South Korea Day 01-02: Arriving in Korea, then riding Ara West Sea Lock to Seoul

My packing preparation for this trip has been quite rushed; I had my last day at work on Friday, packed on Saturday, went for a test ride on Sunday and then flew out on Monday. It all came together in the end and by Tuesday, I was in South Korea.

Packing similar gear plus cold weather gear for the start

All packed up with my brand new pannier bags

To keep things simple, I have chosen the Four Rivers Network, which is made up of several routes across South Korea (some are still under construction) where you can collect stamps at checkpoints. I’m aiming for the cross-country route, which is 633km from Seoul to Busan (going North to South) and if I collect all of the stamps along the way, I get a medal at the end.

The start of the journey is the Ara West Sea Lock, 40km west of Seoul, so on my first night I stayed at a guest house nearby. My taxi driver was excited about my trip too and stopped off at the first checkpoint to pick up my cycling passport and look around the museum. Most of the information was in Korean, but basically the sea lock is like a lift which raises or lowers boats so they can pass from the sea to the canal when they’re not level.

Me trying out the boat simulator

Once I arrived at the accommodation and carried my stuff up 5 levels of stairs, I was eager to shower first, then look at the map I got with the passport, plus the maps I grabbed from the airport. This is important because Google maps doesn’t really work in South Korea, it’s fine for public transport, but you can’t actually find distances between locations for driving, cycling or walking. The rest of the day was just catching up on sleep, rebuilding my bike and prepping for ride in the morning.

The passport and maps for my journey

Inside of the passport

Waking up to a 3 degree morning was a bit of shock compared to the easy 20-30 degree days in Perth, but I didn’t have to go to work, so the weather was a small compromise. Hopping on the bike with 16kg of gear on the back (compared to 12kg last time), was super wobbly, it was like I was riding my bike for the very first time. Once I got moving it was fine, I just had to be careful with bumps on the road and not tip over when I stopped at intersections. I made it to the first checkpoint to get my stamp and have a chat to some other cyclists who were enjoying the brisk morning. I immediately got some cycling cred for touring solo and got a lot of thumbs up and well wishes during the morning. It was very encouraging and I was happy to see all the different types of bikes and cyclists cruising around.

Inside the booth, the ink pad was a bit dry but I’ll buy one for myself for the rest of the journey

Aside from my chain slipping off (easily fixed with my multi tool) and the slightly scary part riding into the big city, the ride went smoothly and I enjoyed the scenery along the river.

After checking into the guest house, I wandered down the road to Myeong-dong Street, which is mostly known for its shopping, but also has lots of food stalls along the middle. I found a little restaurant down a corridor and ordered bibimbap, a rice dish served with meat and vegetables in a hot stone bowl.

I took a short detour via Cheonggyecheon stream, a 10km stretch of waterway in the heart of the city, and headed back to my accommodation for some rest. I have 5 days in Seoul and I already have loads of things I want to see and try, but don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.

Sungnyemun Gate

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