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The Perfect Korean Hike

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Hiking Gear

We’ve done a lot of hiking and hill-walking during our time in Busan, but until our trip out to Hoedong Lake, we hadn’t actually experienced a truly Korean day of hiking. This was the last big excursion we’d be undertaking in Busan, and we couldn’t have hoped for a more authentic day out.

Korea-Hike-Tour

When our friend Seong Yeop invited us to check out the Hoedong Lake with his father, we immediately said “yes”. But within seconds of beginning the hike, I knew we were in trouble. This wasn’t going to be the lackadaisical, relaxed stroll we normally indulge in, frequently interrupted by photo stops and water breaks. Nope, Sean’s dad had darted out in front, and was setting an insane pace which Jürgen and I had a hard time matching. He was completely geared up and taking no prisoners.

Through the woods we marched, and along the beautiful lake. Used for drinking water, it’s off limits to swimmers and fishermen, and colored a dark green which reflects the woods. Halfway through the hike, we came upon a small restaurant and sat down for a break. Plates of pajeon and dotori muk muchim (acorn jelly salad) were set in front of us, along with two bottles of makgeolli. After the strenuous hiking, the makgeolli hit hard, and I was visibly wobbly when I stood up, much to the amusement of Mr. Lee.

But we felt replenished after the break and, as Seong Yeop promised, the makgeolli buzz wore off quickly. Soon enough we were hiking up a seemingly endless hill for a view over the lake. Gorgeous, and by this point I was starting to get into the rhythm of the speed-walking. The rest of the trip went by in a flash, but I think we must have done about ten kilometers, all told.

After getting back into the car, we drove to a restaurant where we were treated to ginseng wine out of little cups the size of thimbles, and delicious bowls of chicken soup. The chicken was incredibly tender and fell off the bone at the slightest touch from our chopsticks. Wonderfully nourishing and strangely refreshing on a hot summer day, this is apparently a popular thing to eat after a day of hiking. I was completely full upon finishing, but had to make room for dessert at the final stop of the day: an awesome cafe specializing in patbingsu, or ice shavings topped with red beans.

Our day out with Seong Yeop and his dad was one of the highlights of our entire three months in Busan. I guess you haven’t gone hiking in Korea until you’ve gone hiking with Koreans! We had a blast, and it’s a perfect final memory from our time in the city. Thanks guys!

Location of Hoedong Lake on our Map

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July 30, 2012 at 9:53 am Comments (6)

A Trip to Gyeongju

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Budget Accommadations in Gyeongju

Gyeongju is a small city 50 miles north of Busan, known as the “Museum Without Walls” due to its incredible wealth of historic treasures. This was the capital of the powerful Silla Kingdom which ruled most of the Korean peninsula for nearly 1000 years (57 BC – 935 AD) and is without a doubt the most rewarding excursion you can make from Busan.

Gyeongju-South-Korea

We took the KTX bullet train from Busan Station and arrived in Gyeongju in 28 minutes. Less than a half-hour. That’s significantly less time than it even took for us to reach the train station from our apartment. I’ve taken showers that last longer. The train cost ₩10,000 ($9) per person, and was unbelievably smooth and fast. It was mostly through tunnels, though, so you couldn’t see the countryside whipping past.

The Silla Kingdom is among the most long-lived and powerful dynasties in Asian history. They started in the Gyeongju/Busan area, and were the first to successfully unite most of the peninsula. It was a strict monarchy, with a hereditary royalty and aristocracy, and no chance of social advancement for the great majority of people. Sillans spoke Korean, wrote in Chinese characters, practiced both Confucianism and Buddhism, and battled with the Korean-speaking Goguryeo Dynasty for control of the North.

Although Gyeongju’s period of prominence lies over a thousand years in the past, the sense of history is still present in the modern-day city. The most conspicuous remnants of its rich heritage are the amazing royal tombs where kings and nobility were buried. These large, perfectly rounded hills covered in bright green grass pop up all over Gyeongju, like miniature replicas of the mountains that are always visible in the distance. There are 35 royal tombs and over 150 smaller mounds in the city itself, with many more found in the surrounding environs.

In the Daeneungwon Park, tourists have the chance to peek inside Cheonmachong, the Heavenly Horse Tomb, which is one of the most important of the burial sites. When it was excavated in 1973, over 10,000 artifacts were found inside, including a golden crown and a saddle engraved with a winged horse, which gave the tomb its name.

We had two days in Gyeongju, and had just enough time to hit most of the major highlights. Over the next couple posts, we’ll focus on this historic and gorgeous mountain city.

Location on our Korea Map

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July 10, 2012 at 11:59 pm Comment (1)
The Perfect Korean Hike We've done a lot of hiking and hill-walking during our time in Busan, but until our trip out to Hoedong Lake, we hadn't actually experienced a truly Korean day of hiking. This was the last big excursion we'd be undertaking in Busan, and we couldn't have hoped for a more authentic day out.
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