We are finally on the adventure of our life time (up ’till now)! After resigning from our jobs teaching English in South Korea in February, we are traveling through Europe, visiting Paris,Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and Austria. We spent almost a year planning our two month trip to Europe which eventually evolved into a ten month journey that will see us crisscrossing Europe, hopping on over to Ireland and then onto the USA for a few months. Central America may (hopefully) make its way onto our itinerary.
It took us almost two years to finally go ice fishing. Considering what a fishing fanatic I am this is actually ridiculous. Each time we planned to go our plans were thwarted by work (the Korean last minute “didn’t we tell you about it two months ago-you have training on Saturday”) or weather (the -17°C plus wind chill factor that us Durbanites just can’t handle).
Right at the end of November we planned a trip to Jirisan National Park. We had been before, doing a small hike to Ssangyesa Temple, but this time we went to a different part of the Park, to Nogodan Peak. My co-teacher had recommended it as an easy, yet pretty walk. One that was easy enough for her daughter to tag along too, without (too much) complaining.
We had hoped that there would still be some pretty, colourful leaves around (the “hike” is popular for this), but understood that it might be a little too late in the season and therefore may be greeted with bare trees and a dull landscape. Well boy were we surprised, and in for a treat!
We arrived at the park entrance, only to be turned around, due to icy roads and bad conditions up ahead. We waited on the side of the road for Hyun Ju. As it turns out, they were only letting four wheel drive cars in – she totally misunderstood that one and reassured the guards that her car did in fact have four wheels and that we were aware of the bad road conditions (we have all had a good chuckle over this since! Can you imagine our little blue Matiz being a four-wheel drive haha).
Snow Much Fun
I was getting giddy with excitement at the odd patches of ice and snow on the side of the winding mountain road. We parked in a lot where a sign board had been placed to warn of snow on the road ahead. It was a 20 minute walk up to the actual car park, and entrance to the trail for Nogodan Peak. We quickly added an extra layer of clothing after feeling the wind race around us.
Walking up the road, we giggled profusely as we slipped around on the melted snow. We wondered how on earth we were going to manage this walk up! It got a little better, with much thicker snow and by now my excitement was all there! Clapping hands and stomping my feet I couldn’t contain it. Hailing from Durban, South Africa, snow is still a super exciting and novel thing, especially when its real snow and a SURPRISE!!! So commenced the snowball fights (or more like snowballs to the bum from HaYeon) and the kids gloves were soaked before we even got to the trail head!
The actual walk was so beautiful. It wound along a little road that was completely covered in soft, fluffy, fresh white snow! I couldn’t stop ooohing and aaahing and saying how beautiful and magical and wonderful it all was! Despite the snow, we were blessed with fairly “warm” weather and beautiful blue skies. The walk to the shelter just before the peak took us a little longer than expected (due to many picture stops and the kids building snowmen at every opportunity). We were rewarded with great views and some wonderful soft white snowy areas to make some snow angels. We sat down to have our little picnic of peanuts and chocopies. Some very kind men next to us gave us one of their cup noodles to share! We love experiencing this Korean kindness!
We didn’t make it to the actual peak after having our picnic – the children were cold and tired. Mark and I also wanted to get going at a reasonable time. A 3 hour trip back home on a Sunday evening isn’t the best. In saying that, it is still an easy hike with great views and a great trail. We walked a total of 9,5kms (including the extra walk from the bottom car park) and it took us 4 hours (all that photo taking and snow frolicking). The entrance to the park was W3000 per person. We had such an enjoyable day, and we would highly recommend it to anyone! It was really great to see another part of Jirisan and experience it in a completely opposite season too!
After weeks of being cooped up in the winter and not seeing enough daylight hours, we rejoiced when Spring came around. So started our Friday evening routine of watching the sunset and having a beer together… hence, Friday Night Lights.
The rest of the world knows very little about South Korea other than the fact that they have super fast internet and are technically still at war with North Korea.
This war leads to sporadic missile tests by their childlike leader and the odd foray into the demilitarized zone, otherwise known as the DMZ, by North Korean soldiers. This is a zone that stretches from the west coast to the east coast. It is 4 km wide and 250 km long. Lined on both sides with electric fences, tank traps, landmines and waiting armies. It serves as a barrier between the communist North and the democratic South. Also lining each border, here’s the strange part, are observatories where the public can visit.
