Tag Archives: hiking

Falling for Seoraksan National Park

With Autumn upon us and the lack of changing leaves here in Hong Kong, I’m beginning to long for the fall colors that can be experienced in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere. While living in South Korea, my friend and I ventured the 6 hour bus ride from our home town of Daegu to Sokcho for some fall foliage. Sokcho is a city located on the northeastern coast of Korea, not far from the North Korean border. The city is known as a gateway to nearby Seoraksan National Park, where we spent most of our weekend.

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Seoraksan is one of Korea’s most popular National Parks and is listed as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is known for its stunning natural beauty, rare flora and fauna, and Buddhist temples. From the park’s main entrance there are many trails, with some peaks measuring over 1,200 meters above sea level, as well as access to a cable car. We decided to hike the Biryong Falls and Ulsanbawi courses.

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The Biryong Falls course is a short hike from the main entrance of the park. “Biryong” which literally means flying dragon is an easy hike which leads visitors to a serene waterfall that is hidden deep within the forest. As with most things in Korea, Biryong has a unique back story. It is believed that “long ago, the villagers suffered from a dire drought. The villagers found that a dragon had stopped the flow of the stream from the fall. They offered a maid as a sacrifice and the dragon disappeared into the sky, thus letting the stream flow once again.”

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This is great trail for anyone who wants a simple and easy hike. The course is quite flat and well maintained except for a bit at the end that involves some rock scrambling. The trail passes a thick bamboo forest, various sheer cliffs, and three waterfalls, making it a unique trekking experience. I really enjoyed taking in all the fall foliage along the path. The leaves here appeared to be deeper and brighter in color as the trail wandered along the lower elevations of the park.

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The Ulsanbawi course is a longer hike and known as one of the park’s more difficult hikes. The top is 876 meters above sea level, here you can enjoy panoramic views of Daecheongbong (the highest peak), Sokcho, and the East Sea. According to legend, Ulsanbawi comes from the city of Ulsan in South-Eastern Korea. It is said that on its way to the making of Kumgangsan (one of the best-known mountains in North Korea), the rock fell in love with Seorak and decided to stay here for good.

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The fairly arduous 4km hike takes roughly two hours to reach the peak is well worth the effort. The views from the top are simply breathtaking. I really enjoyed all the rock scrambling and climbing the 888 steps to the top. Although it was a bit crowded, it was still a peaceful experience. It’s easy to see why Ulsanbawi is one of park’s most popular hikes.

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If you have the time, I highly recommend adding Seoraksan National Park to your Korean itinerary. Only two and half hours by bus from Seoul, the park can be easily visited in one day. It’s a beautiful place to explore during any season and the nearby city of Sokcho is a quaint little coastal town that is an added bonus.

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For more information be sure to visit the Korea National Park Service Website.

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Exploring South Korea’s Outlying Islands: Somaemuldo

South Korea has a lot to offer as a travel destination. From the bustling streets of Seoul to the quiet shores of Jeju, there is plenty to see and do in the ROK. While Jeju is Korea’s most famous island and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, the peninsula is surrounded by hundreds of other islands which are just as beautiful.

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Starting in the city of Jinju, travelers must take an hours bus ride to the small port city, Tongyeong. Tongyeong is situated on the southern coast and has an extensive local fish market to be explored. I spent some time experiencing the local color here. The people were friendly and explorers can see the real bosses of the fish market; the hardcore ajimas. Ajimas, for those that don’t know, are older Korean ladies who can be seen squatting on street corners selling their produce. From here, you can buy your ticket to the island of Somaemuldo, located in the Hallyeo Haesang National Park.

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The boat ride lasts around an hour, giving tourists a view of some of the smaller islands in the area and a good look at the unique rock formations that can be found jutting out of the ocean. Somaemuldo itself is a small island, but is home to some challenging hiking trails, a small village and a lighthouse that was built by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. There is plenty of beautiful scenery to take in and due to the locals staying close to their homes, explorers get a little time for themselves to see the sights.

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I decided to take the longer trail toward the lighthouse which meant meandering along the ocean front. The lighthouse can be found on a smaller island, only accessible twice a day during low tide. Seeing the mountainous cliffs. the seascape views, and the blue waters made trekking Somaemuldo an enjoyable experience.

