceptionally low quality. But by that time it was after 9:00 PM and we had hiked over 20 kilometres throughout the day. Anything with a bed would work. As a side note, we learned over the course of our search the when motels are full, they turn off the light-up signs.

Saturday morning we sorted out transport to Yeongwol. Even though it is in the same province it is a nightmare to get to from Seoraksan. We went through Gangneung where we had a three hour lay-over waiting for the bus to Yeongwol. Rather than hang around the really busy bus terminal, we opted to catch a cab to Namhangjin beach where we had an ocean-view bite of lunch at Love Letter Café followed by a smoothie from Annabel Lee Café and a beach swing.

Namhangjin beach. Apparently there was a music festival over the weekend.

Namhangjin beach. Apparently there was a music festival over the weekend.

We finally arrived in Yeongwol just after 4:00 after an admittedly scenic, but rather long bus ride through the Gangwondo countryside. D met us at the bus terminal and, after dropping our bags at her place, we headed out to join in the going-away festivities for a bunch of the local foreigners. Dinner and drinking followed by drinking games at the CU (convenience store) and Noraebang. A great time was had by all and by the time we got back to her apartment we only had time for about four hours of sleep before catching the only bus back to Gwangju at 7:00 AM.

Despite the many setbacks, it was great to get up to Gangwondo again. It really is a gorgeous part of the country. We highly recommend it to anyone staying in or visiting Korea. It is a pain to get around though, so day trips are probably out.


Gyeongju and Namosan

We arrived in Gyeongju around 9:00 Saturday evening and immediately went around the corner to the Gosak bus terminal to grab our tickets back to Gwangju. There are only two buses so we grabbed tickets for 4:40. The next order of business was finding a place to sleep for the night. Love motels are everywhere around the bus terminal and we had decided that after so much time on the bus and a six hour hike we were up for a place with a bed and a little privacy. After popping into several different motels that were out of our price range we finally found one a little further back for 60,000, the Potato Motel. Interestingly, when we asked for the price and suggested it was a little too expensive for us, some of the motels dropped their prices by about 10,000₩.  As it was, after we got cleaned up we passed out almost instantly.

Our room at the Potato Motel

Our room at the Potato Motel.

We overslept Sunday morning and weren’t out the door until about 8:30. Once we got outside, we discovered it was raining on and off, but at least it was not completely pouring. We dumped a bunch of our stuff in a locker at the bus terminal and then grabbed a quick bite of breakfast while we figured out what our plan would be. We decided that we would only visit one area outside of the town itself and get a little hiking in. We opted to go to the Namsan area of the park and stopped by Tourist Information to figure out how to get there. Tourist Info has fluent English speakers, which was great, and they told us which bus to catch and where to go to catch it. When we arrived, the bus number that we were looking for was parked and locked with the driver completely passed out in a reclined passenger seat. Ohh Korea. We eventually caught an alternative bus number out to the Samneung Valley and started our wander into the mountains. The Namsan area is billed as the “museum without walls” and to a degree that seems to be true. Samneung Valley stretches up the mountain from three royal tombs and is honeycombed with historic treasures from the days of the Shilla Kingdom. There are tons of interesting rock carvings and inscriptions as you climb up. The rain, which had been increasing all morning, meant that we bypassed several of them, but those that we venture off the main path to see were pretty interesting.

We reached Sangseon-am Hermitage and took a short break. Despite the rain, it was far too hot to hike with our gortex layers on any longer so Blake peeled off his rain jacket and just got soaked. The mist made for some pretty views out from the hermitage, but as we continued up towards the Namosan summit, the valley was completely obscured.

The summit itself would not provide much of a view in the best of weather, but in the rain we only stayed for a few minutes before heading back down. We took a slightly different trail on our descent. Thankfully, the rain started to let up shortly after we left the peak. By the time we were halfway down, there were even some places where there was a bit of a view.


Our exit took us past the three standing stone Buddhas and Sambulsa temple, which are two of the park’s attractions, and from the main road just outside we were able to catch a bus into town.

Juwangsan - Gyonegju D5200 225

We jumped off in front of Tumuli Park, which contains 23 tombs from Shilla Royal Families. Before entering (2,000₩ fee) we had a quick coffee at a nearby café called Dark Black, which was excellent. We recommend it for those who are in the area and in need of a warm pick me up.

Relaxing at Dark Black

Relaxing at Dark Black.

Inside Tumuli Park, we took a leisurely stroll along the paths, looking up at the many toombs. However, after so long with no proper lawns, we were faced with huge expanses of grass that we are not allowed to set foot on. Torture! We went inside Cheonmachong Tomb, but that was actually pretty disappointing. The place has essentially been turned into a small museum room with tiled floors and display cases. Nothing authentic about it as far as we could tell. You are not allowed to take photos inside so you will have to take our word for it.

Once we finished at the tombs, we decided that we would like to have a quick look at Anapje pond. This is considered one of the must-see places in Gyeongju and we thought that we might as well check it out, seeing as we had a few hours to spare. We decided to walk, even though it has started to rain again. It took us a little under 45 minutes to get there and less than that to wander through the old palace. Granted the place is pretty and has some really neat views of the pavilions over the ponds, but even in the rain there were more than a few people there.