At these observatory points you can try and peer through the fences and across 4 km of mountains and valleys and on a clear day catch a glimpse of the dreaded enemy territory! If this doesn’t work they have cameras with telescopic lenses set up all over. Inside the building at Eulji Observatory Post, we were lucky enough to get a short talk by a Korean soldier in English. He explained all about the DMZ and what it entails, took us through all the camera views, zoomed in on North Korean outposts, farm lands and mountain peaks and told us a few tales about the happenings of the DMZ. I don’t want to ruin the experience and tell you everything, but there are tales involving naked ladies…
Conditions at the observation points are pretty strict, no photos allowed, armed soldiers everywhere, buses get searched before they get to approach. They even ask you to turn off the location services on your phone in case you get tracked by the enemy! Before we did this, we quickly opened our maps and took a screenshot of how far north we were!
After visiting the actual observation point we went down to view an infiltration tunnel dug by North Korea. This was the 4th infiltration tunnel discovered by the south, and was quite a sight to see. You get to the tunnel by walking down a spacious tunnel drilled with some impressive equipment that the South Koreans used to intercept the the North Korean tunnel. Once you get to the interception point you get to go on a fun ride on an electric train for a short trip into and back out of the NK tunnel. It is at this point that you realize the stark difference between North and South resources. Having just walked down a tunnel you could very easily swing a couple of cats in, you get to a small tunnel, barely high enough for most people to walk hunched in. Apparently the average height of the NK male is 1.6m. The walls show the marks of picks and some holes drilled for dynamite. They must have taken ages to get as far as they did. Once South Korea got wind of their tunnel, they drilled through and intercepted it in short order.
The other thing that really stood out when we visited this site was the “information” video we had to watch before being allowed into the tunnel. This turned out to be nothing more than a tirade on how evil and disingenuous the North are, constantly trying to infiltrate and take over the South. Quite a laugh actually. We realised how propaganda plays a part everywhere, not only in the North where we are told it happens so severely.
We also made a short visit to an area just outside the DMZ called Dutayeon that had for many years been off limits to the public. Here they had a few interactive experiences and displays. At these displays, you can hear what gunfire and mines sound like and see some of the gear that was used during the war. The area itself was quite beautiful with a river running through the valley, a waterfall and of course the fall foliage on display. Photo opportunities for days.
A photo posted by Mark Scrooby (@thelazyfisherman) on
We did this whole day as part of a group tour with Enjoy Korea and it was well worth it. We spent the Saturday traveling up north to the DMZ and the Sunday at Seoraksan National Park. The tour included all transportation and accommodation as well as entrance fees and registration at all attractions. Everything was planned out and arrangements were made prior to our arrival. We just had to arrive on time. Although we usually prefer to travel on our own and make our own arrangements, Korea has very little of their tourism geared towards English speakers, so the language barrier can be an issue. We have never been disappointed on an Enjoy Korea trip.
How do you prefer to travel? Group tours or your own way?
Before I left South Africa I’d become quite hooked on running. Particularly trail running. I had done a number of races of varying distances, some stage races and a few road runs. My highlights being a 3h54 road marathon as well as the 73km Golden Gate Challenge (3 day stage race with some massive climbs). Kayley also did her fair share of running back in SA, she actually convinced me to try my first trail run. She has completed numerous trail runs, many 10kms, as well as a half-marathon.
So I duly packed some running kit with road and trail shoes for our time in Korea.
Running here has definitely not been as easy as back home. I first landed in early spring which is colder than the middle of winter back home. After dealing with the jet lag I did finally manage to drag myself out of bed in the morning for a few runs only to realize I was pretty unprepared to run in the cold! Very soon after that I got the worst case of flu I had ever had in my life! This may or may not have been due to the cold morning runs, or exposure to a new environment and lots of children etc.
I did however, eventually find my feet and settled into a rhythm. I was delighted to find a few trails near my apartment that went up and around the hills as well as some single track through some of the parks. Hiking is a big thing in Korea so this has been great for me as a trail runner. There are trail heads almost everywhere, most have a rough map as well. I have had a few startled glances from the hikers on my morning runs but most of them are very friendly.
Road runs have also been pretty good to get some mileage in. Most motorists have, surprisingly, been quite courteous when I’m trundling along where there are no pavements.
I have only done two trail races in my time here. Actually, it was one race that I did twice, last year and this year. It is called the Baekyang Challenge and takes place annually in Busan. 26km up and around a mountain. Lots of fun, tough climbs, great single track. This race is organized by a foreigner who lives and works in Busan so entering it is easy!
