Hike Camp and Travel
Tips and Thoughts

Here are my tips and thoughts about our 1-year stay in South Korea. These are only from my experiences, from the time we landed in 2006. The system may have already changed.

Seoul Tower

It is wise to buy a T-Money card here if you would be staying in Korea for a long time and if you will be using public transportaion very often. The T-Money can only be purchased from the street vendors (mini mini mini mart), not from any subway stations. Buy the card, put some money in it from the store, then all you have to do is scan it whenever you take the bus or subway... and you could also use the card on taxis. The card could be reloaded at the street vendors or at any subway stations.
Paying by cash for a single trip was 900Won. With T-Money, 800Won. When transferring from subway to bus: cash again for 800Won. With T-Money, only around 200Won (additional cost depends on how far you've travelled).

Subway Train I like the fact that we could go around almost anywhere in Seoul and Incheon by subway... and the expansion doesn't seem to stop. They have added a lot of stations since we first arrived in March 2006. They've purchased new trains too. The trains are very clean, and have heated seats in winter.
The subway system is very good. They just don't seem to have consistency with regards to pedestrian pathways. Sometimes the floor arrows and on-ward escalators would be on the left, sometimes they're on the right. No wonder people here get confused if they should be walking on the left or on the right.

For buses, it is best to grab a seat (but give the elderly the priority) or at least hold on tight to the bars.
There are a lot of buses here that go pretty much everywhere. They are all numbered, but the stops and destination signages are all written in Korean - learn how to read Korean. It's very easy.

Around midnight, subways and most buses stop running, but fear not 'cause taxis flood the city at this time. You could choose to pay more with the black cabs or pick a grey/white one with "Free Interpretation" written on the window. Just hope that the driver understands you, or hope you'll get that "Free Interpretation" thing. It's advisable to ask a Korean friend to write your intersection or name of the place you're going to in Korean to show the cab drivers.
There are some reading materials about the safety issue with taxis here. Taking the longer way, robbery, assault. We never had a problem here other than the language barrier.

For travelling farther away from Seoul, There are long distance buses available. They go directly to other major cities. These buses could also be used to reach smaller towns, but they take more stops and sometimes take twice as long.
Long distance trains are also available. KTX for example is commonly used and advisable during major holidays.

Pedestrians here have no right of way. Drivers do not always stop at zebra crossings and not all of them stop on red light. Sidewalks are sometimes dangerous too. Motorbikes delivering food don't run on roads. They choose to run on sidewalks instead and dodge people.

Minbak Beach Camping on Jeju Island Minbaks are the cheapest place to stay in South Korea. They are mostly found in towns near the resorts and other tourist areas. Costs are from 20,000-30,000Won. I even paid 15,000Won once in the town of Naksan in Gangwon-Do province.
These places are small (but sleep about 6 people on the floor) and mostly don't have beds. Only a foam matress, blankets and pillows. They do have a tv though and sometimes a fridge. Heating system in winter is by Ondol (heated floor).

Camping in National Parks is a great experience. The campgrounds though could get very busy during the peak season. I've seen a campground with no room to even walk around your tent. I've camped a few times but I avoided the weekends in the summer. For this, I've had the campground to myself most of the time.
Facilities include: washing station (dishes), toilets (squat, dry... but some National Parks have fully equipped bathrooms), garbage disposal. Near the campsite would have pop machines, phone booth and picnic tables.
Camping fee is not included in the park fee but very cheap. Park fees range from 1,000-4,000Won and camping fees are from 3,000-5,000Won. Reservation at Korea National Park Service is recommended especially during the summer weekends.
National park campgrounds are clean, groomed, quiet (if no other campers) and include a 3am wake-up call from the nearby temple.
I am not aware of camping on beaches anywhere else other than on Jeju Island. Beach camping there was one of our best camping experiences in South Korea.

Mountain Shelters Staying in mountain shelters is one of the best experience a backpacker could have. Of course there would be a little bit of effort to make but the reward is excellent. Some shelters can accommodate up to 300 people. For these many people, there would be no room to twist and turn. The allotted space is like a coffin with no walls.
Staying the night is for about 3,000 to 7,000 Won a night. Sleeping bags and blankets can be rented for 2,000 to 3,000 Won. Reservation at Korea National Park Service is highly recommended especially during the summer weekends.
There's usually a store up there with some noodles, snacks and drinks to get you through the night... in case you forgot to pack your stove and food to cook. This place is well maintained, very clean and presentable. The best part is, summit view would be in your backyard. Enjoy the sunset, stars on clear nights and the best sunrise view in South Korea.

