There are some amazing hikes in South Korea. And Colin took on the challenge of a lifetime by aiming to cross the entire width of South Korea, on foot, in a two week hike across South Korea. It was going to take lots of planning, a well-organised route and most of all, plenty of courage!
With its futuristic cities, ancient temples and even lush countryside, South Korea has a lot to offer. The range of surroundings means that the country has something for everyone, so it comes as no surprise that so many people are drawn here each year.
Now the eleventh largest economy, South Korea is one of the world’s economic success stories. Since the 1970s, the country has seen a dramatic surge in the standard of living and been at the forefront of development in many different areas. The tourist infrastructure has benefited hugely from this, and now many people visit the country to sample the heavy blend of traditional culture, cuisine and natural environment, which South Korea is so famous for.
The typical tourist’s trip planning may involve deciding between the huge metropolis, Seoul and the more laid-back, beach side city of Busan. However, Colin chose to experience South Korea in a much different way. Colin took on the insane trek of hiking the entire width of the country, beginning his trip at Byeonsan-bando National Park on the west side of South Korea, and finishing in Pohang in the east.
Planning the Trip
All in all, it took Colin around three months to plan his insane trek. He researched the most direct route he could find, that would still allow him to venture through some of South Korea’s many national parks. Completes one of the most amazing hikes in South Korea required major diligence. He meticulously measured distances and places where he could stay, ensuring that he was well prepared for his travels. Colin told us:
“The toughest part of this was everything was in South Korea’s written language, Hangeul, and I had to write the Anglicized form of all the towns and places I would pass through.”
Colin was lucky enough to have South Korean coworkers, who were happy to help him with his travel plans. They wrote him a list of useful South Korean phrases for him to use while on the road. This included things like “Where is the nearest accommodation?” and “Where can I buy water/food?” to help get him out of any potential tricky situations.
En Route across the Country
Colin started his two-week hike by taking a bus to his starting point, Byeonsan-bando National Park on the west coast, during the hot summer month of August, 2014. Filled with ambition, he underestimated the hike and began his first day behind schedule. After a rough and demotivating start, Colin began to tackle the insane trek of 220 mile (350km) expedition that lay ahead of him and stumbled across stunning views and a temple that was nestled in a beautiful valley which helped to raise his spirits. However, after a few hours of walking, the daylight disappeared and an extremely sweaty Colin was forced to climb the mountain mostly in the dark, whilst being feasted upon by mosquitos. The descent down the rocks was physically demanding and treacherous at times, especially as the only light that he had was the torch on his phone. Eventually, the trail led to a small town where Colin discovered a quaint little guesthouse. His home for the night turned out to be a complete oasis ran by the amiable owner and his young family. The owner was actually a world traveller himself and had done similar treks to what Colin was currently doing. Meeting a fellow insane trekker re-motivated Colin for the hike and the owner was kind enough to send him on his way with tons of supplies for the journey.
In a typical day, Colin would wake up around 7:30am and eat as much breakfast as he could manage in order to set him up for the day. After a 2-4 hour hike, he’d find a spot to grab some lunch before walking a final 3-5 hours along the route. His day would end once he had found a place to eat dinner and take shelter for the night.
Even though Colin factored in where he was going to stay while he was planning his trip, he still managed to find himself running into some difficulties with sleeping arrangements. One night after a long day of hiking, Colin was walking along a tollway near a small town. He entered the toll building to ask if there were any nearby guesthouses. The staff there ended up calling the police but not because they were alarmed, they were just trying to help. When Colin explained his situation, they put him in the back of the cop car and took him to the police station. They showed him to their break room in the back and allowed him to stay there for the night. They also bought him dinner and provided him with snacks and water for the next day!
Another frequent situation that Colin found himself in was miscalculating the size of a town only to realise that there was no guesthouse or accommodation available there. One day he walked around 23 miles just to get to a hotel. His shelter for the night turned out to be one of the Love Motels, commonly used for prostitution, but after walking for as long as Colin had, he had no problem passing out on the heart-shaped, zebra-print bed. If he hadn’t found accommodation, Colin would sometimes walk after dark (wearing his flashing bike-light so he could be easily seen) until he found somewhere to stay. However on one occasion, after miscalculating the distance to the nearest hotel yet again, Colin ended his day sleeping on a bench at a bus stop on the side of the road. This obviously was a desperate time for Colin and not comfortable at all, so if you’re planning on having a similar adventure to this, learn from his mistakes and ensure you calculate the distances correctly.
The Finish Line
After finishing the insane trek in the beach city, Pohang on the east side of Korea, Colin had a well earned beer to celebrate the end of his adventure. Colin isn’t the only one to be enticed by taking on an insane challenge in the country, as photographer Nicolás Marino cycled for a whole year through seven countries, including South Korea.