Which brings me to road races in Korea, for these you will need help, unless your Korean skills are good. Mine are not. Kayley and I have done a few 10km races and they have been fun. They are really well organized. You have to enter at least one month before online. Your race number, timing chip and shirt get delivered to you about a week before the race date. So on race day you just pitch up and run. If you get there early enough you can enter a lucky draw to win some prizes, this is done before the race and we’ve seen people gong home with TV’s. This is usually followed by some speeches and then a group warm-up coordinated by some dancers/performers on stage to the beat of K-pop. This is quite a sight to see and is hilarious.
Just before the race starts everyone gets a pep talk and shouts of “fighting” and fists in the air are the norm. Sometimes you will also get a shoulder rub from the person behind you and in theory you should be giving the person in front of you a shoulder rub. Then fireworks (for every event) and you’re off!
The routes are always well marked, lots of marshals along the way and decently stocked water tables. Timing is spot on as well. After the race you can collect your medal which will come with a small bag of treats. There is also free food served after the run, fishcakes (odang) and tofu. There are also free bag storage facilities at the start/finish and ample parking. Usually within an hour of the race you get a text message with your official time and about a week later they send you a certificate with a photo of you at the finish, race details and time.
If you are a runner I would definitely recommend trying a race in your area. If you are not a runner I would still recommend doing one just for the experience. There are usually a few events on offer, ranging from 5kms to 42kms. At all the races we’ve attended there has been a very mixed batch of participants. From the super cool, dressed to kill and faster than a speeding bullet pro’s to the loving couple who walk and hold hands and even the first time runner who bolts off, nearly has a heart attack and walks for the rest of the way until he sees the crowds at the finish line type. As foreigners we also get extra cheers and shouts of “Woawaaahhhh”!
Overall running in Korea has been a positive experience. It is a great way to explore new suburbs and trails. It also, for me at least, is a great time to think and reflect or to just zone out completely and forget about everything else. Another benefit is that it keeps off a few kilograms so you can try more of the delicious food!! This is a constant battle as we love trying all the food in new countries, and have really loved Korean food.
Do you have any running stories to share? Have you tried a race in Korea? Let us know in the comments below!
Korea has been blessed with a few things – endless mountains immediately spring to mind. But they also have an incredible number of islands and peninsulas scattered along their coast line. Some of these are absolutely stunning! You could almost believe you were on a tropical beach anywhere else in the world. What better way to enjoy them than with some beach camping?
We had, due to the weather, again, and some prior commitments, missed out on camping on Namyeol beach with a group of friends at the end of summer. After seeing photos from their trip we decided we had to go there. The beach itself is situated near the eastern tip of the Goheung peninsula. Clear blue water, white sandy beach and a backdrop of rice paddies terraced up the hills.
We went there towards the end of September, which is after summer has officially ended in Korea. This means that, even though the weather is still very good (probably better for camping than during the heat of summer) the beaches are almost deserted. Also, what used to be a pay-to-camp stretches of beach are now free. Our best kind of camping! There are still public bathrooms to use as well as a small convenience store to stock up on basics, like ramen and makgeolli. There were showers but they were locked due to the season being over. The outdoor washing up areas had no water. There was, however, a hose outside the bathrooms and some basins in the toilets for basic washing up/brushing teeth etc.
After a bit of scouting around we settled on a spot under the trees at the edge of the beach. Initially the only other people around were a few groups set up in the parking lot itself, tents pitched on the paving stones. Namyeol Beach is also a popular surf spot in Korea and there were a few surfers around (although the waves were pretty intermittent and small). In the summer there are surfboards and wetsuits available for rent if you’re interested in that!
As we had gotten there quite early we had the beach almost to ourselves. Later in the afternoon a few other families set up camp just for the day. A large hiking group came to celebrate their hike, but left as soon as it got dark. We spent the day lounging around on our inflatable “sofas”, sipping on local makgeolli and taking dips in the ocean to cool off. This led to us hiking up the side of the small cliff next to the bay to watch the sun go down. Excellent idea as it was an absolutely stunning sunset. The beach is also referred to as sunrise beach – they are quite impressive there. If you’re not to keen on waking up early the sunset is a great alternative…
The stunning sunset meant we stayed up there for quite a while drinking in the tranquility (and the makgeolli). We may have spent a bit too long up there, only to realise we hadn’t yet collected firewood for a campfire. Definitely can’t go camping without a campfire! The evening was pleasantly warm and we certainly didn’t need a fire other than for ambiance. A few trips down to beach with torches soon remedied this. Our campfire was soon lit and we were ready for a very lazy dinner of ramen and spam under the stars.