After only about half an hour we decided that it was time to call it quits and go find something to eat before we had to catch our bus. For those who have a bit more time and better weather, it is possible to rent audio guides for the ruins and get a full tour that way. There are not a lot of western food options near the bus terminal, at least not that we were able to find, so we settled on some overpriced sandwiches from A Twosome Place before catching our bus.

Just awesome flower pots in Gyeongju

Just awesome flower pots in Gyeongju.

Gyeongju is a place that we would certainly say is worth the visit, but it is a really busy area. If possible, go during the off season to avoid the worst of the crowds. Namsan was really interesting and, on a rain-free day, we likely could have spent a full day or more poking along the hiking trails and following all the signs off to find other old artifacts. It was great to wrap up our weekend with a nice mix of history and the outdoors. All in all, a perfect weekend getaway.

Juwangsan National Park

Seeing as last weekend was the only one that we have free in July, we decided to take advantage and spend it exploring two places we have been eyeing from afar for some time: Juwangsan and Gyeongju. Friday night we caught a bus to Daegu and, after a bit of hunting, found ourselves a jjimjilbang to crash in. It is called the Nexus jjimjilbang and is just a few blocks south of the Dongbu intercity terminal. Sadly, Friday is apparently the night when large groups of kids terrorize this particular establishment so sleep was a challenge.

Nevertheless, we were up early for a quick coffee and bagel at Café Droptop (one of the only places open at that time) and then we caught the 7:30 bus to Juwangsan. This bus ride was a bit over two hours all told but was through some really pretty country. The route is well away from the main highways and cities so it is all agriculture, little villages, and mountains. If we had a car, there were a million cute little places we would have stopped. As it was, we enjoyed the sights through the bus window.

We arrived at the Juwangsan Park Office about at 10:15 and spent a bit of time getting oriented, figuring out bus schedules, and choosing routes before heading up the road. One of the first things we noticed, before we even got to the ticket booths, was that all the shops and restaurants had a bit more of a peaceful feeling compared to those at the entrances of other national parks we have visited. Everyone was friendly and there were simply far fewer hikers.

Once we reached Daejeonsa, which is the temple at the base, and paid our fee, we headed along the main path keeping right at all the branches. We had decided to start our day by climbing the park’s namesake: Juwangsan. Based on the level of development on the other trails, this is by far the road less travelled.

And we are off in front of Daejeonsa.

A quick photo in front of Daejeonsa and we were off.



The summit is only 722 metres, but you climb up to it pretty quickly so things get relatively steep early on. About three quarters of the way up you break onto the ridgeline and follow that to the summit, which is a really nice little walk. There are some great views from the ridge, but absolutely zero from the top. For those wanting lunch with a view, stop on the ridge before the final climb.

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We had lunch on the summit and then dropped of the far side heading for the Hurimegi Samgeori (three forked road). It is also possible to continue on to the highest peak in the park (Gamebong), but we were running on very little sleep and waterfalls sounded way more appealing.

Juwangsan peak.

Juwangsan peak.

This little guy was hiding under the steps on our way down from Juwangsan.

This little guy was hiding under the steps on our way down from Juwangsan.

The descent from Juwangsan is made up of ridgewalks and a lot of stairs, but once you get most of the way down, the trail joins a pretty little creek. There are relatively few people in this area so if you were inclined to soak in a pool this would be the place.

After a fair bit of zig-zagging down along this creek, we came to the three forked road where it joined another creek for more of the same on a slightly larger scale. These two creek were probably our favourite part of this hike because they were beautiful, relaxing, and there were very few few people.

Hurimegi Samgeori - we went right here,moving downstream.

Hurimegi Samgeori – we went right here, moving downstream.

One of the pools on the way downstream from Hurimegi Samgeori

One of the pools on the way downstream from Hurimegi Samgeori.

Eventually we joined the main trail between the second and third waterfall. Because it was so close, we decided to go a little further up the valley so we could see Yeongyeon waterfall as well as the others. Yeongyeon we had largely to ourselves aside from the camera which, coupled with the no swimming sign, put paid to our ambitions for a quick dip.

From there, we doubled back then headed up a side trail to see Jeolgu Pokpo (waterfall) There were a lot more people at this smaller fall but it was still nicer as you could get right down to the water. Of course,there was still no swimming permitted, but we joined others soaking our feet in the stream while we munched on a snack.

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The first fall, Yongchu, – closest to the trail head – is where we started to encounter more people. Still nothing like what we have seen at other parks, but more than the rest of our day. This fall is near the start of a narrow canyon that makes for a pretty awesome view as you walk through it. The river is compressed into narrow channels that have been cut from the rock and watching the water gush through them is pretty neat.

