Exploring Seoul from the Mountains

Re-connecting with nature, meeting locals, and seeing what Seoul’s forests have to offer.

Seoul, South Korea is known worldwide as a massive technology advanced city which houses millions. Most people associate the city with shopping, restaurants, and a fast paced lifestyle surrounded by high rises and concrete for as far as the eye can see. Initially, that was my assumption as well. However, one of the lesser known amazing qualities of Seoul is that there are a plethora of hiking spots to be find.

South Korea is a largely mountainous country. As a result, even big cities such as Seoul and Busan offer easy to difficult hiking trails in abundance. Depending upon your location in the city and where you want to go, a trail can be reached in as little as 20 or 30 minutes via public transportation. As someone who comes from the suburbs, Seoul’s heavy presence of concrete and jam packed buildings left me needing to see some green space and not hear the sound of cars for a while. The Saturday after I got out of South Korea’s mandatory two-week quarantine, I scheduled a socially compliant group hike with some of my fellow ISA peers and we headed into the mountains of Bukhansan National Park.

We started out by hiking Daeseongmun trail and got to see many natural springs, fabulous views, and met several nice Korean’s who were also hiking and encouraged us to keep going up the steep trail by saying “화이팅!” (hwaiting) which means “fighting” and is used as a term of encouragement. One major stop one our route was a temple which had some adorable temple guard dogs and offered a magnificent view of the valley below us. Perhaps one of the truly amazing things about the hike wasn’t necessarily the views (although those were amazing and worth the difficult journey to the top) but instead the sense of clarity the hike itself provided and the kindness we experienced along the way.

For me and my fellow ISA peers, the hike was exhausting (10 miles and roughly 144 flights of stairs climbed) but helped to clear our minds. Moving anywhere new takes a lot out of you, let alone moving halfway around the world during the middle of a pandemic. Personally, being able to surround myself with nature and get outside and away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a few hours left me feeling much calmer and relaxed in my new home environment than I had since I arrived in South Korea. Additionally, all the people my group met throughout our hike were very friendly and supportive (a nice lady at the temple at the top of the mountain even gave us water to refill out water bottle that we had depleted on the way up). At the end of the hike my groups general consensus was that even though we were absolutely exhausted, the hike was great for us both physically and mentally–great exercise but also great to help clear an overwhelmed mind. As a result of such a successful first hike, we went hiking the following weekend at Cheonggye Mountain and plan to hike at least every other week (both long & short trails).

*In an attempt to truly get “off the beaten path” and spread out to help with social distancing measures, we are hiking lesser known/less crowded trails and have found all hiking locations via All Trails.

Lauren Kerr is a college student at the University of Tulsa. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Seoul, South Korea.

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