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Within city limits: Seoul’s Bukhansan National Park

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On Saturday, October 4, I hiked Bukhansan National Park. I initially overlooked this on TripAdvisor, thinking that national parks are far too out of the city.

I couldn’t be more wrong. A simple Google search revealed metro stops surrounding it; the place is just outside of the central district.

Folks at the hostel told me to take the metro to the Bulgwang stop. I was lost upon getting out, but sure enough from TripAdvisor comments: “follow the Koreans wearing full hiking gear.” A couple of friendly locals helped guide me to the entrance.

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Before I go further, why Bukhansan National Park? In short, I was naive and tried booking DMZ tours one week in advance, which turns out is impossible. Note: book at least one month in advance, as you need to go through a formal identity check with the US and South Korean government.

I still wanted to be outdoors. The inner Palin believed I could somehow see North Korea from the top of a mountain. So off I hoped, and off I climbed.

After about 15 minutes of hiking, I looked back to see how far and high I had climbed.

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There were a lot of paths to take, and all signs were in Korean. Being illiterate here, I figured I had 10 hours before sunset. Odds were I’d survive rather than perish.

So I took a long, steep route.

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The buildings looked smaller and smaller. I kept getting bypassed by elderly folks who made me feel like a chump.

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And I kept climbing with my sneakers and shorts.

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And the city grew even smaller.

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Until everything was just tiny little specks, because I had scaled the mountain and climbed to the peak.

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I had climbed to the peak of Jokduribong, a height of 1759’.

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It was about noon, so I ate some kimbap bought from Seoul Station. Then I contemplated hard about calling it quits and walking to City Hall to see things I’ve seen before. Then I thought about how round my stomach had become, had a inner battle, and began my climb towards Hyangnobong peak, elevation of 1755’.

Overall, the 4-5 hour hike was exhausting, a bit scary, but worth the spontaneity. I didn’t wear any sunscreen, didn’t have the necessary equipment, am still recovering from tendonitis, and had no idea where I was going. I asked several people for directions off the mountain, which took a long time – the older generations aren’t too familiar with English.

I’ve never been a fan of Nike, but the shoes played their part with traction and durability. The hike was hard, and I was on all fours scaling several areas. Nike Pegasus 29, I really am a fan.

All of this cost less $5 USD. The metro cost $1 USD, and two rolls of kimbap cost me $4. Definitely a great escape, excuse to exercise, and seeing the beautiful landscapes of Korea.

Lastly, I don’t think I saw North Korea. Good thing, I plan to (legally) cross the border next time.

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