When I first went abroad at 19, I had no idea that I was about to fuel a full-fledged addition: travel. The travel bug bit me, and it bit hard. I created a 100+ item Bucket List and spent countless hours working toward those goals. Two were set to a deadline of turning 30, which won’t happen until 2020 for me. With three years to spare, I checked off these two items:
With one month left in Korea, I was determined to hike Bukhaksan (북한산국립공원-도봉 지구). I hiked to the top of Bukhansan’s highest peak yesterday to check off another Korean Bucket List item. The highest peak is Baegundae (백운대), which is 837 meters high (2,746 feet).
Chris and I took our time and enjoyed the day hiking along the fortress wall, originally built in 1711. While the hike wasn’t horribly hard, it did seem more difficult than Seoraksan, but it also could be that I have not been running lately because I’ve been sick.
To get to Bukhansan National Park, take the subway to Gireum Station (길음역) on Line 4. Walk out of exit 3 to the bus stop for bus 143 or 110B. We took bus 143 and got off at the last bus stop and made another stop for water at a nearby convenience store. I recommend taking a good amount of water. There was only one spring water station along the hike, and it was pretty early on (maybe within the first half hour). We packed some tuna and crackers, which gave us just the right amount of fuel to make it to the top.
From others’ experiences and blogs I have read, this hike is meant to be really crowded. So, in hopes of avoiding the crowd, I hiked on the Monday of the Chuseok holiday. Chuseok is a Korean “thanksgiving” holiday, which meant I had a five-day weekend. In my opinion, it was a great time to hike Bukhaksan. Most Koreans are spending time with their families. While Chris and I ran into a handful of hikers here and there. We spent most of the climb alone.
On the way down, I twisted my ankle. It really wasn’t a big deal. It hurt really bad (including my pride), but I didn’t need medical attention. However, we were conveniently outside one of the information centers situated along the mountain pathways. A Korean or two witnessed my tumble and found me professional attention. I was embarrassed, but I let them work diligently as they wrapped and sprayed my ankle with some type of Korean icy-hot spray, which felt awesome.
Less than 50km from the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the Great Unification Buddha sits outside Sinheungsa temple near the entrance in Seoraksan National Park (설악산). This 62-foot tall Buddha statue, also called Tongil Daebul, cost $4.1 million to construct and represents the Koreans wish to unify the peninsula.
Chris and I took a moment to be silent. I am really grateful for an opportunity to hike Seoraksan. Also, I couldn’t ask for a better travel partner. Yet another wonderful bucket list item: check.
This past weekend, Chris Feese, Devin Thomas and I traveled to Busan to spend some time on Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장). A Busan beach weekend was a pressing item on my Korean bucket list. The boys braved the water, but I was not a fan. It was nice weather for laying out, but the water was freezing. The boys swear I nearly cried when they threw me in the water. I’d like to think I held back tears, but yes, it was way too cold for me to enjoy it.
Then things got weird…there was a large, indescribable event happening on the beach. What started as a gathering of a few Koreans at what looked like a Sewol Ferry remembrance turned into a massive sea of Koreans in yellow vests scouring the beach. At first, it was bearable because there were many groups of foreigners doing the exact same thing we were doing: enjoy a beach day as we would anywhere else in the world. However, it quickly became an uncomfortable situation complete with Christian music playing on loud speakers in Korean.