Just after crossing a bridge after the lower fall, there is a choice to continuing down the main path along the river and out of the park, or to veer off to the left and head up to see a hermitage and a couple of caves on your way out. We chose this latter option and headed away from the crowds once more. After a relatively short hike we came to Juwangnam hermitage. You must pass through the hermitage to reach Juwanggul cave. The trail to the cave is really easy to locate. Just look for the massive set of metal stairs covered in chain-link fence. There was something about how quiet it was as we walked along the obviously new man-made structure surrounded by high rock cliffs that was a little bit eerie. Juwanggul cave itself was pretty cool though.

Afterwards, we took a short 400 metre detour off up to Mujang cave. Apparently Mujang means “armed” in Korean. The cave got its name from a legend that claims King Zhou’s warriors hid their weapons here. Given how damp it was, those weapons must have been a pile of rust in no time flat. Of the two caves, Mujang was the least interesting and if hikers are already tired it may not be worth the effort.

In Mujanggul cave

In Mujanggul cave.

We retraced our steps partway, then cut across a creek to the trail down from Juwangnam. Shortly thereafter we rejoined the main trail funnelling people towards the park entrance. Once we had exited and were walking alongside the various shops and restaurants, we opted to stop at one with a seating area over a little artificial pond to have some post-hike pajeon.

From there we caught a bus to Cheongsong, the main access point for the park, where we wandered for nearly and hour before catching our bus to Yeongcheon. Cheongsong is a really gorgeous little town and everyone we met went out of their way to be helpful and friendly. If we had more time we would have stayed overnight here. Something worth considering for those planning on heading that way.

A view of Cheongson

A view of Cheongsong.

Cheongsong parking lot.

Cheongsong parking lot.

Juwangsan is one of our top two favourite hikes in Korea thus far. It is not as busy as most of the others, has lots of hiking options, offers great views, and provides opportunities for lots of wandering along streams, waterfalls, gorges, and caves. Amazing day!

Next up, Gyeongju. Onward into history!


The buses getting through all of this were a bit of a nightmare and by far the most expensive part of our weekend. From Gwangju there is no direct way to get to Juwangsan.

The best option is to take a bus to Daegu and then catch a bus from the Dongbu Daegu terminal (near the Goseok terminal) to Juwangsan. However, the Daegu – Juwangsan bus only runs at 7:30 and 13:30. Alternatively, you can catch a bus to Cheongsong and then take a local bus (which stops at the terminal) into Juwangsan.

Buses from Juwangsan to Gyeongju are also non existent. To get from Juwangsan to Gyeongju we first took a local bus from Juwangsan to Cheongsong. From there we took a bus to Yeongcheon. Our bus was actually destined for Busan, but stopped in Yeongcheon, which seems to serve as a sort of hub just northeast of Daegu. In Yeongcheon we were able to catch the relatively frequent bus to Gyeongju.

Bus times (at least in our case):  Gwangju –> Daegu 3:30; Daegu –>Juwangsan 2:45;  Juwangsan –> Cheongsong 0:20; Cheongsong –> Yeongcheon 1:40; Yeongcheon –> Gyeongju 0:45; Gyeongju –> Gwangju 3:45

Accommodations wise, there are jjimjilbangs and motels near the Daegu station, motels in Cheongseong (we saw a jjimjilbang but it looked a bit dodgy), and there are pensions and minbak strung out in the valley leading up to the Juwangsan parking lot.

Here are some photos of the bus schedules – at least those that we were able to/remembered to photograph.

Mudeungsan Backside

June 4th was local election day in Korea, which means we had the day off. Because our weekends have been so busy over the last several months, we have had very few opportunities to get out hiking and exploring. We had several other things that we wanted to do that day so we opted to stay close to home. It was over a year ago that we first climbed Mudeungsan – the mountain that looms to the east of Gwangju and is the go-to hiking destination for many Gwangjuvians. There are two main hiking areas: the front side facing the city, and the backside which is across the ridge.

Earlyish Wednesday morning we caught the number 09 bus to the Culture Complex stop and then the 1187-1 around the mountain. The bus ride itself was actually really nice, winding along the ridges outside the foliage. We got off at the last stop (Wonhyo Ranger Station) and headed up to have a look at the map. There appear to be three main routes that can be taken from the backside over to the front. One is a longish loop around to the east with the temple and standing rocks for which Mudeung is best known. The second goes straight up and over the ridge towards the summit and the third loops around to the east – mostly on roads if the map is anything to go by – with views out over the city.

Because we were meeting friends later that evening, we chose the middle route which – as the very friendly, let-me-practice-my-English Park Ranger explained – is shorter and faster but harder. The guy was actually really nice and helpful, but it was a bit overwhelming. He took a bunch of photos as well so who knows where those will end up.

Once we started up the trail from the parking lot, we got to appreciate the fact that the backside of Mudeung is significantly less crowded than the front. We saw maybe half a dozen hikers from the time we left the parking lot until we broke ridge line and joined the flocks coming up the front.

We got turned aside on a trail that was not on the maps and ended up walking into what we think is someone's house. If you see this you are going the wrong way.