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The island reminded me a lot of Hongdo, but it definitely has its own character and appeal. Both islands certainly deserve a visit if you’re living in or backpacking through South Korea. For those closer to Busan and Geoje, Somaemuldo can also be accessed from the Jeogu Port in Geoje.

The Great “Wild” Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is easily one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks in the world. Known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it has become China’s most popular attraction. People from all over the world travel to the People’s Republic to experience the ancient grandeur and beauty of the wall resulting in many parts of this historical attraction being inundated with tourists. Thankfully, the Great Wall of China is 5,500 miles long with Beijing covering only 342 of these miles. Thus, there are parts of the wall that can still be explored on a more personal basis. One of these sections is Jinshanling.

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While Jinshanling is a bit of a trek from Beijing, about a three hour drive from the center of the city, the end result is well worth the extra time. I absolutely loved this section of the wall. Jinshanling is isolated and stunning. I found the scenery to be quite extraordinary and unforgettable.

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I really enjoyed trekking along this portion of the Great Wall. The vistas of the surrounding landscape were truly impressive and I found the area to be authentic and natural. It offers an organic mix of restored and untouched wall and, most surprisingly, I didn’t see a single tourist while exploring this area.

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I spent nearly three hours climbing up and down parts of the Jinshanling section, which measures nearly seven miles in total. The hike was rather challenging as the varying depth of steps and sheer steepness made it feel like quite the workout, especially in the summer heat. While the steps and elevation changes can be difficult, the rewards are magical and it is totally worth the pain. Hiking up this remote part of the wall made my experience at the Great Wall even more memorable.

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If you’re planning to visit the Great Wall, I highly recommend taking the time and making the effort to visit the Jinshanling section of the wall, you won’t regret it. Very few portions of the wall can compare to the natural beauty and authentic quality found at Jinshanling. Here, you won’t have to worry about battling through crowds of tourists or dealing with ruthless vendors. It’s simply the Great Wall in all its natural splendor, the way it was meant to be experienced.

Vertigo Atop Mount Hua

I consider myself to be a big hiking and outdoor enthusiast. I love being challenged, especially when it’s within nature’s playground. I often plan my travels around the amount of outdoor activities a destination has to offer. I love adventure, but even I have moments when I second guess some of my more adventurous decisions. A few years ago, I traveled to Xi’an, China where I hiked Mount Hua’s insane cliff path. I learned about the hike while reading an article in Travel and Leisure magazine; “World’s Scariest Hikes.” Their website had a video link of the hike and after watching it, I knew it was something I had to do one day. The hike became the inspiration for my trip to China in 2011!

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Mount Hua is known as “The Number One Precipitous Mountain under Heaven.” It’s one of the five sacred mountains in China and has a long history of religious significance. Various Taoist temples dot the mountain’s five peaks. It’s a place where many local tourists travel to as part of a spiritual pilgrimage. My friend and I boarded a bus near the Xi’an train station and two hours later arrived near the base of the mountain. Since we were limited on time, the cable car took us halfway up, but we were able to hike the rest of the way. The view from the top was stunning.

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The mountain’s cliff path was our ultimate destination. After hiking for about three hours through the clouds and in the rain, we finally arrived. It was an incredible sight to see. The path appeared even more intimidating in person, to the point where I was doubting my ability and talking myself out of attempting it. It looked scarier than I imagined; a straight descent along small metal bars that were built into the mountain.

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The fact that it was raining and everything was wet, thus slippery, made the situation seem even more precarious. For a very lengthy moment, the thought crossed my mind to back out of the whole thing. Meanwhile, my friend had strapped right in to his harness and started on his way. After about 15 minutes, I gave the cliff path one final look and thought to myself, “I came all the way to China for this moment; I can’t back out now”. I put my stuff down, strapped myself in, and made my way down to the path. I would have truly regretted it had I not. I was surprised how safe and at ease I felt once I started making my way down. It looked much scarier than it actually was.

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The experience was truly amazing. It was quite the rush, almost spiritual like. Every thought and worry I ever had seemed to disappear for a moment as I took in all the beautiful scenery around me. There’s just something indescribable about nature when you see it on such a massive scale. It made me feel so small, yet, on top of the world.

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It was easily one of the most impressive natural sights I have ever seen. The whole experience was breathtaking and one that I highly recommend trying while in Xi’an.