By Dale Hardy
A trip to Seoul can be like no other, as you will find out reading this article. As a capital city, it contains all the usual things to do like any other capital. Fantastic food from different cultures all over the world, amazing shopping areas, historic and modern architecture, fantastic technology and all the other usual things which will keep your camera and credit cards busy during your trip. But unlike many other capitals around the world, it also has it's own unique landscaped scenery. If you were to stand on the roof of a tall building in Seoul and take a 360-degree turn, you would see mountains all around you. As Seoul and most of the Korean peninsula is scattered with mountains, it is hard to ignore them. They are naturally beautiful to look at especially in winter when covered in snow, and great fun to hike. Some of the mountains are more popular than others for hiking, and some are not hiked at all. The most popular mountains can be easily hiked in a day. Get up early, pack a bag with water and some kimbab (which is a Korean snack food) or other snacks and then head off for a nice day out hiking. Most of the mountains you can reach by bus or subway line, or even a short walk depending on where you are staying in the city.
You will see many Koreans, young and old, walking around the city streets wearing hiking gear, carrying backpacks and hiking sticks, clearly on their way to a nice trek. Many Koreans tend to hike in groups and will spend a fair few hours in a day making the most of a nice walk. The smaller mountains tend to be the most popular especially with the older generation. If you need to purchase hiking equipment, you will find some hiking shops close to the mountains with necessary equipment like gloves and spiked boots (for winter hiking). But the most popular mountains, in any other season, demand only comfortable shoes or boots. I even hike in a pair of Converse All-stars sometimes! As the mountains are climbed regularly they all have paths and simple walkways so it is impossible to get lost. They have signed routes, some in English, and many facilities at the bottom or halfway like toilets and snack bars if you are short on energy.
Always take plenty of water with you. Usually about a 2 litre bottle should last a trip, but you may need more if hiking in the humid summer temperatures. Always charge your camera before leaving as you will be taking many photos on the hike of all sorts of things. The scenery is fantastic on the way up before you get to see the spectacular views of Seoul at the peaks. A lot of the mountains have many streams of flowing water running down from the top to the bottom, which are beautiful and make worthwhile pictures. At the bottom on some of the mountains these streams form into large pools where you can get in for a dip and cool off. If you hike during the spring, the trees make fantastic scenery when they are covered in beautiful colours as they blossom, and also in the autumn when they turn into beautiful red and golden yellow colours as they die out. Many of the mountains contain historic sites dating back to the three kingdom period or the 5th century. You will find signs on the way up telling historic stories of what happened when the forts were used as a defence for intruders.
The tallest mountain in the whole of the Seoul Metropolitan area is Bukhan mountain, or in Korean Bukhansan. It is 836.5 meters or 2,744 ft. To hike this mountain at a comfortable pace it is best to usually leave in mid morning around 9.00am and take a steady walk up. It is a fantastic mountain to hike with some of the most beautiful scenic views for miles around at the top. You can see the whole city from the peak, which is a spectacular view. The trek up is usually quite steady but it can become steep at some parts. Usually after the first few hours of hiking people stop at the halfway point for some lunch. You can get nice hot noodles with fish cake soup at a little shack that they have there, or use the rest stop. If you trek at a steady pace you will reach the peak around 1.00pm and maybe spend around 20 to 30 mins taking in the amazing views and taking photos. If you climb this mountain during the winter the wind chill can be very bitter and cold. So make sure you are fully wrapped up and have decent boots, gloves and earmuffs. By the time you have descended it will be around 5.00pm, so it is a whole day of hiking.
The most popular mountain to visit is in the centre of Seoul right near some of the main tourist areas and skyscraper buildings. It is called Nam mountain or in Korean Namsan. It is the most popular and busiest because it has the Seoul N Tower situated on its peak. Thousands of people visit this mountain everyday and make a trip up to the tower to see the scenic views of the city. The views are fantastic, especially since you are right in the heart of Seoul. You get a fantastic view of the incredible Han River which runs straight through the middle of the city. You can also do other activities in the tower and they also have a few great restaurants and bars. As it is a busy mountain with visitors you do not need to hike it to reach the top. They have a cable car, buses and some taxis will take you to the top sometimes. But usually when I go, I tend to walk it which takes no more than half an hour. The overall peak is at 262 meters, which makes it one of the smaller mountains in the city. Prices to enter the tower vary on what you want, as some entry fees include a meal as well as the observatory option. If you just want the observatory option then the price is 9,000 Won. At the end of your hike you would have worked up a massive appetite and need to replace those burned calories. So, why not go for an awesome Korean style barbeque?! Very popular in Seoul, eaten all year round, and my first choice after a day of hiking! The usual meats eaten are samgyupsal (Korean pork belly meat, popular to try), as well as galbi (marinated pork ribs). There is so much food to choose from that you will have a fantastic time relaxing and satisfying your hunger after a mountaineering experience in Seoul.