A Taste of Korean Hospitality

By Whit Altizer

Biking through the Korean countryside always makes me fall more fiercely in love with this country. The masses of people, the identical apartment blocks, and the breakneck pace of the city often feels inescapable. But take a step just outside the clamor of the city and you’re hit hard with a different side of Korea. Outside the cities the faces get friendlier, the rice fields get greener and the pace of the people is similar to the slow meander of the streams and rivers that traverse the peninsula.

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It was about that pace I was pedaling my bike and two sleeping children up a steep hill when a bongo truck came puttering up behind me. It was Chuseok in Korea and we were on a family and friends bike trip to Andong. It was our last day and we were all hot and tired and feeling mildly defeated about the slow climbs in the last 30 km of our ride.

A farmer got out of the old blue truck and reached into the bed for something. Then she turned toward us with an armful of red apples. Smiling at my sleeping children, she tucked them into the trailer with my kids and disappeared over the hill like a mirage.

About 10 miles down the bike path, hot and exhausted, our caravan of parents and children pulled over in the shade for a quick break from the unrelenting sun. My friend and his daughter had seen the same farmer and also had about a half-dozen of these beautiful apples. We pulled out the apples and moaned with delight at their sweet, crisp taste.

Sharing food with strangers is very Korean. My son is learning this at his Korean school and I hope it is one thing that becomes second-nature to him. When you go somewhere with food, bring enough for others. It’s such a small gesture, but so lovely when made toward you.

So there I stood huddled in the shade, feeling incredibly grateful for the farmer that took 30 seconds out of her day to give us a small, but delicious taste of Korean hospitality. I doubt I’ll ever taste an apple that good again.

Explore Korea by bike… with KIDS!

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By Lindsay Nash

Thanksgiving usually means sitting around a table and stuffing yourself with turkey and all the fixings. In Korea, on their Thanksgiving known as Chuseok, most Koreans are doing the same. Well, if you substitute the turkey for songpyeon and the dry red wine for clear strong soju.

But we’re expats here in South Korea, and the same doesn’t necessarily apply to us. We don’t have any extended family obligations and have nothing on the agenda except a glorious long weekend begging for a family adventure. Sign us up.

We decided we could finally gamble with bringing along our almost-1-year-old on a biking/camping family adventure, along with our well-traveled and cycled 4-year-old. We got some friends and their families on board and we hopped on our bicycles and rode from our home in Gyeongsan to the traditional folk village in Andong, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Daegu to Andong bike paths

Cycling in Korea is picking up in popularity, especially with all the wonderful new dedicated bike paths criss-crossing the entire country as part of the Four Rivers Project. And, as you can see from Whit’s many blogs about it, we’ve jumped on the boat bike too.

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Interested in your own family bicycle adventure in Korea with kids? Here are a few tips:

    • Do your research. For starters, download this brochure about the paths and learn where you can access them. We’re lucky because we can leave our house and reach the bike paths in Daegu in less than an hour (cycling through some farmland and along rivers before we hop on the official path).
    • Get the gear. Your bike trip will only be as fun as your gear is reliable. In 2013, I biked from Daegu to Busan on a rather cheap 7-speed bike and I lagged behind the group most of the trip, though I worked nearly twice as hard. I recommend at least a 21-speed bike. Mountain bikes, touring bikes, and road bikes are all great for this trip. I personally ride a hybrid bike and it’s just perfect. It’s also important to have good gear like panniers to hold all your supplies that you’ll need.

 

  • Think about your young ones. What gear and supplies will they need? We typically use one trailer and one seat on the back of a bike and let our two kids switch between these two options, though they typically love to ride in the trailer most, where they can play with toys, read books, take naps, and easily munch on snacks.

    Camping with kids is our favorite. Nothing beats a childhood sunset.

    Camping with kids is our favorite. Nothing beats a childhood sunset.

  • Plan your overnights. Will you camp or stay in motels along the route? We typically camp, since it’s much easier to camp wherever you feel like stopping along the route. The bike paths follow the rivers and it’s easy to pop up a tent wherever you please. We’ve had some pretty amazing spots. There are no rules about where to camp (unless you’re in a national park) so it’s free game. Hotels are nice too, but let’s be honest, in these small towns there won’t be many options other than love hotels. These are fine, but just be prepared to answer questions like, “Mommy, why is there a mirror on the ceiling?” and “Wow, look at that cool red night light!
  • Be flexible. Traveling with children in any setting requires a large amount of flexibility. Remember to go slow, stop often, and embrace your inner child. We stop at any playground we see, let the kids roll in rain puddles, let them have unusual amounts of lollipops and snacks, and stop to take pictures and hold any type of bug we find along the path.