The following morning was spent lazing around again and making friends with somebody’s collie dog. He was super friendly and loved fetching pine cones, even ones we hadn’t thrown. I also tried a bit of fishing of the rocks on the far side of the bay but no luck. We packed up just before lunch and started heading back home. The reason we left early was so that I could try a few dams on the way back to see if they held any fish. This led to an entertaining meeting with a local farmer but, unfortunately, no fish.
As a beach camping spot this one is great. There are good facilities, even in the off season. The beach is very nice and the water temperature was bearable. There is lots of space to set up and the beach camping is free in the off season. Camp sites in Korea can get very crowded and camp sites on popular beaches even more so!
Has anyone been to Namyeol during the summer, does it get busy? Or has anyone surfed there? Let us know in the comments.
A long weekend in June, thanks to Memorial Day gave us the perfect time to do some beach camping! A little bit of research and a reluctance to spend too many hours in traffic led us to Pohang. A slightly obscure blog post mentioned a secluded beach, next door to Pohang’s main beach Chilpo, where camping was possible away from the crowds. Kayley’s navigation and investigation skills eventually led us there. Initially it didn’t look too promising as the roads went through a very industrial area that wasn’t too inviting. It did, however, lead to a small fishing village with a lovely little beach that we ended up staying on for 2 nights/3days. At first, we had just headed straight into the village and spotted some cars that were parked very close to where we wanted to camp but there were no roads from the village. We backtracked a bit and found an access road right down to the beach. Guerilla camping heaven.
A few Korean families were set up well back from the beach on a grassy area, so we proceeded to set up right on the beach near a few small cliffs that provided a nice shelter from the wind, some privacy and a handy “camping loo”. We set up our tent, did a bit of beach clean up and collected some firewood. There was also lots of ocean debris around that we ended up using to make a lounge area and outdoor kitchen around our camp fire. We ended up having a very comfortable set up.
Relaxation and Fun
When we arrived, the weather wasn’t the best, but it was pleasant enough to be beach camping and we even got some sun on Sunday (with a bit of wind). We woke up on Monday morning to a beautiful sunrise and the rain held off until Monday afternoon while we were packing up. We spent the days lounging around enjoying the outdoors, reading, fishing and learning some Gaelic football moves. I also did a bit of fishing off the rocks and managed to catch a few strange looking fish. We had a big bonfire each night, as well as our delicious samgyupsal (pork belly) and lamb chops dinners. We spent the evenings sitting around the fire swapping stories with our friends John and Neeta. Fortunately firewood was plentiful.
Facilities and Entertainment
The main beach (Chilpo-Ri) was very close to where we camped and there was a small shop for ice/beer/water etc as well as large public bathrooms if you were really desperate. The ocean was cold but good enough for a quick rinse if you felt the need. The beach was soft sand. It was really very picturesque with the little fishing village and harbour in the distance.
The Sunday evening was a lot busier and quite a few Korean families set up to do some beach camping, but it never got crowded. The entertainment for the evening was a Korean man who had probably had a few too many drinks and tried to show off to his friends by driving along the beach. He proceeded to get stuck in the very soft sand and it took an hour, two other off-road vehicles and a four-wheeler to eventually get him off the beach.
After packing up, Kayley and I took the “scenic” route back home. We meandered along the coast line up to the Homigot (Hand of Harmony). Pohang is very well know for this giant hand statue in the ocean that apparently sees the first sunrise of the Korean New Year. If you time it right, you can snap a picture of the sun resting in the hand. Of course this means there are hordes of people trying to capture the perfect selfie and making weird poses (we did the same…) Lots of small Korean restaurants in the area to grab a bite. There are also a few coffee shops if you’re looking for something a bit more western. The drive along the coastal road is a bit tedious and time-consuming though!
Guerilla camping (and beach camping) has been the best thing we’ve done in Korea. It allows us to escape the city and get some reasonably fresh air and enjoy a bit of nature. Being able to camp just about anywhere has made it a lot of fun to explore the countryside.
