For my Korea trip (June) I decided I would like to do some bike touring/packing. It was something I wanted to do earlier this year in New Zealand but didn’t quite get enough of while triathlon training there. Researching about S. Korea I learned that Korea actually has a huge bike network with bike paths throughout the entire country, in fact many bike an uninterrupted path from Seoul to Busan called the 4 Rivers Trail. Thus making S. Korea the perfect spot for a biking trip and becoming my plan :).
In the end I opted against the 4 Rivers Trail because you follow rivers on uninterrupted paths for 600km which sounded a tad boring so instead I decided to give the East Coast Trail a try, a trail obviously along S. Korea’s Eastern Coastline all the way down to Busan, around 720km…a bit longer and more challenging with some hilly terrain than 4 Rivers. This was the first of 3 bike paths that I rode in Korea. I also did Jeju Island (Blog Here) and parts of the 4 Rivers Trail (information included at the end).
Korea’s East Coast Bike Path
I had a total of 6 days to do it because my friend Kirsten was flying to Seoul to join me on this part of my trip so my plan was to just see how far I could get in the time given, and obviously without rushing.
When I landed in Seoul my mission was to secure the bike rental and prepare for the cycle trip which I would start the following day (I probably could have done this by email but it was not high season so I hoped all worked out). I was staying near Hapjeong Station which luckily was near the Giant Bike Store-Bike Nara where I planned to rent the bike and made my task easy. The owner at the store was so nice, spoke great English and he helped me figure out the bus I needed to get to the start and give me some tips.
The next morning I walked over and grabbed my bike, left my bag and started my trip…biking through the drizzly morning some 15 miles to the bus terminal along the Han River path! I was soaked and dirty when I finally arrived but being summer it was not very cold and the humidity dried me fast enough. I looked for food, cleaned up a bit and found the bus to Goseong (most go instead further South to Sokcho to start – more buses too). Upon arriving to town I cycled further North along the coast until I reached the end of the blue line (the line I would follow most of the journey) but turned around to look for a hotel (average price was 30 won a night my whole trip and I never pre booked, plenty of options!) a few kms back at a beach. One of the first things I noticed on my ride the first day besides it being beautiful despite the foggy haze at times and having tons of fishing towns, was the eerie presence of a North Korean border nearby…the entire route has a crazy barbed wire fence and stadium lights along the coast including most beaches (safety measures since N. Korea was so close) and many lookouts (unmanned). The fence made me think of the wall the US wants to put on the border with Mexico (sadness) and the stadium lights freaked me out as I walked by and they turned on to illuminate the Sea (yes, all faced outward) as if it were day time! Crazy!!
I stayed close to the end of the blue line my first night because I wanted to return the next day to the DMZ border (well that and it was getting dark). In the morning I headed past the line toward the DMZ but was quickly forced to return… bikes aren’t allowed all the way anymore… so I returned to the end of the blue line where everyone stops before going to the observatory in the DMZ (Blue line ended there for a reason…ha ha 🤦🏽♀️). From there I ditched the bike (no lock, no problem) and hitched a ride with some locals to see the sights with them. For S. Koreans this is the closest point they can currently get to see N. Korea (they can not enter the actual DMZ area) so it was cool to go here because the main tourists were the Koreans themselves! (They do offer a walk along the beach getting closer to the border there but you must sign your life away pretty much…eek) I would do an actual DMZ/JSA tour (near Seoul, the main tourist tour) with my friend later but was happy to see this side to get a full understanding of the situation plus the Museum here was very informative. Today was the official start of my bike trip (day 2 with the bike) I made it just past Sokcho where most start their cycle trip, biking 65 miles and riding about 6 hours on the bike ending at one of the MANY surfing beaches along the coast, Yang Yang area.
I so needed this cycle trip, allowing me to get away from the hustle and bustle of cities…somewhere calm and empty. On my around the world trip, it is parts like this that are needed to survive the long crazy non-stop bits!
