After leaving our things at our hostel, my friends and I went to the bus stop to wait for the bus going to Seoraksan National Park. There are five local bus routes in Sokcho and to get to Seoraksan, we need to hop into bus number 7 or 7.1. At first, we hailed the correct bus number but the wrong route because instead of going towards our destination, it is going against it. We were waiting at the wrong bus stop so we crossed to the other side of the road to wait for the correct bus.
South Korea travel tip # 4: Bus is a very common mode of transportation in South Korea. Each bus has its own designated route, with the route distinguished by the bus number (i.e. bus 1, 1.1, 2, or 3). Always check if the bus number of the bus you are riding is correct. Unlike the subway, not all buses have English-translated voiceovers.
After waiting for a couple of minutes, we were finally able to ride the correct bus. The final destination for bus numbers 7 and 7.1 is Seoraksan National Park. Like the subway, Korean buses have seats dedicated in the front for senior citizens. As a matter of courtesy, always go straight to the back portion of the bus. We never once saw any chastisement occur during our stay but it is always better to avoid such uncomfortable incidents especially in a country not yours.
South Korea travel tip # 5: Always confirm with the bus driver if the bus will pass by your destination. If the driver is not familiar with your destination, give them popular landmarks. It’s always a good idea to be familiar of your destination in order to avoid confusion or getting lost.
The ride to Seoraksan took about an hour. We passed by some establishments. We also passed by the coastal area where the sea is showing its might as its powerful wave crashed against the breakwaters. When the bus turned right towards the mountains, the landscape transformed into a more rural setup. As we got nearer to Seoraksan, we were taken aback by the influx of private cars lining up towards the park. We didn’t anticipate the spate of visitors going there because it is Monday!
South Korean Observation # 4: Koreans are so well-mannered that they will offer their seats to foreigners. Even if you refuse, they will insist. They also refuse you if you offer your seat to them.
When we alighted at the park entrance, a crowd of visitors have begun flocking towards the park. Majority are locals but we spotted some foreigners as well, including fellow Filipinos. It was still early in the morning but the park was already teeming with different activities. It is easy to understand why many flocked to the park this early. It is alive with colors, from green to red to yellow. Indeed, the hills are alive with colors, making me fall in love with autumn even further.
To enter the park, one must pay an admission fee of 3,500 Korean Won per person. Inside the park, one can do a variety of outdoor activities that mostly involves hiking, trekking and a lot of walking. If you are not into outdoor activities, you can just simply unwind by discovery every nook and cranny of the area. Inside the park are numerous picturesque spots like Sinheungsa Temple.
Prior to our trip, my friends and I already agreed on the activities we are going to do in Seoraksan. Due to time restrictions – we are to return to Seoul later that evening – we limited our activities in Seoraksan. Our priority is climbing Ulsan Bawi, a rock formation which looked amazing in pictures. We also elected to try the park’s cable car.
The cable car rides are separate from the entrance fee. Round trip ticket costs 10,000 Korean Won. Unfortunately, all rides until 3 PM that day were fully booked already. Without any choice and because our friend really wanted to try the cable car ride in spite of the subpar reviews of the experience, we grabbed the 3 PM schedule. As we still have five more ours to spare before our schedule we went ahead with our Ulsan Bawi climb.
Finding your way around the park is easy because there are signs all indicating which directions to take. To get to the rocks, we simply followed the signs and markers which were translated to English. Before climbing, we took pictures with the red-colored trees and at the Buddha statue which serves as the park’s guardian. One can purchase packed rice at the store in front of the statue and offer it to the Buddha. Buddhist practitioners can also pray before the Buddha.
After our brief photo-op, we started our hike. Although we passed by the Sinheungsa Temple, we opted to explore it later in the day because we will need at least four hours to complete our hike, which is an ample time for us to catch our 3 PM cable car ride schedule. The hike itself is not very challenge, especially at the start. What really slowed us down is our desire to take a picture at every spot. I can’t blame my friends because Seoraksan is a truly idyllic place.
There were no steep assaults on the trail. Moreover, the park management made walkways at some parts of the trail to make the hike easier and more pleasurable for everyone. Along the trail, I was surprised because most of the hikers are elderly. I admire how active they are in spite of their age and they barely batted an eyebrow on the climb up. It is great to know that they enjoy a good hike as much as I do.
South Korean Observation # 5: Elderly Koreans are very active and enjoy the outdoors very much. Aside from Seoraksan, I also met elderly climbers at Bokhansan in Seoul. According to our DMZ guide, elderly Koreans love outdoor activities very much that they invest in their equipment.
Due to my itchy feet, I went ahead of my companions. I refuse to slow down my pace just to match theirs. I know other climbers would understand. I didn’t know what to expect of the hike so I went over-prepared. I brought my thick outdoor jacket thinking it would be too cold. It was cold when we arrived in Sokcho but this physical assertion easily made me sweat that I did away with my jacket for majority of the hike. It is quite ironic when I noticed how even though I was the only one not donning a jacket, I was the only climber who was sweating profusely.
The trail is covered by the thick vegetation but it starts opening up as one nears the rocks. When I was finally able to glimpse the rocks, I was in awe. Sure it looks cool in pictures but it is 10 times more amazing in person. The path going up the rocks is made up of metal stairways. At the summit are three view deck points, each offering a different view of the Korean countryside.
The amazing view and the mountain breeze provided a respite to the exhausted body, especially after the two-hour trek. Thankfully, the summits were not as crowded as I expected, hence, there is plenty of opportunity to take pictures. My soul and my eyes were drinking in this wonderful sensation. It is truly amazing how God created these marvelous structures. To ensure everyone’s safety, the view decks were fenced. However, still practice caution when walking over the edges.
When my friends finally reached the summit, we took more pictures. While I was taking pictures, one of the Korean hikers I met along the trail offered to take my picture. At first I was hesitant because I was a bit embarrassed. But she insisted so I gave in as a matter of courtesy. She was the same hiker who was so astonished at the speed by which I climbed that she applauded me. This is one of many instances which showed that Koreans are as warm and hospitable as we Filipinos are.
When my friends and I have had our fill, we started our descent. Looking at the time, we have about an hour and a half to catch the cable car ride, otherwise, it will all be for naught. The cable car tickets are nonrefundable and cannot be rescheduled. A simple time calculation made me conclude that the chances of us making it is virtually zero, unless we pick up our speed. But my friends are enjoying the “walk in the park” so I didn’t bother speeding up. I might as well enjoy the climb down.
But will we make it? Watch out for it in the next part of our South Korean adventure.