Cycling from Sokcho to Busan – 속초에 부산

reflection

 

While being an exchange student in South Korea for 4 months, I hardly saw anything of the country. Too busy exploring all the soju & hof places around campus and finding out which cinema has the biggest screen. I knew that with my return to the ROK, I could use my time to really get to know more about its surroundings and people.

When I saw Taek Woo’s message on Couchsurfing.com – Does anyone want to cycle through Korea with me? – I knew I had to do it. After some KakaoTalk back and forth, we decided on doing the east coast from Sokcho (속초) to Busan (부산).

 

 

My new partner in crime honestly told me that he liked every sport, but was not particularly good at it. Well, same here! Both of us have never attempted a challenge like this. People called us foolish, but we made it!
So this is the ultimate guide in how to cycle 500 km in 5 days, with no prior training, no high tech equipment and a very small budget!

 

Sokcho_1

 

The perks of going together with a Korean, was finding the way easily with Naver Maps. But even without having someone there who speaks Korean, it’s difficult to get lost. We followed the Heparang Route / 해파랑길, that covers the entire east coast. About half of it is finished and has brand new bicycle roads. The other half will take you along Asian Highway 7.

 

coast

 

 

fisherman

 

This was the first time for me to experience South Korea in a different way. For me Korea is huge, urban, fast, with infinite coffeeshops and convenient stores. Overall; an extremely comfortable place to be.
For this trip I was hoping to see something of Korea that I haven’t seen before. Apart from the physical strain, the level of comfort was still high. Every 15 kilometer or so, you will find a toilet, convenient store, restaurant and sometimes air pump. The most viewpoints have seats and shelter.

 

panorama

 

 

taekwoo       telephonebooth

 

You can get a free map at the tourist information center, and collect stamps in these red telephone booths, all along the east coast.

 

 

Day 1

Sokcho (속초) – Seorak Mountain (서락산) – Gangneung (강릉)
10 km hiking – 90 km cycling

 

panoramaseorak

 

fiets

 

waterfall

 

panosokcho

 

After waking up in a mediocre Korean sauna (jjimjilbang = 찜질방) in touristy Sokcho, we were filled with energy to start our epic cycling trip. More information about sleeping in the sauna – the cheapest accommodation in South Korea – you can find here.

Because this was my first time visiting Sokcho, I couldn’t leave without doing a hike. It’s around 12 km to reach the Seorak-San Tourist Information Center from the harbor of Sokcho, where we stopped for a few games of table tennis and a hike map of the area.

 

20150702_110730

 

If you are cycling to the information center, don’t cycle in this tunnel. Cars are going too fast, so use the sidewalk.

 

hanok

 

entrance       buddha

 

At the Seoraksan Park entrance we were asked to park our bikes and pay an entrance fee of 3,000 KRW to get inside.

 

brug1              brug2

 

We hiked to Bi-ryeong Falls (비룡폭포), which is only 2.4 km and takes about an hour. The first half is flat and not strenuous. The second half is a lot of rocks, stairs and two suspension bridges. It’s a pleasant hike with nice views from the bridges. Definitely recommended if you don’t have much time on your hands!

 

biryeong

 

This is the waterfall! Lovely cold, fresh water – unfortunately with a ‘no swimming’ sign.

After returning from the falls, we took the cable car up to Gwongeumseong (권금성) which is located at the Seorakdong Information Centre. It costs 10,000 KRW, but saves you a 5+ hour hike. After exiting the cable cart, it’s about a 10 minute walk up stairs and rocks to reach the actual top.

 

san2

 

san1

 

The view from up there is as gorgeous as it is on the pictures. Weather was great. When we reached the top, stormy clouds began forming and the wind almost blew us of the cliff.

 

seorak

 

The highlight for me was the Ajeoshi (old man) selling climbing equipment, with SUPER loud Arirang music blasting from his speakers. No better way of enjoying stunning Korean scenery.

 

arirang

 

Starving and tired after reaching the coastline again, we found a restaurant that sells cold noodles, Naengmyeon (냉면) outside the National Park. These cold noodles were served with semi-dried pollack and grilled pork. The name is Kodari Naengmyeon (고다리 냉면). The perfect food for cooling you down after exercising in hot, humid weather. Inside is icy broth, buckwheat noodles, an egg, cabbage and other veggies in red pepper paste. All of this is covered with sesame seeds or oil and ground peanut. I always love adding wasabi or mustard and vinegar to spice it up.

 

coldnoodles     coldnoodles2
photo credit: http://blog.daum.net/hyedalee/239

 

At 5 pm we had 70 km left to reach the next big city with a jjimjilbang: Gangneung (강릉).
The newly opened bicycle road in this province (Gangwon-do) is amazing! It’s clearly indicated with a square blue sign every few hundred meters. Also road marks will help you find your way. If you can read and write Korean, you can use Naver Maps, which shows all the possible bicycle paths in the country.

This day the road was relatively flat. Some ascents, but nothing crazy. The percentage and duration of the ascent is often also indicated with signs! It’s a very relaxed road with the sea on your left and mountains on your right. You’ll have the road to yourself most of the time.

 

sunset

 

sunset2

 

sunset3

 

 

Day 2
Gangneung (강릉) – Samcheok (삼척)
70 km

 

rocks

 

Cycling is never fun much fun if the weather sucks. This was a very tough day with a lot of long climbs and rain, rain, rain. Also, I had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, I dropped my phone in a toilet and it died, and we had to look 2 hours for accommodation. You need these kind of days to appreciate the other days better.

