South Korea: Seoul Searching

After being in group tours and excursions all day the day before, the solo traveller in me wanted to escape so I took on Seoul by myself, deciding it would be good to do a hike whilst I was here. My hike of choice was Bukhansan National Park, a huge national park in the middle of the city. It’s free to get in and can be reached by getting the subway to Gireum (Line 4). Take Exit 3 and head to the main road where you should see a bus stop, from which you can hop on bus 110b or 143, both of which terminate at Bukhansan. From the bus station, just head down the road (past all the hiking shops) and you’ll arrive at the entrance.

Bukhansan National Park, Seoul

I always feel a little underdressed when hiking in Hong Kong but this took it to a new level. Every single walker I saw was dressed to the nines in the latest hiking gear and equipment. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but soon discovered the reason as I started walking.

This hike was hard.

It wasn’t particularly strenuous (which I can cope with) but it was more like an obstacle course than a traditional hike. The ground was very rocky and uneven and required much more grip than my feeble trainers (ahem, Vans…) could deliver. I persevered and got some cracking bird’s-eye views of the city, but thinking I could fall flat on my face at any second kind of took the fun away. It was worse on the way back down when the path suddenly ended and I found myself completely stuck on a 10-foot ledge. I had to be guided down by a hiker just ahead of me who’d only known what to do by following the Koreans ahead of him. I’m racking up the near-death travel experiences now…

Gyeongbukgong Palace at sunset

I had more relaxing evening, paying a visit to the Gyeongbukgong Palace (Gyeongbukgong Station, Line 3). Last admission into the palace is 5pm (it closes at 6pm) but around this time is a great time to go. I got some amazing sunset shots and it was pretty quiet. It’s 3000 won entry and I was surprised at how big the complex is. Its set-up is fairly similar to that of the Forbidden City in Beijing, though on a smaller scale. The buildings are fascinating, and there’s a little lake and park inside too. After the stress of the hike, it was the perfect way to spend an evening.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace

Overall, my time in Seoul (and South Korea, for that matter) was far too brief and much of it was spent flitting between KINTEX and our hotel (that 90 minute subway ride every morning/evening will forever haunt me) but it was a great taster of this fantastic place and I’ll almost certainly be back at some point. To be honest, even if I’d have hated Seoul, I’d go back in heartbeat just for the amazing food… and the socks.

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