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.

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.