 

 

Stop and catch a bug or two. But, then, release it. :)

Stop and catch a bug or two. But, then, release it. 🙂

  • Capture the moments. Bring your camera and snap up some shots of your adventure. These bike paths in Korea are the perfect backdrop to what will be some of your kid’s fondest memories of childhood.

Questions? Planning your own family trip? E-mail us. We’re happy to help.

Cycling from Seoul to Busan (Day 3)

By Whit Altizer

I just returned from a bike trip from Incheon to Busan last week. 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 3: Angseong –> Mungyeong (104 km/64 miles)

After a long sleep, we woke up to our first blue sky of the trip. We received word that circumstances that could end our trip early had improved, so we could keep cycling. This was lucky for us because day 3 was one of the most beautiful of the entire trip. We quickly and giddily pedaled into Chungju along some lovely river path and arrived at the certification center before 9AM thrilled with the beginning of our day. From there we met up with the Saejae Bike Path and headed into some of the most rustic parts of the trail. Outside of Chungju there is still some bike path construction going on. Once through that, you cycle along beautiful, desolate roads past rice fields, up mountains and through spa towns. We felt that this section could be the best part of the journey, even with some bike malfunctions.
The path from Angseong to Chungju was surprisingly lovely.
Bike Path: For most of this stretch you are on the roads. But do not to fear. Most roads are empty and the motorists we encountered seemed very aware of cyclists. The towns you cycle through: Chungju, Suanbo, Mungyeong are all worthy towns to stop in and spend some time. You will also encounter your biggest, but most rewarding climb in Ihwaryeong (이화령) a 5km climb. The ride down was exhilarating and the ice cream at the top is well worth the effort.
What goes up, must go down. Look forward to your ride on Ihwaryeong. Beer or ice cream at the top! Screaming descent after.
Highlights: The path is fantastic(once past Chungju), the towns are friendly and there are plenty of places to stop. We spent a lot of time in Suanbo around lunchtime. I ate a delicious bowl of bibimbap, had a nice coffee at one of the resort hotels and soaked my feet in public hot spring in the town square. Need I say more?
Suanbo is a tiny spa town with a public hot spring in the middle of town. Stop here for food, coffee and a foot soak.
Sleeping: We camped along the river between the Munagyeong Buljeong Station Certification Center and Sangpung Bridge Certification Center. Our tent was just off a public golf course. The golfers seemed unfazed by our tent and even greeted us with smiles at 6:30 in the morning.
Again, camping was a breeze. Found a nice spot along the river, next to a golf course.
Quick tips:
-We had some bike issues we weren’t equipped for and found ourselves spending lots of time in Suanbo trying to find a bike mechanic. He was out of town, but the motorcycle mechanic gave us a hand. There are two tourist information booths in Suanbo that will point you in the right direction. One of the workers even helped us with translation. Try to work out issues in Chungju in case the Suanbo mechanic isn’t there. Also, there weren’t any obvious shops until we got to Gumi way down the path.

-After coming down from Ihwaryeong you’ll come into the first part of Mungyeong and there will be plenty of hotels and restaurants. If we had not planned on camping this night, this would have been a nice stop. There was also an outdoor climbing wall here.

Cycling from Seoul to Busan (Day 2)

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 2: East Seoul –> Angseong (107 km/66 miles)

We woke up early in our tent on the edge of a soccer field while the groundskeeper worked around us. It was a beautifully, cool, gray day and we were ready to cycle. The night before had been a bit of a bummer after getting denied at full campground. We set up camp late, without water and no store in sight. We eventually found everything we needed (after cycling a bit into town) and fell into a restless sleep. The dawn of a new day felt glorious and all we had to do today was cycle.


Bike Path: We started right in between Seoul and Hanam where you start to leave the crazy streets of the city behind. The river gets wide, the path gets quiet and the coffee shops and rest stops get more infrequent (though there are still some cool cafes along the way). You go through several tunnels and stay relatively flat as you do along the Ara and in Seoul. There are some road sections on this section, but they are relatively quiet.

Highlights: Going through Hanam and Yangpyeong really are beautiful semi-urban sections along the Nakdong. You go along old railroad path, past lots of cool cafes and can even stop in at the art museum in Yangpyeong. The art tunnels along the way also lift the spirits. The lights and music and work put into these tunnels give you the feeling that Korea is really interested in keeping these trails maintained.

Sleeping: For 60,000 won we stayed in the UN Motel in Angseong, but there are other (probably cheaper) options in town. I’ve stopped for duck soup in Angseong before and had a nice meal and experience. It’s a small spa town with plenty of restaurants. We went searching for food around 8 and found most places to be closing. On this night, too, there was an absence of the Korean hospitality I’ve grown accustomed to. However, the staff at the UN made up for that the next morning when they sent us off with a complimentary coffee and a candy bar.