We got turned aside on a trail that was not on the maps and ended up walking into what we think is someone’s house. If you see this, you are going the wrong way.

Also found this partway down our wrong trail. Korean ATV?

Also found this partway down our wrong trail. Korean ATV?

That is about the only good thing we can say about the centre trail though. It runs through a forested area and up along a tiny trickle that occasionally passes for a creek. There are basically no views until you break through on the ridge. It had rained the day before and the trail was still muddy with some pretty slippery sections. Trails on the backside are not as built-up as those on the front, so weather conditions will certainly have a greater effect on trail conditions.

After a couple hours of hiking, we broke onto the ridge and headed over to Jungbong (Jung Peak), the same place we had summited just over a year before.

After a few photos on the summit we headed down for a brief lunch on the rocks just below it, with a good view out over Gwangju and the rest of our decent.

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The final part of the trail was one that we had covered before and certainly had a lot more hikers than the backside. In fact, there were enough that we were rarely out of sight of other people. We did, however, manage to take a lesser known route down into the main valley through a series of wrong turns, mistaken sign readings, and good old fashioned not paying attention. It added a nice bit of variety to the end of the hike.

On the way down this little guy amused us as he tried to get by without leaving the trail.

On the way down this little guy amused us as he tried to get by without leaving the trail.

All told we were on the mountain for about four hours by the time we boarded the 09 home to clean up for dinner. For those interested in doing the backside, we would not recommend that centre trail. It’s quiet, but there are very few views and not really anything interesting until you hit the ridgeline where you are mingling with the hikers who came up the front.

Namhae: Part 1

Friday, June 6th was a holiday in Korea and we decided it was the perfect opportunity to head out to an island. After a little research and debate about ferry travel times, we decided to opt for an almost island – or an island attached to the mainland by a bridge: Namhae.

Namhae is way down on the southern part of Korea, one province over in Gyeongsangnamdo. It is best known for being a very rural area with lots of agriculture. The main crop is apparently garlic and their is a garlic research centre near Namhae Eup (the main town on the island). On the southern tip of the island there are several popular beaches, the best known of which is Sangju. Apparently this beach is wall to wall people in July and August. Two sections of the island also make up part of Hallyeohaesang National Park. We were really excited for the prospect of a little time out of the city, in the mountains, and on the beach.

The Garlic harvest appeared to be wrapping up while we were there. We often saw garlic laid out and drying like this.

The Garlic harvest appeared to be wrapping up while we were there. We often saw garlic laid out and drying like this.

Getting there from Gwangju is a bit of a mission, especially on a long weekend. There are two main routes: one through Suncheon and one through Jinju. The Jinju route is more reliable with more frequent connections so we opted to head for Jinju Thursday evening. Blake had an appointment after school, so we caught the last bus to Jinju and stayed the night in the Family Jjimjilbang, just up the highway from the express bus terminal.

Friday morning we got up relatively early, got cleaned up, had breakfast in a cafe, and headed to the bus stop. There are two main bus terminals in Jinju: express (where buses from Gwangju arrive) and direct (where buses to the smaller centres arrive). In theory we should have had to go to the direct bus terminal across the river from the are where we stayed to catch a bus to Namhae. However, a couple hundred meters to the east of the bus terminal – near a pedestrian overpass – and on the other side of the street, there is a small stop where it is possible to purchase tickets for the local buses on their way out of town. This saved us a ton of hassle.

New meets old in Namhae

New meets old in Namhae.

An hour and ten minutes later we arrived at Namhae eup bus terminal. It was surprisingly large and includes a motel, sauna, and mart. Sadly, Namhae eup is not on the island’s coast, so we caught a local bus south to Sangju (about 45 minutes). We had not booked accommodation, so our first order of business was to find a place to dump off our bags and sleep. There is no shortage of options in Sangju. Almost every house is a pension or minbak. The first three we stopped at had no rooms and we were getting a little twitchy by the time the fourth person told us that she had rooms available. We jumped at it and likely paid more than was necessary. The pension was called Hanseong Pension and we got a smallish room but had (intermittent) hot water and access to an outdoor cooking area.

Looking into the Pension. Our room was in the back corner.

Looking into the pension. Our room was in the back corner.

Pension cooking area.

Pension cooking area.

After a bit of wandering, we headed over to the Oasis Pension and Restaurant for a bite of lunch. The menu was a bit on the expensive side, but the seafood juk was good. They were also very helpful in explaining how we could walk up the valley to the trail head for the Geumsan hike. Given the overcast weather we had decided to do some hiking in Hallyeohaesang for the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was already two in the afternoon and we did not want to spend an hour walking along roads to get to the base. Trying to figure out the bus system was confusing to say the least and taxis were few and far between. We finally managed to flag one and got a lift to the base. We started up the mountain a little after two and the trail was relatively quiet. Most of the people were coming down and even they were few and far between. Part of the trail is slightly steep, but for the most part it is relatively easy. It’s well maintained throughout.

