Dream Bike Tour Seoul to Andong
This was a 9 day fam/famil tour (5 days on the bike) where the Korea Tourism Organization showed off some of the cycleways of the relatively new Four Rivers Bike Trails network to an international group of cycle tour operators (and me!). The tour was guided and fully supported with a support vehicle that had 3 seats for tired riders & luggage transfer
On arrival day we were introduced to Seoul with a city walking tour that included:
- Gyeongbokgung Palace - one of four royal palaces in the city
- Cheonggyecheon - a stream and public space running through the heart of Seoul that for nearly 40 years was covered over by a highway!
- Insadong - an old but lively district well known for its cultural and artistic importance
Our excellent welcome dinner was at Bulgogi Brothers and unsurprisingly the speciality dish was bulgogi beef! Here we had chairs but in most restaurants on the tour we sat Korean-style on the floor, which took a bit of getting used to for middle-aged western knees!
On day one of cycling we exited the hotel straight onto the magnificent Hangang bike path out of the city towards Namyangju. We were introduced to the bike passport ⌘ scheme, certification centres and the mind blowing network of dedicated cycle paths all around the country. It was a sunny Sunday in June so there were lots of people out on bikes although that lessened the further we got out from the city.
Sights and visits along the way included:
- The National Assembly Building
- Yeouido Hangang and Olympic Parks
- Dasan Heritage site
There were a few showers but it was all part of the experience and we were mostly able to shelter in tunnels or under bridges along the way. Dishes of the day were, for lunch Chogyeguksu (vinegar chicken) and for dinner Hanjeongsik (a traditional full course meal) - Kimchi is served often, sometimes at every meal!
The next day we rode to Chuncheon along the Bukhangang (North Han path), from where you can access the most mountainous parts of Korea and also the ski fields - including Pyongchang, the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Our lunch break was at lovely Jara Island, named after the turtle shaped hill, and home of Jarasum International Jazz Festival. We had Makguksu, a delicious buckwheat noodle dish served in a chilled broth.
Sights along the way included:
- Animation Museum
- Soyanggang Maid (of Chuncheon) statue -our knowledgable guide gave us the sad story
- Three certification centres
Dinner was the famous local Dakgalbi - stir-fried spicy chicken.
The following morning we got a train to Daeseongli then rode towards Yeoju from the Bukhangang to the Namhangang (South Han River) bike path. They meet at popular beautiful Dulmeori with its 400-year-old Zelkova trees.
Further on was Yeojubo, the resting place of Sejong the Great and a cultural capital where old wisdom is still honoured and praised. Our Korean dinner today was Galbijjim (short ribs)
Day 4 on the bike was a 66km ride to Chungju followed by a bus trip to Sangju. We had an early morning visit to atmospheric Silleuksa Temple, which dated from Silla dynasty and is an excellent place to learn about Korean Buddhism and temple culture.
This section of the Namhangang has beautiful bridges like Gangcheonbo, with its white heron, and Hwangpo, a sail boat, representing local culture with the traditional images reinvented into a majestic modern form.
After lunch - Oritang - a slow cooked duck and vegetable soup - came a visit to Tangeumdae, a lovely place to enjoy a quiet stroll or picnic and an important landmark in Chungju - historically significant for the famous musician Ureuk who enchanted the subjects of Silla King Jinheung with his performance.
Our last cycling day started from the Sangju hotel along the Nakdong River bike path with the first stop being the Sangju Bicycle Museum. It featured many bikes from around the world over time and was very well set up for children and school groups.
Not far away was the Donam Confucian School that was founded in 1606 and is still in operation. We walked around exploring the site and watched from afar a class in session. Lunch was nearby and was my personal favourite bibimbap, a rice dish mixed with meat and vegetables.
Then onto to our ultimate goal, Andong Hahoe Village. Our exploration began at Hahoe Mask Museum with its curated collection of both Korean masks and traditional masks from all over the world. There was also a traditional mask dance in a purpose-built mini stadium nearby.
Hahoe Village “village enveloped by water”, at the foothill of Hwasan Mountain, is probably the most famous folk village in Korea - even Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1999. It is home to descendants of the Ryu clan of Pungsan. Hahoe is well-known for its traditional houses or hanoks, one of which we were fortunate enough to stay in for 2 nights. Bedding was mats and comfy quilts on the ground – with underfloor heating!
The following morning we had a guided tour of the historic village and then a ride and hike to Buyongdae Cliff which has a stunning view over the village and surrounding area. Dinner was local Andong Jjimdak - Korean braised chicken.
After a typical Korean breakfast following our 'rest day', we were shuttled to Andong Hot Springs to soak and relax before getting an express bus back to Seoul. The farewell dinner was back at Bulgogi Brothers - but not bulgogi this time, we enjoyed Dwaeji Galbi which is grilled BBQ Pork Ribs. Afterwards we went for a pleasant night walk along the Han river.
Overall the guides were excellent and we were well taken care of. English isn’t widely spoken but the language barrier just didn’t exist for us!
⌘ Korea Bike Passport Scheme
- Get a passport at a certification centre (usually at the start or end of a cycle path)
- Stamp booths are red phonebox-like stations where you stamp your passport
- Collect all stamps along any of 12 bike paths across the country to get a certificate in your passport
- Finish a longer cross-country route, a collection of paths, and claim a medal!
The author was a guest of the Korea Tourism Organization and a local tour operator bikeOasis - unfortunately the latter has since ceased to offer bike tours but several other Bike Tours in Korea have sprung up in their place!
Bruce has since returned twice, each time leading a group - as South Korea is such an amazing and underestimated destination!