My three weeks in South Korea have come to an end, but it has been a great experience and a bit more challenging than my two previous tours. To wrap up my trip, I’ll summarise my thoughts on the cycling part, jot down some notes about budget and general logistics and lastly I’ve put together a short gallery of my trip highlights.
Cycling the Four Rivers Bike Path
I completed the Cross Country Route from Incheon (40km east of Seoul) to Nakdonggang Estuary (20km southwest of Busan), as part of Korea’s Four Rivers bike network. Everything you need to know about the cycle route can be found on the official website here, but basically you can buy a cycling passport which you fill with stamps from various checkpoints. From end to end the route is 633km and at regular intervals there are useful things like toilets, bike maintenance tools, vending machines and convenience stores. There are motels along the way to accommodate cyclists too, or in warmer weather camping would be another option, as the sites are free and have usually provide shower blocks.
The cycle paths are smooth and well marked, so there is little chance of getting lost, plus there are markers along the way to let you know how far away you are from the next checkpoint. In terms of terrain, it’s surprisingly manageable, even though Korea is so mountainous, the route only had major climbs in the Saejae course on the 4th ride of my trip, between Suanbo and Mungyeong. I was pretty unfit at the start, so the long days were challenging and I chose to cut back my distances in the second half. Along the way I found that other cyclists were very kind and stopped to chat and share some food with me, it was really sweet and it was nice to get some encouragement and thumbs up from passing riders.
Budget and Logistics:
During my trip I spent 9 days cycling, 5 days each in Seoul and Busan, 3 days on Jeju Island and a rest day in Andong, so my budget covers my spending in all of these places. Starting with the biggest expenses, these are my observations:
- Airfares from Australia to South Korea are usually cheap, but to bring my bike and luggage was an extra 50% on top of my original fare. In addition my flight to Jeju was during the Easter break, so it was higher than usual.
- Buses and trains are about 1200 won each way ($2.50 in AUD), but you can get a T Money card, which is rechargeable and used across the country.
- Accommodation was tricky travelling solo because the towns between Seoul and Busan mostly had motels rather than hostels. This increased my spending, but they had perks like minibars, flatscreen TVs, bathtubs, lots of toiletries and nobody snoring in the room.
- Meals are generally cheap, around $8-$15 for typical Korean dishes or around $20 for fancy seafood dishes.
- There are convenience stores everywhere, on each block you can find one of the three main chains: 7/11, CU or GS25 and I bought fruit and snacks for my rides.
- Attractions are usually free or very cheap, around 3,000 won ($3.50 in AUD), but to make things easier, it’s handy to check when different places have free English guided tours.
Highlights in South Korea
Since it was my first time in Korea, I had no idea of what to expect, I was really surprised by the sheer number of people in the cities and the population density. My perception is that the country is very industrious, after they regained independence and recovered from wars, they’ve quickly rebuilt and expanded at breakneck speed. At times I felt like an outsider since I didn’t speak the language, but cycle touring automatically welcomed me into the cycling community which is open to people of all ages and fitness levels. The only thing I would have done differently, aside from training beforehand, would be to get in touch with some expats in the different cities. I met plenty of English teachers who have lived in Korea for a while and they were able to give me some tips and take me to cool places.
I was lucky to travel during spring time and see the flowers blooming along the cycle paths, it was so peaceful to ride along and admire the scenery. There are still hundreds of kilometres of cycle routes that I haven’t covered yet, so I think I’ll hold onto my cycling passport and come back later to finish off the rest.