The first kilometre and a half were pretty boring, but then we reached Cheongyangmun (gateway to Geumsan). There are two caves in the rock that you hike through. Inside, there are smaller offshoots that are blocked off, but Tamara could hear bats moving around down one of them. In the other, there was a stone railing. Both caves had great views out over Sangju and the ocean.

Looking out from the caves.

Looking out from the caves.

Stone stairs through the gateway.

Stone stairs through the gateway.

Heading through the caves.

Heading through the caves.

A few hundred metres further up we reached Boriam – the temple just short of the top. Here we also hit the crowds. It is possible to drive most of the way up to Boriam and a ton of people had done so. It was a bit of a let-down as this beautiful temple that we had climbed 600 metres to see was overrun by people.


Geumsan summit is only 300 metres past the temple, so it was also overrun. Our hiking pace from the temple up was limited to that of the seniors; tour group in front of us. Fortunately, we were able to hop over a few rocks near the summit and find a briefly semi-secluded spot where we had a great view and could have a quick snack before starting down again. We took the same path as we had on the ascent. There are several other alternatives, but we did not want to have to worry about buses and taxis after hiking.

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At the bottom we found a restaurant near the largely deserted parking lot. Seeing as it was just after 6:00 we grabbed a couple bowls of bibimbap and some jeon for very reasonable prices. Delicious, and definitely cheaper than in Sangju itself.

Restaurant at the bottom of Geumsan

Restaurant at the bottom of Geumsan

Post-hiking bibimbap

Post-hiking bibimbap.

After dinner, we wandered down the valley towards Sangju. While the first part of the walk was along the main road, we were quickly able to get off onto side roads among the rice paddies. It was really nice to stroll back without having to worry about dinner or buses or taxis. Most rice paddies have just been planted and it was really interesting to see how the water sharing process works – at least the surface of it, we still don’t remotely understand the details.

Looking back at Geumsan. This field had become completely overgrown and the vines were trying to overtake the abandoned buildings as well.

Looking back at Geumsan. This field had become completely overgrown and the vines were trying to overtake the abandoned buildings as well.

We finished off our day with a quick visit to the local GS 25 – packed with people and largely cleaned out – to grab a few crackers and biscuits for breakfast in the morning before heading back to the room for some reading and relaxation before bed.

May Long Weekend: Bogyeongsa

We awoke on the Monday to the sound of construction right outside our tent. Apparently Children’s Day is not a holiday for everyone. Being up early was nice though, and we were able to get a big scrambled egg breakfast together pretty quickly.


Not entirely sure what it is, but it certainly got loud when they started working on it.

Not entirely sure what it is, but it certainly got loud when they started working on it.

Due to the crowding at the camp-site and the nasty beach bathroom, we headed up to the adjacent traffic stop to grab some snacks and use clean bathrooms before heading south to Bogyeongsa.

윤기령 overlooking the beach from the rest stop.

윤기령 overlooking the beach from the rest stop.

Bogyeong temple is tucked back away from the coast and is best known for the series of waterfalls along the creek behind it. These were our goal when we left the parking lot shortly after noon and headed through the little village to the temple and trails beyond. The village is like many that area associated with trail heads and temples: several restaurants, souvenir shops, and a few minbak mixed in. Bogyeongsa was fully decked out in lanterns in preparation for Buddha’s birthday the following day. It’s a mid-sized temple, but there is at least one satellite temple/hermitage further up the valley.

Beyond the temple the path is quite an easy one, wandering along the creek for a little over a kilometre until the first waterfall. We stopped for quite a long break on the rocks here, soaking up the view and dipping our toes in the water. Sadly, there were some prominent no swimming signs preventing us from taking full advantage of the gorgeous pool at the base of the twin falls.

By the time we left the first fall it was getting later in the afternoon so we hustled up the trail pretty quickly. After the first fall they come in pretty quick succession up to number seven (Yeonsan Pokpo), although few of them are as well situated for lounging until you reach the sixth fall. To visit the seventh you cross a short suspension bridge for a great look at the 30 metre fall. This is a pretty busy dead end so we did not spend much time there, just long enough to get a few photos, before heading back to the sixth fall. Here the trail crosses the stream and leads further up the valley. This is also the point where most people stop. From here the trail is less developed and the waterfalls are spaced further apart.

As it was getting late, we opted to only head a short way up this trail and found a place atop the cliffs directly above the sixth fall to soak up a little quiet. From all appearances, the upper falls (numbers 8-12) would be a much nicer section, with less people and much less developed. Who knows, you might even be able to swim.

The view over the edge.

The view over the edge.

Cliff-top R&R

Cliff-top R&R.

Once we were finished on top of the cliff, we returned to the bottom where some of our group set up for rock climbing. Adam, Lianne, and ourselves watched the lead climber head up to the top before we retreated back down the trail to the parking lot in search of sun. Sadly, we never did find it. We did, however, set up our own little parking lot picnic complete with hot jeon. By the time the others arrived, it was dark and dinner was almost ready.

Parking lot picnic anyone?

Parking lot picnic anyone?

