Sunday, November 14, 2010

My favorite hiking course in Seoul

Have you heard about Jeju Olle-gil (제주 올레길)[1] or Jirisan Dulle-gil(지리산 둘레길)? They are famous trails in Korea to hike in the rural areas to enjoy natural things. In particular, due to the success of Jeju Olle-gil, each provincial government is introducing new hiking courses to attract tourists. Actually, anyone can make their own hiking course, but many people don't know. In my case, I have one in Seoul. Therefore, I would like to introduce my hiking course in this blog.

It has been 7~8 years since I started to hike this way. I have hiked this way with some of my friends. Most of them have been satisfied with my course , because it offers a good view of Gyeongbok-Geung (Palace) and historical sites. Also, there are good cafes, restaurants, and museums, parks around this course, even including two mountains.

This course starts from Sajik park near Gyeongbok-gong station on Seoul Subway Line 3. The overall course is as follows:

Sajik Park(사직공원) => Inwang-san(인왕산) => Bukak-san(북악산) => Samcheong-dong gil(삼청동길) => Insa-dong(인사동)

This is just my own personal course, so you can make your own course depending on your preference or time allowance. Now, let's take a look at each point.

The start point is Sajik Park, which is not a famous place now, but it was an important area in the Joseon dynasty. The purpose of Sajik Park was to hold a memorial ceremony for the ground and the five grains(rice, millet, beans, wheat and barnyard millet) ,which is the basis of stabilizing the dynasty. However, the Japanese Empire tore down the annexes and made this area into the park that it is today.

The next point is Inwang-san, which doesn't seems high, but it's covered with rocks, so you need to wear hiking boots. When you go up to the Inwang-san peak, you can see a complete view of Seoul including Seoul Tower and every mountain surrounding Seoul, even Incheon Airport if the weather is very clear. Also, there is a sad historic episode about an empress of the Joseon dynasty which is connected with Inwang-san. Her name was Empress Inhyeon(인현왕후)[2], a wife of SukJong (the 19th Emperor of the Joseon dynasty). She lost her position of empress due to strife. And then, she went to the peak of Inwang-san wearing white clothes and made a deep bow in the direction of the King every morning for 3(?) years. Fortunately, she became the empress again, but she died soon after without having had any children.

Before moving to the next point, you can have a break time in the cafe between Inwang-san and the entrance of Bukaksan near Changeui-mun(창의문). This cafe offers various types of coffee produced from famous areas of coffee bean production[5]. It would be as good as taking a break and talking with your friends.

If you want to go to the top of Bukaksan[3], you should prepare your resident registration card , driver's license or passport (if you are a foreigner) due to the security of the Blue House. Actually, Bukaksan was not allowed to be entered for a long time since guerrillas from North Korea attempted to raid the Blue House to kill President Park JeongHee in 1969. As a result, the road to the mountain was closed for about 38 years. For this reason, development of this area has been limited for a long time. Therefore, you may doubt if you are in Seoul during your hike up to the top of Bukaksan, because you can only see green mountains and many detached houses.

Actually, Seoul was not always such a big city like this, it used to be a fortress capital city during the Joseon dynasty. Therefore, you can still find several gates in Jong-ro district. Unfortunately, many parts of the city wall and some gates were destroyed in the Japanese occupation and the Korean war. Some parts of the city wall are left on Inwang-san and Bukaksan. In addition, you can find a secret gate over the top of Bukaksan. It is called "Sukjeong-mun(숙정문)".

There are two ways from Sukjeong-mun. One is for Seongbuk-dong gil, the other is Samcheong-dong gil. Now, I’d like to introduce the Samcheong-dong gil course, because it is close to Insandong-gil. However, if you take the direction of Samcheong-dong gil, it takes more time to hike down the mountain, so you can enjoy hiking more in the forest of Bukaksan.

Samcheong-dong gil is one of the most beautiful streets in Seoul. There are many art shops, art galleries, cafes, museums, and restaurants. Actually, this area is a bit expensive, but the atmosphere and quality of food actually are quite good, so it would be a good choice for a nice meal with your closest friends. Before introducing some of them, I wonder whether you have heard about a Korean proverb, “금강산도 식후경”. It means that eating comes first in any situation so it would be good to drop by a restaurant first.

Most of the restaurants here are a bit expensive and for special occasions, but Samcheong-dong Sujebi[6] is cheap and simple. According to Wikipedia, “Sujebi is a Korean traditional soup consisting of dough flakes roughly torn by hand, with various vegetables”. It also tells that Korean people began to eat Sujebi from early Goryo period, but my grandmother told me that Sujebi became common during the Korean war due to the significant rice shortage. At that time, the U.S. army gave wheat flour to Korean people as a form of food assistance. Many Koreans reluctantly had to have flour-based foods including Sujebi (because rice is the staple food of the Korean people). Due to this reason, it is very hard to find Sujebi restaurants these days. Anyway, this restaurant seems to be as old as Sujebi. Nevertheless, some bloggers complain the taste was not as good as it was once, but it is still one of the Korean dishes you must taste.

After the meal, looking around the shops in Samcheong-dong is also good, in particular for women. If you have enough time, I recommend that you visit the Owl Museum[7] and the Tibet Museum[8]. Those museums are very unique because they are managed by private owners, so you can feel a different atmosphere compared to public museums.

The owl museum only specializes in owls, so you can find paintings, craftworks, and toys about owls. In the case of the Tibet museum, there are various things about Buddhist art, folkcrafts, clothes, photos and so on about Tibet. Although Tibet has been occupied by China since 1950, we are still able to see their unique culture. Before visiting those museums, you need to check up locations because both museums are located in side streets. Also, you have to make sure that the museums are open when you want to go.

The last point on my course is Insa-dong gil. Actually, Insa-dong gil is too famous to introduce here. Therefore, I would only like to introduce a traditional Korean teahouse in Insa-dong. As you know, Insadong-gil is famous for its traditional teahouses. Unfortunately, traditional alcohol pubs are increasing these days. Therefore, finding real traditional teahouses is getting harder in Insa-dong.

The above picture shows the interior of a teahouse I found by chance. Actually, I tried to find Kyungin Art Gallery because the gallery also offers Korean tea. Instead, I found a neat teahouse because I took a wrong side street. The teahouse is a real Hanok (Korean traditional house) and offers all kinds of equipment such as pottery and trays. In addition, the hostess is very kind so you can feel like being not a customer but a guest in this house.

In conclusion, making your own hiking course is not difficult. Just try to remember what streets, cafes, and restaurants you’ve preferred, and link all points with some stories such as historical episodes or your memories. And then if you share the course with your friends, your course will be rich with even more stories and attractions.


[1] Welcome to Jeju Olle website,
[2] Empress Inhyeon(인현왕후),
[3] Welcome to Bukaksan,
[4] Seoul’s best walking trails
[5] Club Espresso
[6] Sujebi,
[7] The owl museum
[8] The Tibet museum