South Korea’s a 24/7 nation of bustling cities, karaoke and coffee shops, smartphones and internet cafes. Fifty million people are crammed onto a tiny peninsula which at times feels like one giant metropolis.
After two weeks in Seoul, I needed a break from the madness. I was pleased to discover that South Korea has some beautiful natural spots. Hiking opportunities are everywhere in this mountainous country. One example is Bukhansan National Park, a mere bus ride from Seoul.
Hiking Mt Bukhansan
Bukhansan means “big mountain in the north,” but this name is a little misleading. South Korea’s mountains are small. My friend and I reached the top in an hour or so. At the summit we were rewarded with views for miles over Seoul.
The hike is straightforward. I did it in a pair of old Converse sneakers. There’s still adventure to be had though, with steep granite banks to cross and rope sections to climb.
The mountain’s appearance is special because it’s made of smooth granite. The white rock looks like it’s melting down the hillside while the trees cling on. I went in autumn when the forest was changing into beautiful reds and oranges.
Most impressive though was the view of Seoul. At ground-level, the city is jam-packed and stressful. But from Mt Bukhansan, Seoul looked serene, a contrast to the madness developing there as rush hour begun. The city sprawled to the horizon, and up here I finally appreciated just how massive it is.
On the way down Mt Bukhansan, we stumbled across a small temple hidden in the forest. It’s name was Geumsunsa Temple and it’s possible to stay the night with the monks. The place was virtually deserted and I felt like an intruder as I tiptoed around.
With this hike, my idea of South Korea had been shattered. The beautiful nature on Seoul’s doorstep means there’s more to this place than just soju and Samsung. For me, this was just the first of many surprises here.