After the meal our party split up. Our car was heading part way back to Gwangju to find a jjimjilbang for the night, while the others were going all the way home in one shot. Our original plan was to find a place in either Goryeong or Goechang and hike in Gayasan National park the next day. We stopped for a quick kimbap meal in Goryeong a little before 11:00 and then set about looking for a jjimjilbang in the area. That was when things got interesting. Following google maps, we ended up driving along this extremely narrow back road into what appeared to be somebody’s yard. The place looked like a scene right out of a horror movie. It was one of the creepiest accommodation searches we have ever had. We repeated the process for a second listing to the same end: horror movie setting, few cars in sight. Ultimately, when a google search yielded nothing in Geochang proper, we opted to push through to Namwon where we knew there was a jjimjilbang in the middle of town. We arrived after midnight and settled in amongst the other sleepers around one. Lesson learned: don’t go searching for jjimjilbangs in the countryside after dark!

Mohusan (모후산)

As spring is well under way in Korea, we decided that last weekend would be a perfect to get back into hiking following our holidays. After some waffling we settled on Mohusan, in Hwasun county, as our destination. This mountain is in an out-of-the-way part of Jeollanam-do and we set off with almost no idea how to get there. It is located near Jogyesan Provincial Park, which we climbed last year. (you can read about that trip here) Our lack of knowledge was not for lack of trying. Blake had called the tourist information line, but had been informed that there were no buses running from Hwasun to Mohusan and that we would have to take a cab. This makes little sense as there are several villages around the mountain and almost everywhere in Korea is serviced by bus, however infrequent. He was also told there were no buses from Gwangju to Hwasun and we would have to take the train. Having already ridden said non-existent bus, we took everything they said with a couple kilos of salt.

We met our friend Melanie at Usquare and caught the 9:10 bus to Hwasun. From there, following information found on google maps, we headed to a nearby city bus stop to catch the 217 to Yuma-sa (Yuma temple) which is at the start of the Mohusan trail network. Unfortunately, when we got on the bus and asked if it went to Yuma-sa we were given a very firm no. Back to the pavement. Eventually we took the Korean Tourism people’s advice and caught a cab. Bad choice. That ride, which smelled faintly of cleaning supplies and ginseng, cost us a little over 30,000!

But we did get where we were going and were greeted by a very friendly tourist information guy. He was an older man but spoke a surprising amount of English. He explained that there was a shuttle that brings people up to the mountain at set times, but we were unable to understand where in Hwasun it stops. Our plan was to catch it on the way back so we could figure that part out. We signed the guest book, got our complimentary wet napkins, and headed up the trail.

This is what the first few hundred meters from the parking lot looked like.

This is what the first few hundred meters from the parking lot looked like.

We went up along the creek and then straight up to the main peak.

We went up along the creek and then straight up to the main peak.

For the first several kilometres the trail is wide enough for two or three people to walk abreast. It loops around above the temple and heads up the creek into the mountains. From this main trail, smaller trails branch off to the right, ascending the various lesser peaks in the range which can eventually connect to the main summit. We opted to head straight up the creek valley. Because of the delay getting started, we stopped for a picnic lunch at one of the little shelters along the way. There were three other Korean hikers also having lunch and as soon as they saw us pull out our kimbap triangles sans kimchi, they shuffled over to share their’s with us. The lady explained, using gestures, English, and Korean, that the kimbap would be too dry on its own, and that therefore we needed to eat kimchi with it. There was no saying no, especially since one of the ladies had made it herself. All the sharing is one of the great things about hiking in Korea. Just remember to always bring something shareable to return the favour!

After lunch, we continued up the valley. Several kilometres in, the creek petered out and we ascended to a low pass between the main peak and a lower peak. Here we encountered the thing that makes this hike somewhat less spectacular than we had hoped: all the construction. They are building some sort of tramway along the ridges up to the peak where they have an observatory (we think) that is also relatively new-looking. All this work meant that the ridgeline that we climbed was pretty chewed up and had a construction road right alongside the trail. Kinda took away from the experience a bit.

Partway up the ridge to the summit we stopped on a false peak to relax and enjoy the view. Once thing Mohusan really has going for it is how few people seem to hike it. Once we got to the summit, the views on three sides (those not blocked by the observatory) were pretty great. Hwasun is a farming area and on all sides we could see where forests became gardens and then fields at the foot of the mountains. East of the mountain is a huge reservoir, and across the water you can see Jogyesan and the surrounding mountains. Sadly, everything is pretty hazy – it’s yellow dust season in Korea – so the view further out was not that great. It played hell with photos as well.

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We did not stay on the summit long before we headed over the steep drop-off on the far side and walked a narrow ridge to Jung Bong (Jung Peak). This was a pretty short hop skip and a jump, but we broke for tea in the little clearing there. It was while we were settled in here that Tamara’s phone rang. When we don’t recognize the number we ignore it, but this person kept calling back. She finally answered and it turned out it was the man from tourist information. He had offered to drive us back to Hwasun if we had problems with the shuttle, but he was in the process of leaving. He wanted to find out where we were. Tamara assured him that we would be OK and he should leave without us. After all, we were still on the top of one of the peaks and not likely to make the base in the 15 minutes before he departed. Super nice of him though! They were so friendly.

