South Korea

Posted in: Asien English Nov 19 2017

As soon as I arrived at the port of Busan everything went smoothly. One of the easiest entry into a country on my journey so far. Only the right-hand traffic was a bit unfamiliar to me. For almost 2 years i have cycled through countries with left-hand traffic.

The prices are cheaper in South Korea than in Japan. So I was finally able to afford an accommodation after 3 months living on the street. At the hostel a surprise awaited me.

A solar trike driver had also lodged there. Thirty months ago, David started his adventure from Switzerland. He drove along the Silk Road and was stranded in South Korea (www.d-t-b.ch). Now he’s trying to ship his vehicle to Southeast Asia, which is not so easy.

In addition, another cyclist from Manchester arrived. Matt cycled from England to Turkey and then flew to Seoul. Of course we had a lot to discuss. Between our discussions, I made a few trips through Busan.

Busan is an international business and financial center. As Busan was one of the few areas in Korea that remained under the control of South Korea throughout the Korean War, for some time it served as a temporary capital of the Republic of Korea.

By chance I discovered the Samgwangsa temple. Samgwangsa Temple falls under the Cheontae Order in Korean Buddhism. The temple is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).  It was established in 1983. I found the architecture enormously fascinating.

After one week, I had recovered enough and decided to continue cycling. Bicycling is very popular in South Korea. There is a bike path network almost all over the country. At the starting points you will receive a pass and a route map for 4’500.- Won (about 3.50.- Euro).

Due to heavy traffic and narrow streets this is a great solution. In addition, it animates the people to cycling. First I drove along the Nakdonggang river.

Nakdonggang is the longest river in Korea. It takes its name from its role as the eastern border of the Gaya confederacy during Korea’s Three Kingdoms Era. The Nakdong River has played an important role throughout Korean history. The river basin has been a favored dwelling-place for as long as people have inhabited the Korean peninsula.

On the way there are old telephone booths. These serve as a route post where you can collect stamps. So you can slowly fill your bike pass with stamps. These stretch posts are usually placed next to a hydroelectric power station.

The bike paths usually lead along the river, away from civilization. Many cyclists found these pretty monotonous. However, I have to contradict this statement. After 31 months on busy roads this was balm for my soul.

One drawback, however, was this: I had to cook myself again because there was not a store on every corner. Wild camping is not a problem in South Korea at all. Most of the time I stayed in a gazebo, which the farmers use as a resting place for their work on the field.

Mostly there was just enough space for my tent and the bicycle. The nights were getting really cold (minus -5 ° C Celsius). Unfortunately, I’m not really equipped for such cold temperatures. In the morning, most of the landscape was covered with a hoarfrost.

The flat stretches were really great for driving and mostly everything is well signposted. However often only in Korean. Fortunately, there are a lot of cyclists on the track who speak English pretty well.

The people of South Korea are very friendly and helpful. Every day people gave me food and motivated me. This was also badly needed, because the slopes in South Korea are not really funny.

Mostly the path leads straight up the mountain and just as steep down again. Almost like in Africa. Often I had to dismount and push my bike. A little upper body training does not hurt either.

From the Nakdonggang River, I crossed the Saejae Mountain Path to the Namhangang River. The Namhangang River belongs largely to South Korea, with its effluence in the Yellow Sea a few nautical miles from North Korea.

The river serves as a water source for over 12 million Koreans. From there it was not far to Seoul. Originally I wanted to cycle from Seoul to the East Coast to visit Jang, my companion in Zambia. Unfortunately, the weather did not play that way.

In Seoul I found a nice guesthouse where I could relax for a few days and make new travel plans. Seoul’s history stretches back more than two thousand years when it was founded in 18 BC by the people of Baekje, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.

After some research I decided to fly to Southeast Asia. From the city center it’s about 65km to the Incheon airport, which is located on an island. I needed a whole day to get there by bike and stayed there overnight.

The next day everything went smoothly and I was amazed again about the smooth running. South Korea impressed me from the first minute. Especially the bike network, I thought was awesome.

The people here are really sports enthusiasts. Their hospitality and interest in other cultures is remarkable. For bike fanatics, I can highly recommend this country. Certainly I will come back here again. A big <Gamsahnida> to all the people in South Korea!