Make sure you go to Seoraksan, when you’re hiking Korea. We got this advice as we hiked along the Great Wall of China. We’d met our Brazilian co-trekker on the bus that we’d taken on our cheap and cheerful trip to the Wall, she’d just returned from a week long conference in Seoul and headed over to Seoraksan on her weekend off.
So we took the bus from Seoul. And what a bus. Oh boy. Those nasty buses of China are just a bad memory now and I’m not sure I’ll be able to travel on a regular bus again.
We took the bus from the Gangnam Express Bus Station, a 20 minute metro journey from our hostel, buying the tickets just 10 minutes before the bus departed and we had a reclining extra wide leather chair, leg rest, curtains and the works – and pretty much the whole bus to ourselves. Just over two and a half hours later and we were on the East Coast of Korea. Yup, that’s right we’d crossed the country. It’s a bit of a shocker after China, but that sea we could see, that beach, it’s the Sea of Japan. Another new sea for us.
Then it’s out of the bus station, via the handy tourist information booth just on the left, across the road and picking up the number 7 bus, which takes us all the way to the entrance to Seoraksan National Park. There’s a 3,500 KRW entry fee, another helpful information booth and a map and we’re on our way.
We’re here a little too early for the Autumn foliage show, and it’s a Monday, so crowds are light. They’re also polite, quiet and all wearing the full hiking regalia. We have one of our two pairs of trousers, one of our four T shirts and a day pack each.
It is gloriously quiet, on both the hikes that we do. Not just because of a small number of people, but the quietness of the people, who are here to walk, to hike and not to chatter endlessly in that way that was so irritating in China. We have a blissful easy day, and catch another one of those luxury buses back from Sokcho to the madness of Seoul.
Two days later, we’ve bought our 25,100 KRW train tickets to Mokpo, on the south west coast of Korea. We caught our 3 minute layover train mainly because it was behind the train that we were in, so even if we were running late, it couldn’t get past us..
The whole reason we are in Mokpo is to visit Wolchulsan National Park. It’s Korea’s smallest national park, with only 56.2 square kilometres to it’s name and it’s not even very high, only summiting at 809 metres, but we’re not interested in the peak. Neither are we interested in hiking from one side of the park to another – it’s only a 6-7 hour hike, but we brought neither enough water nor enthusiasm.
We’re here for the Cloud Bridge. You know those buzzfeed or wanderlust or huffpost articles that get shared about on Facebook and on Twitter? “Ten Walks you must do in your life” or “Best places to see Fall Foliage” or ” Five Bridges you Must Walk Across”. Well this is one of those bridges.
This is the Bridge.
It connects two peaks and can be reached from the Cheonhwangsa entrance to Wolchusan National Park, which is a mere hour-ish walk from the entrance. The entrance is a 10 minute taxi journey (costs 5,000 KRW) from the Yeongam Bus station, or its less than 2 miles of lovely walk in the countryside along a quiet road – we took a taxi there and walked back (now that we knew where it was!!)
This Korean National Park is free to enter and walk. There’s a great information centre as you walk up through the entrance, with maps and help if you need it. There’s also drinking water provided (a tap!). And as you step onto the trail, over a sensor, you get a motivational message about your upcoming hike. Well, that’s maybe what it says. What I do know is that if you continue to stay stood on the sensor she keeps talking.
That hour-ish long walk I told you about. It’s pretty much straight up. I’d read somewhere that the Koreans were known for their hiking abilities – and they’re fast at it. Hiking Robots I heard them called. Not so on this trek. WE passed lots of groups fallen by the way side, lunching before 11am on the way up the hill.
What Korean National Parks are REALLY good at is telling you how steep it’s going to be on the way up. You’ll get charts like this below all the way up, showing you which bits are easy, normal and for experts only.
So when it came to the ” do you go left or right?”, we picked the right hand route to go up.. apparently only 12%, compared to the 37% that we would descend on. It seemed bizarre on the basis that both routes were about the same distance, and led to the same place.
I think it was a typo. 42% not 12%. Definitely steeper than the way down. Lots more steps, lots more rocks to scramble over.
And after the first sighting of the Cloud Bridge. Well.
Rungs in the rock.
A step ladder.
And then finally the Cloud Bridge.
Not sadly in the clouds today, but still, up there and we were there too. Objective achieved.
It’s a difficult walk down. Like walking down a stream bed. That has lots of waterfalls in it. That’s where we met at least one robot hiker. Complete with poles. We hike pretty quickly, but one dude left us in his dust. I reckon he was running at one point, while we simply struggled to find a rock that wouldn’t move when we put our foot on it.
Back in the parking lot, it’s just an easy “less than 2 miles” stroll back to the bus station, where there’s a little local bus just about waiting to take us back to Mockpo where we’ll attempt to buy a ticket to Jeju Island, where we’ll be mainly relaxing and hiking Korea’s highest mountain.