Coffee break.

Coffee break.



From Jung Bong it is possible to continue along the ridge line to yet another peak and then descend from there, but, as it was already after 4:00 and we were not sure how we would get back to town, we decided to head down into the valley straight away. This is not to say that we hurried. The descent was one of the best parts of the hike as far as we are concerned. After the first drop down we hit a little creek, complete with a broken down bridge, and followed it down into the main valley. This creek is gorgeous! It is all toboggan style waterfalls and tempting little pools. We stopped for many a photo op and even took the opportunity to soak our feet in one of the rather chilly pools. While we would probably not bother with the summit again, we both agree that it might be worth a return visit just to bring a book and lounge by this creek. It was so nice to have just the sound of the creek and no city sounds to compete with it.

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We eventually arrived at the parking lot to find it completely deserted. There were some people working in nearby gardens, but it was pretty clear they were residents. The last place we saw a bus stop was where the road turned off the main highway – 5 clicks further down the mountain. So off we went. Partway down, what should emerge heading up the mountain but a 217 bus. The very number of bus whose driver had told us did not go to Mohusan! We then began a game of cat and mouse. We were about halfway between the base of the mountain, where the bus must stop, and the highway. Although we were fairly certain the driver would stop if we flagged him, you never know in Korea, so we continued heading towards the highway at a healthy pace on the off chance we might beat him to that stop and ensure our ride out of there. Because the road is super windy we developed a system where we left a spotter on the uphill side of a blind corner while the other two head down until there was a straight stretch where we (and the oncoming bus driver) could see again. In the end, we got about 3/4 of the way down before the bus overtook us. Thankfully, he was good enough to stop. It’s possible that Melanie’s very deep bow, Tamara making a heart with her arms, or Blake’s frantic waving might have tipped the odds in our favour. Regardless, we were headed home. In just under an hour, the 217 dumped us off in Hwasun and we headed for the bus station, Gwangju, and home.

The final assessment: Mohusan’s summit was not all that, but the trails along the creeks were really nice. It is a bit difficult to get to, which of course means there are fewer hikers. A big plus in our books. Ultimately, even though it was a great day, it’s not high on our list of return-to places.

Mohusan Logistics: Getting There and Away

You can catch a bus from Gwangju to Hwasun. Apparently there is also an occasional direct bus to Mohusan. The stop may be called Yuma-sa (the temple where the hike starts) so look for both.

Once in Hwasun, the 217 bus does go up to that area. It is possible that not every 217 bus goes all the way in to Yumasa, but it only adds about 5KM to the hike and there is a riverside trail up to the temple and the main trailhead. That, or you can hitch-hike (beg a ride) in, which was suggested to us when the tourist information guy called to say that he was leaving. A taxi from Hwasun is going to run you just over 30,000 won compared to 2,300 ea. for the bus so if you leave early, the bus is probably worth the risk. Regardless, it is going to take the better part of two hours to get from Gwangju to Mohusan.

The hike itself is not that difficult. You can do several different loops from the Yumasa end, or you can hike straight through the range and come out in Yucheon-ri and Dunbok-Myeon. There is at least one minbak and one pension on the Yuma-sa side and there appears to be accommodation options on the north side as well, although we can’t say for certain. The pension near Yumasa looks new.

New Year’s Wanders: Usan-Dong

As has become our habit on weekends when we are not out of town or overly busy, New Year’s Day saw us take an afternoon wander through another new (to us) part of Gwangju. A pattern seems to be developing for these little jaunts. One (or both) of us is feeling cooped up and unproductive, we pull up a google map of Gwangju and have a look at the areas we rarely see, spot some sort of green/empty space, plug in the bus coordinates, jot down a stop, grab the camera, and head out the door.

On New Year’s, two rather large dabs of green in the south-west part of Gwangju caught our attention and we headed out a little before two to explore them. We caught bus 29 down the west side of the river and jumped off a at Sojeung Kumho Apartments. We were right next to one of the treed hills and we could see the other one a couple hundred metres off to the south. It took us a little while to find our way into this first area. Eventually, we followed a series of little-used trails through the inevitable gardens behind the apartments and eventually popped out onto a main trail traversing the bamboo-covered hilltop.

This hilltop had the required compliment of body weight exercise gizmos and hula-hoops for those exercise-conscious wanderers as well as some benches and picnic tables for those more into relaxing. Three trails left the top and we headed down the one that appeared most faint. This eventually disgorged us into an orchard area on the far side of the hill from our start point. We wandered through the area snapping pictures of some of the old structures and the trees themselves. The whole setting really seemed to lend itself to black and white shots.

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We eventually emerged onto a main road next to the Gwangju Metropolitan Police Agency building (a bit of a surprise) which is built next to a swampy farming area. The entire area is close to the edge of the built-up parts of Gwangju and is a truly mixed area, with tall apartments next to farmland, swamps, and light industry. 