Day 3 was cloudy and kind of uneventful and ended after some hills which I thought were over but very much around on the next few days! Busted out some 70 miles and just kept pushing until I ended up in a tiny town with everything closed after 5 pm (on a Sunday) and survived on the piping spicy ramen the hostel owner gave me…ha ha also only real option for lodging was this place and I had to negotiate price because I ran out of cash…oh bugger…and totally a common occurrence for me…HA (I got cash the next day after an extra hour of searching and retracing my steps because I passed the city before I remembered it was there I intended to find an ATM that worked…all 5 I found were a failure but a lucky sighting out the side of my eye of an Atm literally heading out of town, that I decided to try, was the jackpot…sooo lucky!!!) WOW! I guess I did stop at a few beaches along the way…a popular one called , one with a cruise ship hotel that was pretty interesting and a famous one due to the Korean soap operas…(which seemed to be the Korean tourist norm…famous and highly visited because of some local Korean soap opera)
At times in Korea I am reminded of Latin America, which I love, when I see parts that are not as clean or perfect as you might expect in Korea, it is definitely not same as Latam but every so often things stand out like the random fruits/vegis sold on the street or me biking literally right through active road construction without anyone caring or the fact that no signs warned me of the construction, that the path ends abruptly at stairs where you must carry your bike up just to go down stairs again or the blue line you are following just simple disappears by literally enjoying the view/ride for 3 seconds…oh joy! Lol (also frustrating…ha ha)
Day 4…ha ha started at a Penis Park lol…placed in a village where they carve a new wooden penis 2x a year to keep the lady legend happy so they can fish….literally hilareous but okay! I have found Koreans and sex to be modest but they love going to these kind of places which are liberating to say the least (ha I later went to a Sex museum on Jeju Island and Koreans were laughing, playing and enjoying sexual treats ha ha). The route today was awesome…it was beach, town, hill, beach, town, hill and repeat, repeat, repeat ha ha a bit of a dream crusher because the towns were flat, gorgeous and with an amazing tailwind and then came a hill!!! Plus this is when the crab towns started appearing and they just got better and better!
The longest day cycling was the 5th (although the last day definitely won with hours awake…boo…) I set a goal to arrive or pass the farthest point East in mainland Korea and of course I succeeded but it was some 80+ mile day riding! The ride had some of the most fun stops along the way but also the ugliest city on the route…Pohang…yuck! Just North of the city though was beautiful and just South was awesome! Pohang is a very industrial city and they decided to put all factories on one side of the city…of course you must go right by them…yuck!… and by doing so destroys its cityscape and views because they are in front of the city’s beaches…aka seen from every angle making the city look and feel dark and gloomy…anny way…I mentioned crabs, which you find in many towns on the East Coast because here the Korean Snow Crab is famous and heavily eaten…and no I didn’t try it because it was expensive and out of season. There were plenty of crabs besides Snow though I felt they were waaaay over fished…when I thought about buying and eating it I found them nearly dead, not caring to attack me or anything and packed into a bin with a bunch of others…repeat this with 100 more restaurants side by side…no thanks! Besides actually eating crabs though the Koreans praised them here. I found bus stops, bridges, parks and buildings with them depicted…with the most creative being on a lighthouse!!
Arriving to the most eastern point was awesome… some decent hills along the way…with views, once out of Pohang area, being superb! The point has a hand raising from the sea…to catch the sunrise, obviously! Well that and a sunlight fire collector (early solar panel development?)…All was great until I decided to keep go a bit farther as it was getting dark… again ending up in a small village in the middle of nowhere and no food places open. I biked quite a way back toward town to find a place only to fail but upon returning it dawned on me that in the village just below the hotel I’d passed a small store, I simply just had to go around the corner a bit :(….stressed for nothing lol…well and ramen night again ha ha. (The hotel owner later brought me eggs and fruit…so sweet…nice…and A+ for him understanding my non existent Korean :D)
Since I was in the sunrise capital on day 6 I got up early 4:30 am to catch sunrise (obviously back to bed after). I ran for the first time in a week (also preparing for my friends arrival since we would definitely run and I felt out of shape…ha ha ha) then set off on the bike with the plan of reaching Busan. I had decided to go for it although it might take a bit more time and I’d likely arrive in the dark, it was totally possible…and I could jump on a bus then to Seoul to meet my friend the next day. The day was great, made it to Ulsan where I imagined I would make it in 6 days and continued. About 17 km out and nearly 5pm I got a flat…I changed it but couldn’t get the hand pump to work (later I learned how, it was stupidly easy and lesson learned – just bring your own pump – which I have with me on my trip)…in fact I spent over an hour messing with it (also going to the gas station…luckily across the main road) …with no luck :(. I decided to check to see if by chance there was a bike shop nearby…indeed there was!!…I took the wheel with me and hitched a ride there with the nicest guy who actually waited for me to change it…it was taking forever because the problem was the spare…it had a hole… so we patched it and off we went back to my bike. It was now nearly dark, maybe 8 pm, so I decided back to Ulsan was my best option, Busan was about 33km out. I think I could have avoided the flat had I taken the actual route but leaving Ulsan the route was not obvious and I decided the quickest and most direct route was the main road…bad idea…it was rush hour…traffic….between 2 big cities. I was forced onto the shoulder where there was tons of crap waiting to puncture my tire…lol I only made it about 3 km from the real path turn off before the flat…soo a dark highway back to Ulsan it was…the bike path veered at some point and I decided to follow it instead of said dark highway (yes I had lights, plenty!)…I didn’t get far before either another puncture or the patch busted. I turned and looked around in the dark…saw a car, then some light…I was over it. Car means I could bum a ride, light means people…I approached the light and found vegetables lol. A guy was working late sorting vegis, tomatoes. I asked him for a ride and explained my situation, through Google Translate of course! Amazing the conversations you can have with that! Ha ha…no but seriously!
