Cycling from Seoul to Busan: Day 1

By Whit Altizer

I just returned from a bike trip from Incheon to Busan yesterday. It was fabulous. It was easy to navigate, beautiful and a fantastic week spent in Korea with a couple of friends. Over the next week, I am going to blog about the daily logistics of my trip in hopes that you can learn a little and start planning your own adventure. I also recommend checking out BikeToursDirect for guided bike tours in Korea. 

Day 1: Ara West Sea Lock–>East Seoul (63km/39 miles) 

The Ara Bike Path is a nice path without much to see. A flat cruiser.

Our first day began around noon after a train ride from Daegu. We didn’t have any firm plans about our days other than get as far as we could without overdoing it. We took long breaks, stopped for meals and usually had camp set up by 7PM. We ran into groups doing our trip in half the time. Cranking it out wasn’t our goal. Here are some quick facts about day 1.

Getting there: From Daegu we took the slow train (Mungunghwa-무궁화) to Seoul Station (about a 4 hour trip). From Seoul Station take the Airport Link Rail (every stop not the express) to Geomam Station (검암역). Exit Geomam Station take a left and then another left at the next light to get to the Ara Bike Path. To get to the beginning and the first certification center, take a left on the path and cycle for about 6-7 kms to the certification center at Ara West Sea Lock.

Not always recommended, but the slow train has been fine the 3 times I have taken my bike on board. Buses are always okay unless there is too much luggage underneath. This is probably never a problem unless you are going to an airport, but generally there is little luggage to compete with.

Highlights: On our first day of cycling the thing that really stood out to me was the great recreational space on the banks of the Han River in Seoul. I found this so impressive that I am planning on taking a day with my son and wife and bike down the river. It’s crowded for good reason. There are coffee shops, water parks, playgrounds, campgrounds and vendors all through Seoul. You could easily spend a fun day pedaling the banks of the Han.

Bike shops: I imagine that there are bike shops at almost any given exit from the river but we coincidentally got off at a biker’s Mecca just past Olympic Stadium in Gadonggu (강동구)  on Chunjungro (천중로) less than a kilometer off the path. There were shops that harkened Ferrari showrooms with high-end bikes majestically placed in display cases. There are also helpful mechanics if you are in need of repair for your bike. One mechanic spent about 15 minutes with my buddy’s bike, fixed it and didn’t charge him a dime. There is also a cute boutique hotel right on the corner as soon as you come out of the tunnel off the river on this street if you’re going the hotel route.

It was gray when we rode on the Han, but people were still out enjoying all of the parks along the way.

Sleeping: We alternated between camping and hotels on our trip. I thought that getting a hotel in the cities would be the way to go, but in Daegu and Busan this proved to be the biggest headache. In Seoul, we went out of our way to find a designated campground called Gangdong Greenway Family Campground. When we arrived, they were full and not willing to set us up anywhere(you’re supposed to reserve a spot online). We retreated back to the river, found a big soccer field and camped on the sideline. The next morning the groundskeeper worked around us like we weren’t even there. I recommend “backcountry” camping to campgrounds and camping on the river (look for baseball or soccer fields and camp on the sidelines) in big cities to trying to find a hotel.

Quick tips: 

  • For train travel you might get push back from ticketing about taking your bike onboard, but that only happened to us once. She also thought we wanted to board the KTX, which isn’t allowed. Eventually she relented when we booked the slow train and just asked we take our front tires off our bike. On both train rides we were able to put our bikes between trains well out of the way of anyone. The conductors onboard weren’t bothered at all by our bikes. For even less resistance take the bus. The bus drivers could careless about what goes underneath. Which also means they don’t care if your bike gets damaged. Just be sure to secure it underneath somehow. Perhaps with a lock or bungees.
  • Don’t be afraid of camping in cities. On the river, you can generally find a nice quiet place to camp. Try to be inconspicuous, even though camping is tolerated. We were never hassled. When we tried to get a hotel in the cities (Daegu and Busan) it was surprisingly a hassle.
  • Pay close attention to the route in Seoul. It wasn’t always clear to us, but there are signs indicating which way to go. Make sure you know when to cross over the river to stay on the path toward Hanam. The bike path goes on both sides of the river, but only one way gets you moving toward the Namhangang. You could be stuck doing some backtracking if you miss your crossing. Naver Maps offers great maps of the bike paths, but it requires being able to read Korea.