Have you tried camping in Korea? Have any favourite spots?
Yongdam Dam is a massive man made reservoir in a valley between the mountains and right at the outflow of the reservoir where it turns to almost natural river again is a big, commercial, “camp on top of your neighbours and make sure to bring your projector” traditional Korean camp site called 섬바위캠핑장. But lucky for us, just behind this camp site there is a convenient little access road where you can get right onto the river bank and set up camp next to your car. Of course this means no electricity, shower or ablutions, but we are okay with that. We definitely don’t mind being unplugged for a while. Guerilla camping at its best.
There were only a few other people set up on the river bank, but they were quite far away from us. Firewood was plentiful, as well as lots of rocks around to make a fire pit. We had chosen a good spot though and the fire pit was already made! The nights were still quite cool at this time of the year so a campfire is a must. Of course, it adds to the ambience too! Who wants to camp without a fire?? The views up and down the valley were quite magnificent, Korea really is blessed with some incredible natural landscapes and being able to take advantage of this, now that we have a car, has made our second year in Korea much easier.
I, of course, was immediately attracted to the river to see if any fish were to be found! The river proved to be quite full of life with schools of small fish all over the place, they did not seem interested in any of the flies I was chucking their way though. There were a few other guys around set up for catching carp/babel but I didn’t seem them catch anything. One old man came and fished next to our camp spot for about an hour in the Korean style of at least 3 rods in the water and he managed to catch one small chub. Lots of people were on their hands and knees in the river searching for fresh water muscles/clams and possibly crabs or snails. In Korea most living things are considered food!
It was towards the late afternoon that I spotted a few bass darting around and a local fisherman also said there were Sogari in the river. Sogari is a hugely popular eating fish in Korea and shares the same habitat as bass so their numbers have dwindled. I eventually found a bass sitting on a spawning site and tried for about an hour to get it to take a swipe at every lure in my bag before giving up. The next morning I woke up early and decided to give it another shot and finally manged to get it to bite. It was safely released back into the water and went straight back to its bed.
Most of the day was spent lazing around in the sun, sipping beers. Some birthday cake and an afternoon nap were much enjoyed, too! Kayley loves reading her book whilst watching me tramp up and down the river bank. We spent the evening around the fire enjoying the peace and quiet of the great out doors and a South African braai of lamb chops and potatoes done in the coals. Delicious!
We only spent one night there but would definitely recommend it to anybody looking for an escape from the city and doesn’t mind roughing it a bit with no facilities.
Spring finally brought int the warmer weather and we decided to enjoy the fresh air and outdoors with a camping trip. It was a long weekend for Buddha’s birthday (Happy birthday Buddha!) and it also happened to be my birthday too! We wanted to head up into the area surrounding Muju to a small town called Gucheondong. We had beautiful weather and great spots, but this proved to be one of our more frustrating starts to a camping trip.
The town is situated at the entrance to Deogyusan National Park. As it was a long weekend the small town was packed with people strolling up and down, parked all over and trying to get into the park. The river running through the town was quite beautiful and was the main aim of our trip. I was in search of the fabled Cherry Trout that finds it most southern distribution to be in Korea. This area is known for actually having Cherry Trout. We spent a few hours (!!!) hunting for the ideal spot along the river to set up camp and eventually settled on an abandoned camping ground on the edge of town.
This turned out to be quite a nice setting as we were up on the river bank, hidden away from the road and in between a few trees. It wasn’t long until we had set up camp, collected firewood and I was off to the river to search for some fish. I must admit Kayley did most of the setting up as I was itching to get to the water! I spent about an hour up and down the river looking for some nice pools to fish in. Conditions were great and there were a few fish rising but no Cherry Trout unfortunately. Most of what I saw were a species of chub or minnow I think. (Not too savvy on Korean fish species.) The rest of the evening was spent chilling around the fire chatting and having some drinks. For dinner we had a Korean style barbecue of samgyupsal (grilled pork belly), kimchi and mushrooms in lettuce wraps and just enjoyed being outdoors!
The next morning Kayley woke me up singing “happy birthday”. After having another quick cast into the river, I arrived back at the tent to coffee and a very special gift – an Apple watch. Isn’t my girl the best?? Although it was some kind of sick joke not being able to play with it for the next two days due to no electricity or wifi! After enjoying our breakfast of oats and yogurt we packed up (basically just chucked everything into our teeny car) and headed to Jinan for another night of camping.