I am not the fittest of persons. My stamina wanes after a minute (or less) of jogging. When I run for the bus, I find myself panting when I’m seated. When my friend suggested climbing a mountain, I was all up for it, but I knew it was going to be an insane challenge for my body. I’d only trekked up Bukit Timah before this, and that alone exhausted me to no end – and it was only 164 metres (538 feet) high.
Seoraksan’s tallest peak however, is a whopping 1708 metres (5603 feet) high, the third highest peak in all of South Korea and the tallest in the Taebaek mountain range. That peak is Daecheongbong.. to be conquered next time. Lol.
We took the Ulsanbawi trail which measures 3.8km in distance, and led us 876 metres above sea level. According to locals, it’s 888 steps up to the top, past winding and steep stairs and rocky terrain. The journey to the top was a huge challenge for me, physically and emotionally.
I can honestly tell you that there were so many times along the way where I just wanted to give up. Especially when we got to the rest stop mid-way. I was already delirious with exhaustion here, and I was so tempted to just give up and climb back down.
My thighs were burning, I was sweating buckets despite the chilly weather, and the trail never seemed to end. You look up and all you see are stairs – and the peak far away in the distance. It takes a certain grit to push through all the way, and I was afraid I didn’t have it in me… But I learned that it’s really all in the mind – it’s a battle of willpower all through the journey. Maybe I’ll do a ‘Things I Learned’ post soon on this.
And thank you Chris for the encouragement and patience – we made it!!! And it was really worth all that effort.
This is going to be a heavy picture post – and mostly the pictures can speak for themselves 🙂
HOW TO GET THERE
There are limited options on how to get to Seoraksan National Park, but the easiest way I believe would be by express coach to Sokcho, Gangwon-do.
- Take the subway to Gangbyeon subway station (Seoul subway Line 2)
- Cross the road and head into DongSeoul Bus Terminal
- Board an express coach heading to Sokcho. The bus timings are relatively frequent, and the ticket costs 17,300 KRW (about 20 SGD). If you’re worried, you can book tickets on their website, but I think this is unnecessary as there will definitely be seats available. Do also note that the website is only in Korean.
- It’s a long ride, but the bus travels mostly on the highways so it’s quite fast – expect a 3.5 hour ride. Once at the Sokcho Bus Terminal, purchase tickets for bus 7 or 7-1 to Seorak-dong.
- The bus ride will be about 30 minutes long. Alight at the last stop at Seorak-dong.
- You will arrive at Seoraksan National Park! Your adventure begins…
Here are some pictures to guide you along the way. 🙂
GANGBYEON & DONGSEOUL BUS TERMINAL
Gangbyeon is a small suburban town, much unlike other metropolitan parts of Seoul. I didn’t get to explore much of it, but it was an eye opener on what life in Korea is like beyond the busier parts.
The buses are pretty comfy, with reclining leather seats and all. But I’m the sort who can’t sleep on buses or trains or flights (unless I’m really really tired) so I ended up documenting my journey from Seoul to Sokcho. And I think it’s always good to stay awake if you can, to see the beauty that passes you by.
We got to our first rest stop. And don’t ask me where, because I have no idea where this is located. To me it looked like the middle of nowhere, lol. The rest stop is named Hwayang Gang Land, and it’s surrounded by hills and greenery. And stepping out of the bus, the first thing that hit me was the amazingly fresh air.. simply lovely.
More cherry blossoms along the rest stop!! 😀
And here we enter into the sleepy town of Sokcho. It’s a little city off the eastern coast of South Korea, with quaint buildings and fishing ports. I’ll write more about Sokcho in another post 🙂
SEORAKSAN NATIONAL PARK
After a long journey lasting almost 4 hours, we finally arrived at our destination – and it was so beautiful from the get-go. The air was clear, so pure.
Before starting our hike, I got a quick meal for some energy. At the base of the park there are some shops and snack stalls, and this little restaurant.
They have a variety of offerings, but I had a sudden craving for bibimbap (even though I just had it the night before at Gogung). It wasn’t as tasty as the one at Gogung, but the ingredients were fresh and it was really nice to have it amidst such lush surroundings.
AND THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Seoraksan (Mount Seorak or 雪岳山) is near the eastern coast of South Korea, and nestled within Seoraksan National Park, one of the republic’s 20 protected nature reserves. The park is deemed by locals to be one of the nation’s most beautiful and picturesque reserves, especially during autumn. I was there during spring last year, and still managed to see amazing sights during my trek from its base to the peak – I can only imagine how lovely it would be to visit during autumn, when the leaves turn into glorious shades of red and yellow.
Before I begin, here’s a map of the entire reserve. It will be useful if you’re planning your trip to Seoraksan.
There are several trails you can take, with different “difficulty” levels ranging from Easy to Hard. We decided to go for gold and hike up one of the tallest peaks, Ulsanbawi. As you can see on the map, it suggests that this trail would be Difficult, and last an estimated 2.5 hours for the hike up alone. Perhaps for seasoned hikers, but not for us. It took us a grueling 3.5 hours up, and another 1.5 hours down, with several rest stops in between (mostly for me because I felt like my legs were going to combust into flames).
As I mentioned earlier, there are several hiking trails you can choose from, from easy routes to not so easy routes. Alternatively you can also take a cable car up to the Gwongeumseong too. There is, apparently, a hot springs spa somewhere in the park too. Definitely need to look for that if I’m ever at Seorak again.
The huge bronze Buddha statue at the temple. You’ll see plenty of devotees paying their respects here. And I did too, praying for a safe journey.
Apparently Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on April 8 in Korea! When we were in Seorak (and even at some places in Seoul) we saw colorful lanterns like these lining the trees, in celebration for the festival. The decorations really added a pop of color to the hues of the forest.
Along the way we also saw quite a few temples and Buddhist statues, such as this one here. It’s right in front of a temple, and there was a small slope we had to walk up (which was very slippery).
You will also see quite a few of these little pebble formations. A stone stack like this is actually a practice of asking for good fortune. For every stone you stack, you make a wish for yourself or your loved ones.
And yes, I did get myself a medal, for memories’ sake 🙂 We’re all winners here, at Ulsanbawi!