Our most visited place here are the Kimbap places because food here are cheap and yummy. They have different kinds of Korean food here not just Kimbap. They have soup, fried rice, veggies, seafood stuff and meat stuff.
There are also Japanese sushi restaurants and (not so)Chinese restaurants. Fast food chains are also all over the city, with pretty much all the popular fattening chains in the west.
Korean (traditional) restaurants offer good food. They cook your meal in front of you... literally. Most are spicy, but usually they're very spicy. And one piece of advise, pick a big table. They'll flood you with an enormous amount of side dishes no matter where you eat, and these are very good too.

Korean is may not be an easy language to learn but the reading part of it is a kindergarten course. learn how to read and you'll survive. Knowing how to count and asking for a price in Korean is also helpful.
This place is where "nice to meet you" and "where are you from" are widely spoken. English is not well used here but Koreans are trying really hard to learn it. Be patient and you'll somehow understand each other. If nothing else work, there's always body language... but don't use the finger.

Koreans are very friendly people. They are also helpful, hospitable, approachable, and supportive. Some might start to giggle when approached and talked to but it might just because they're not comfortable with their english.
I made quite a few good friends here. They always made me feel welcomed and always try to feed me. Probably because I'm a walking stick.
A couple of nice unusual experiences I had here that are worth mentioning:
1. During the World Cup while I was waiting for my wife to finish her class, I stood outside a pharmacy and tried to watch the game on their tv through the window. The staff there noticed me and they invited me in to watch with them. They even relocated their television so I could see clearly. And, they gave me snacks and coffee. How nice is that.
2. I was on the bus and I just realised, I had no change for the fare. I was in the boonies outside of town so there was no stores in sight. I didn't know what to do. A young lady probably figured out that I was confused and realised I'm a foreigner so she volunteered to pay for my bus fare. That was just nice.
3 (bonus). On our hike to Jirisan National Park, we visited a temple and they gave us lots of fruit, candies, and lunch.

A lot for me. About 70% of Korea is mountainous, no wonder Koreans love to hike. There are also other outdoor activities like rock climbing, bunjee jumping, rafting, skiing, and paragliding. For more laid-back activities, there's always parks, temples, palaces, museums and historical sights.
For indoors, english movies are played in theatres near you. Arcades are also all over the place. One particular place we go to is called U-Para. It is near Songnae Station of Seoul Line 1 and the building is called "toona".
U-Para has virtually everything you need to get entertained... except for porn. Some of the highlites are: bowling lanes, pool tables, shooting range, arcade, and my personal favourite, gold fish fishing. It also has massage chairs, shower room, and tanning beds. The best part of this is they're open 24/7. For 8,000 Won ($10CAN), you could stay there for as long as you want and do anything you want at no extra cost.
Don't miss out on Korean traditional shows. At National Center for the Korean Traditional Performing Arts in Seoul, there are about 5 performances here every Saturday at 5pm for 8,000Won, with Korean traditional dance, song, monologue, string ensemble and orchestra.

Get a map. I wouldn't know much about short hikes around Incheon and Seoul if it wasn't for the maps. Some areas have no printed maps so all I could do was take a picture of the subway topo map inside the stations. I'm a peakbagger not an explorer so I like to plan my trips, even though it doesn't always get followed.
Some maps are not accurate at all too especially when it comes to distance and ascent time. Even trails on some maps are off. There was a major discrepancy on the map I got for our trip to Jirisan National Park. For National Park maps I suggest to get them at the main tourism building in Seoul (Hi Seoul building - 2min walk from Jonggak Station). Don't settle on on-line maps.
For mountains in the city, looking for the trailhead is usually very easy. Trail signs are not always present but I always find the trailhead... with the help of hikers in uniform. They are mostly adult and they all dress alike.
Mountains in National Parks are bigger and higher. Trailheads are guarded and entrance fee is applicable. Trailsigns are also in place to prevent hikers from getting lost. Getting to National Parks other than Bukhansan National Park is not very convenient by bus. Especially the far ones. Not all buses from the closest city go to the trailhead. sometimes you need to transfer buses a few times, and when you're out of luck, wait times for the buses are longer than what you've hoped for.

Malena 2007/03/08 23:24:13 EST Reply
Going to SK in June and found several tips very helpful. Specially the link to learning korean! Nice pics too! Thanks for sharing! :)
mvtouring 2007/03/08 21:34:07 EST Reply
The trains are so clean, I wish our trains looked like that ;-)

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Updated: January 9, 2014 Author: Kajtek S