Quick Tips:

-If you are planning to stay on the outskirts of Seoul make sure you are stocked up on water or any camping supply you need. There is about 20km of desolate trail just outside the city before you get to Hanam. Best to stop at a shop while it’s convenient.

-After Angseong the next big city is Chungju. That was our goal that day, but 107 km was all we could manage on our second day of cycling. Chungju is a short 25km from Angseong, but was just a little too far for us that night. If you are staying in hotels, Angseong is the last easy stop until Chungju.

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.

Korea Bike Paths: Gumi to Andong

By Whit Altizer

The roughly 90-mile stretch from Gumi to Andong is an excellent leg of Korea’s bike paths. It’s beautiful, hilly and offers plenty of options for food, drink and shelter. This past weekend my friend and I did it over 3 days with two 3-year olds in bike trailers while taking our sweet time. Here is a brief log of our trip and what to expect along the way.

Day 1- Gumi–>Sangju

Morning
We drove to Gumi and parked under the South-Gumi Bridge (남구미대교). You can find plenty of parking here and it is right off of the Nakdong River Bike Path on the west side of the bridge. We cycled along the Nakdong River through Gumi along mostly flat paths all the way to Gumi Dam(12 miles/21km) for lunch. There you will find a certification center and on the other side of the river a small mart where you can buy drinks and food.

Once you get north of Gumi there are some beautiful stretches of path.

Afternoon
That afternoon we went from Gumi Dam(구미보) to the outskirts of Sangju(상주) (21 miles/37km) The afternoon ride was a little more challenging with a couple of climbs, but nothing too strenuous. You might have to push your bike up these steep hills, but without two kids and a heavy trailers they’d be mostly forgettable. You’ll find these hills the closer you get to Sangju, but will be rewarded by beautiful farmland, small villages and quiet trails. Then you’ll come back to the river and cycle by giant parks on the river that would be ideal for camping. They were preparing for a festival this weekend and we were looking to camp closer to Dowon Restaurant (도원식당) where we planned to eat.

Evening
We camped in between Sangju Dam (there is a certification center here) and the nearby Sangju Bike Museum (상주 자전거박물관) within sight of Donam Seowon(a Confucian Academy) (도남서원). The duck soup at the Dowon Restaurant wasn’t worth the money (40,000 won), but the side dishes were great. Also, there isn’t really any other restaurant options nearby that I could find on Naver Maps. However, they did have a big menu so you have plenty of other options.

Camping outside of campgrounds isn’t a common practice in Korea, but not really policed. Make sure you leave the area looking better than you found it.

Highlights
Good parking, easy cycling, plenty of places to stop. The scenery was a plus and the area around the bike museum offers plenty of activities(hiking, canoeing, museums, eating, amusement park, sculpture garden, karaoke!) if you aren’t in a rush. The museum can be fun too. It isn’t something you must stop at, but it’s a great spot for cooling off and geeking-out over unique bikes. Areas around the dams usually have marts for food, water and drinks.

Total time: 7.5 hours

Day 2- Sangju–>Andong

Morning

We started our second day around Donam Seowon and cycled to the sculpture garden just past the bike museum (1.75 miles/2.8km) for a long break so the kids could play with a Japanese Rhinoceros beetle. Also we had to push up a relatively steep hill just before the garden so this gave us a nice break for play and coffee. Around the sculpture garden there are plenty of restaurants (on a trip last year I had a great bibimbap at one of them) and even an amusement park. We were up so early that everything was closed.

Surprisingly, biking Korea’s bike paths is perfect with kids. It’s relatively safe, there are lots of places to play and there is plenty to look at.

Afternoon/Evening
The route from Sangju to Gudam (구담) (22 miles/35km) is a lonely, hot and beautiful route. Last summer, my friends and I ran out of water and we found it difficult to find places to replenish. This time we had enough water, but got hot and hungry and had to stop by the side of the trail. Usually you can stop at a shelter somewhere along the way, but there wasn’t one nearby so we sat by the trail. Gudam, however, is a nice reward for your labor. The trail goes through this small town where you have lots of choices of places to eat or marts to pop in for a cold drink or ice cream. If you time it right you can see an old traditional market there. People here still kind of marvel at foreigners. I really love stopping here. See my post from a moment I had there last summer.

From Gudam you go a few more miles on trail, but then have a long stretch of road. It is a quiet road that leads you close to the entrance of Hanhoe Folk Village (6 miles/10km from Gudam). If we had planned it better we would have stayed here Saturday night, but our schedule didn’t allow it. It’s a great little walled village with nice guesthouses and restaurants around to give you a true traditional Korean experience.