After a short wander around the swampy area we encountered a bus stop with a bus number that went past our house and, as it was heading towards dusk, we hopped on and headed for home. All told we were away from home for less that three hours, but we discovered a whole new area of town, got some fresh air, and a few interesting shots. Gotta love exploring your own backyard!

This was right behind the bus stop. We're not that sure what it is actually for.

This was right behind the bus stop. We’re not sure what it’s actually for.

Winter on Wolchulsan

We have journeyed up Wolchulsan in the past, but this time we did it with friends and with snow on the ground. Through Blake’s ultimate team we have met a couple, Josh and Elisti, from Mokpo who share a lot of our interests. Last Saturday we had arranged to head out and hike Wolchulsan with them. Wolchulsan was one of the early hikes that we completed in Korea and it remains one of our favourites, so when we learned that it was also on Josh and Elisti’s must see list, our destination was set.

We caught an early bus to Mokpo where Josh and Elisti picked us up from the bus station (they have a car) and we went for a quick half hour drive to the mountain. To reach the trail-head, we had to drive partway around the relatively small park and it was really interesting to have a look at the mountains from a few different angles.

We pulled into the nearly empty parking lot a little after ten and started up the hill. It took us only a few minutes to realize that most of us were seriously overdressed for this hike. We must have stopped five times in the first kilometre to shed layers into already bulging packs. By the time we were halfway up the ascent to the Cloud Overpass, we were pretty much down to our base layers. Winter had little effect on this part of the trail. Some sections were a little bit slippery and there were a few patches of snow, but for the most part it was a pretty similar experience to the April trip. The big difference: comparatively few people on the mountain.

Halfway to the cloud overpass (thanks to Josh for the photo)

Halfway to the cloud overpass (thanks to Josh for the photo).

We hit the Cloud Overpass a little under an hour into the hike and paused to snap a few pictures. Unfortunately, the bridge is out on a point that is rather exposed and we were greeted by a chilling wind that encourages us to move on rather quickly.

One problem with moving on quickly: when we got to the far side of the bridge, there was a barrier across the path with a sign that may have said the area is closed (that’s a bit beyond our Korean abilities). However, there was a group of ajeossis (older Korean men) who, having strapped on a light version of crampons, were just clambering over the barrier on the steps beyond. Using hand signals and a little English we asked about the barrier. He made a disparaging noise and waved his hand upward before swinging his leg over and heading up. Good enough for us! Onward and upward.

Private trail?

Private trail? (Thanks for the photo Josh)

The great thing about the barrier, whatever its meaning, was the fact that there were relatively few people on this part of the trail. We tramped over a few inches of fresh snow as we climbed the stairs clinging to the cliff above the Cloud Overpass. We did not stop for long on Sajabong, as the wind was more than a little chilly, but the views were great. Sadly, a heavy haze did not make for the best photographic opportunities.

We stopped for lunch in a sheltered area where the trail descends a short distance into the next valley before looping up onto the ridge line. Having gotten a somewhat late start, we had purchased Kimbap triangles at a 7-11 (our first experience with these tasty treats) which worked pretty well, once we were shown how to open them without completely destroying them. We also had a thermos and tea bags, which, as most winter hikers know, is a godsend in the middle of a chilly lunch break.

Lunch break.

Lunch break.

Post lunch,we headed up onto the ridge and turned our attention towards reaching Cheonhwangbong looming at the far end of the ridge. The views from this ridge line are spectacular. One of the reasons we love this park is that the view keeps changing. The rock formations and trail layout mean that you are regularly presented with a new angle or an entirely new view as you make your way along the trail. That’s something you don’t often see in Korean hiking that is mostly below tree line.

Ridge line!

Ridge line!

At the first trail intersection we clambered over another barrier (the other end of the closed section?) and headed the last few hundred metres to Cheonhwangbong. The last, sloping ascent was basically a sheet of ice, making for a bit of a skate for the last twenty or so metres. The view though… the view was great!

After a brief stop on the summit, we headed down the far (North) side of the creek valley. Strangely, this descent, which was not barricaded, was the most treacherous part of the winter trail. Large sections of the trail were practically bobsled runs. The resemblance was enough that Blake thought he would try a little skeleton.

Skeleton anyone? (Josh's photo)

Skeleton anyone? (Josh’s photo)

We passed the Six Brothers on our way down to Baram Falls which was partially frozen. This was probably the trickiest part of the trail. Although not overly technical (this section is rocky with steep parts), the real trick was the packed snow and ice that coated many of the rocks. There were some great views and the falls were gorgeous. 

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The final few kilometres passed quickly as we chatted our way down. The nice thing about hiking with good friends is that you can get chatting and the next thing you know you’re in the parking lot. All told, we were about five hours on the trail before we headed back to Mokpo for a delicious curried dinner at Josh and Elisti’s apartment.

After dinner, we washed up at home a little before 10:00. Even though we followed the same trail that we completed in April, this hike was a very different experience. It was winter, we had company, and the trails were comparatively empty. A great day with good friends in the mountains.