The man said he was busy but mentioned in 2 hours he would be free…I said, “I can wait, I am not in a rush”…lol. So I became a tomato sorter for the night Ha ha ha…well… for an hour since my work actually helped him (even though he later said he’d still be there until midnight…Koreans and their working lives…). He offered me food (you guessed it, ramen) then we flew down the highway to the bus station…still faaar away…he dropped me and then flew back. I booked a bus, arrived to Seoul at 3 am then tried to pass out at a 24 hour restaurant…lost in translation I was introduced to a neighbor who frequented the place, invited to join his group, eat and eventually crash on his couch…omg what a ride!!! My friend arrived in the early evening…I was able to drop the bike off, find our airbnb, drop my bag there and keep enjoying a new adventure once she arrived…funny we talked of our lack of sleep…she laughed…her’s involved kids mine was some out of this planet story…we both laughed Ha Ha Ha!!!
In addition to this ride and my Jeju bike packing trip I also rode part of the 4 Rivers Trail. I do feel it would be quite boring but would be great for training purposes. It is long, uninterrupted and flat. I did 2 parts of it, 15 miles along the Han River in Seoul (I also managed to run a chunk of it and it is totally the place for sports…oddly I did not see many runners but cyclists galore especially on weekends!) and near Busan I rode about 25 miles of it to Geomse-ri. In Busan I did get information on other routes from off the trail that you could include to add hills or explore more (for example from Geomse-ri you could take the road along the river back for hills or out to Gorye-re for hills and beauty at a lake). I started from Sasang Metro Station and headed to the bike path from there.
Useful information for those wishing to do cycling in Korea:
Download Naver App, it is Korea’s most useful map application
In Seoul you can take bikes on the first and last Subway cars anytime except rush hour. In Busan, you can get away with it, I did, but I was told sometimes they approach you (tip, just speak English).
Option for camping in Korea, it is free and legal to pop your tent anywhere…I think this excludes major cities (Jeju is a tad different allowing at campsites) though but everywhere else is ok…and many locals do it! I didn’t have a tent so was not able to but highly recommend it here…views are amazing and you have nearly everywhere to yourself…plus it is very safe!
Rental in Seoul: Bike Nara – Giant (Hapjeong Station exit 5) More Info. For less strenuous and just a day rental for the Han River (80km of trail) you can rent bikes at Yeouido Park.
Rental in Busan: Giant (from Namcheon Station walk toward the beach (1st main street you cross, to the left) also nearby is Specialized (to the right) and I believe they do rentals too) or other option is 칼리버바이크 near Gaegeum-Yeog Station Address. Look up Mike Bike if you need a mechanic or tips, he is American and knows his shit! (If he is still around) Busan does have free city bikes to use as well for less strenuous activities, check here.
Rental in Jeju: Two options – 용두암하이킹 located around the corner from a school (again you might need to wander a block to find the warehouse) Address and the other 제주도자전거대여 보물섬하이킹 which I didn’t try as it is farther out and more expensive but is recommended. Address
You can join the Facebook pages Korea Cycling Network for more information and updates. Great community if you want to ride or have questions.