We cycled on to Andong (21 miles/34 km from Gudam). This stretch boasts two big climbs and two big descents. The second hill takes you down to the Nakdong River into Andong, a welcomed sight. We played along the river at a park with a pool and stayed in downtown near the Home Plus in the Mong (몽) Motel for 40,000KRW. They let us put our bikes and trailers inside in a hallway and gave us water and juice when we left the next day. They were lovely proprietors of a shady motel. I’d stay there again. Andong has plenty of restaurants and lots of green space on the river for the kids. I only wish we had arrived earlier in the day.

The paths often take you past parks and swim areas in bigger cities. In Andong, the river is a great place to hang out for adults and kids.

Highlights: Gudam, beautiful stretches of path, great descents, Hanhoe Folk Village and Andong.

Total time: 10 hours

Day 3-Andong–>Andong Dam–>Andong Bus Terminal

Morning
A formality for those looking to get their passport stamped. This was something that could easily be done on day 2, but we had tired kids and we were all hungry. It took us all of 15 minutes to get there from downtown Andong. There is a traditional village and other sights here, but we were hot and tired and ready to head home.
We loved stamping our passport and our hands.
Afternoon

To get back to our car in Gumi we decided to take the bus as it was the most direct option. The Andong Bus terminal is as on the other side of Andong as you can get from the dam. We followed the river until the river path ran out and then hopped on the road for the rest. The road was narrow and a long climb to the top of a hill before it descends down to the bus terminal. Having a kid in a trailer is not recommended. Cars respected us with space, but I was not comfortable with the situation. Unfortunately it was that way or through the city. I think next time I’d slowly snake through the city. Alone, I’d go the way we went.

The bus just had enough space for 2 bikes and 2 trailers. It would have been difficult if people had lots of luggage. We probably would have had to take two different buses. The bus drivers were cool, no shaking heads or sucking air through their teeth in disbelief of what we were loading onto their bus. Just smiles and curiosity.

Highlights: Breakfast in downtown Andong. Lunch places out by the dam. Andong.

Total time(with time at the dam): 5 hours

Tips:

  • For maps see KTO’s e-books or if you read Korean Naver Maps can be quite helpful.
  • You can pack a tent and cooking equipment, but there is plenty of food and shelter along the way. We only used these things on the first night. I’m not sure I’d take them again for weight and simplicity sake. If you do camp there are plenty of green spaces along the river. Just be smart where you pitch your tent and be respectful of the land.
  • If you are traveling with kids bring toys and books and stop often. See a cool bug? Stop. See a playground? Stop. See a place to swim? Stop. It will keep you and your kid sane. For emergencies carry a lollipop. Immediate gratification and at least 20 minutes of entertainment.

Korea as a Cycling Destination

This weekend one of my friends and co-workers took our kids along the Nakdong River bike path from Gumi to Andong over 3 days. It was one of the more amazing trips of my life. It was safe, beautiful, and fun for 3-year olds and 30-year olds. We cycled, ate, played, broke up fights, hugged and made up, explored, perspired and took in Korea’s beauty and culture.
Heading up the Nakdong BIke path to Andong.
I’ve always been reluctant to convince my friends and family to travel to Korea because I was afraid that a week in this country wouldn’t be enough to experience all the things I love about it. Ironically, in a country where everything and everybody operate at break-neck speed, falling in love with Korea takes time. A week is not enough.
Or so I thought.
Now Korea boasts hundreds of miles of dedicated bike path, with more under construction. These days, I’d recommend coming to Korea for a week to spend that time cycling from town to town. It is charming, romantic and beautiful. The food is delicious, the sights are breathtaking and the people are very accommodating. If you love cycling and you have an interest in Asia, come cycle Korea. You could spend all your time in rural areas or cycle in and around most of Korea’s major cities, including Seoul.
There is so much to see and do for kids on the path(trains, animals, playgrounds, tractors). Finding a trailer would be a challenge. Best to arrange bringing your own. Currently, they are not popular or easy to find here.
Cycling these paths reminds me of my favorite backpacking trip along the West Highland Way in Scotland nearly 13 years ago. You are never too far from shelter, food or beer. There is something about spending all day outside and getting to a place in the evening where you can clean up, eat well and have a cold drink. We always had options for food or shelter within 10 km. Even in those areas that felt incredibly remote.
Between Gumi and Andong there plenty of places to camp, eat or stay in a hotel.

If you love cycling and have an interest in Asia, then Korea should be on your list. You might just fall in love with it.

If you are interested in cycling Korea check out Lindsay’s day job, a bike tour company at www.biketours.com. See all of their Korea tours at www.biketours.com/korea-south.