 

climb

 

I remember reading on a blog that the east coast route was “relatively flat”. I was cursing this guy while struggling up a 500 meter 8% ascent many times. The scenery however was really great!

 

ricefield

 

It changed from swirly coast paths to rural areas with rice fields and foggy mountains.
When I got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere I realized: I’ve never repaired a flat tire with such an awesome view before.

 

airbase

 

With our matching blue and yellow rain coats we looked like turtles most of the day.
Because of the many climbs – I swear the last climb was 15% and would have made a perfect ski jump – we only managed to get to Samcheok 삼척. This was around around 70 km. The only jjimjilbang in the area had decided to shut down forever from that day onward. Tired and shivering, we sought warmth and beer.. Trying to find out where to sleep.

 

bier

 

 

We ended up in a Yeogwan (여관) which is like a motel but way worse. Located right above the bustling red light district of Samcheok, a room goes for around 20,000 KRW. It has a bathroom attached. Don’t expect much, it’s cheap for a reason. Interesting though, to see the red light district in a different country (being from the Netherlands).

 

 

Day 3

Samcheok (삼척) – Yukbyeon (육변)
60 km

 

beachpano

 

Two massive climbs to start the day, lead to a gorgeous beach near Solseom (솔섬). We happily went for a swim, and napped in the warm sun afterwards. The water is cold and wild, and a large piece of the beach is off limits for swimming.

 

bord

 

The water is clear emerald blue, and the scenery is again marvellous! This is where you go in to a different province – Gyeongsangbuk-do. People’s accent changes, so at this point I really can’t understand Korean anymore.

 

silhouettes

 

Along the way you will see lots of different industries. Surprisingly I didn’t see a single cow in five days – where do they hide them?

 

fisherman1

 

Physically this was the hardest day with the most – long – climbs. This was the moment where we wanted to throw away our bicycles. Halfway!

 

sign

 

Day 4

Yukbyeon (육변)- Pohang (포항)
120 km

 

20150705_120237_380

 

When entering a different province, we also had to say goodye to the luxury of shiny new bicycle roads. From this point we rode on the Asian Highway 7 where maximum speed is 80. There is about a one to one-and-a-half meter space for you and your bicycle.

 

highway

 

 

Cars are speeding, buses zip by you with hardly room to spare. The views were so-so, because the most you see is just asphalt and cars. The highway did make us ride 120 km and reach Pohang (포항) in one go!

 

pohangtemple

 

 

If you are concerned about safety, you might want to skip driving on the Asian Highway 7. Cars are passing by really, really fast right beside you. Make sure you have your lights on at dusk and preferably some reflective clothing or reflectors on your bike.

 

cliffs2

 

 

vivewpoint

 

 

bridge

These kind of routes make for such a pleasant ride!

 

 

Day 5

Pohang (포항) to Busan (부산)
110 km

busanbord

 

The last day! The end is in sight! We wanted to skip the highway as much as possible, because we weren’t enjoying the views that much the day before. Luckily this part leads you through some small villages, in between hills and rice fields, along a river. Another big part is on the AH7. This day was really tough, probably because we were physically exhausted and riding 50 kilometer seeing a sign with ‘Busan 69 km’ sounds too far.

 

jjigae

 

Make sure to get those three nutritious meals a day! For someone who doesn’t eat meat, like myself, I can enjoy all the different stews and side dishes thoroughly! This dish is called Dwenjang-jiggae or soft bean paste stew (된장찌개). It came with loads of side dishes like mushrooms, mackeral, kimchi, spicy potatoes, dried salted ansjovis, seaweed, cucumber and different types of cabbage.

 

20150706_171243_843

 

 

lastday

 

Sheer joy upon arrival in Busan at night. We went to noraebang (karaoke), sang our hearts out, drank too much soju and beer and found a sleeping place in jjimjilbang for the last time.

 

busan2

 

busanbridge

 

busan1

 

 

I can not be more happy that we made this trip. It was an unforgettable view on a part of Korea I haven’t seen before. It left me sort of depressed for a few days, wishing it could have been longer – apart from the saddle pain. I enjoyed the first part the best because of the breathtaking scenery and the feeling of being the only one cycling there. Most roads are very empty. Going around 40 km/h with such a gorgeous view : maximum adrenaline kick!

 

Feel free to ask me anything!

___________________________________________________________________

 

Useful links for your own South Korea East Coast Adventure:

Sokcho jjimjilbang: 10,000 KRW
속초 불가마찜질
+82 33-636-240
Naver Maps
Google Maps

Gangneung jjimjilbang: 9,000 KRW
궁전보석사우나 찜질방
+82 33-644-2385
Naver Maps
Google Maps

Jukbyeon jjimjilbang: 8,000 KRW
동일사우나 죽변
+82 54 782 8111
Naver Maps
Google Maps

Pohang jjimjilbang: 7,000 KRW
포항온천
+82 54-252-8833
Naver Maps
Google Maps

Busan jjimjilbang: 8,000 KRW
리치찜질방사우나24시
+82 51 752 2780
Naver  Maps
Google Maps

10 thoughts on “Cycling from Sokcho to Busan – 속초에 부산

    1. Yes of course you can, thank you very much! I really enjoy reading Kimchibytes, so it’s great this’ll be featured! :)

  1. Hi Judith,

    nice Story, will make it next year. This year end of September my brother and I will make the Seoul – Busan along the river…the common route. However, due to your report it is now on my bucketlist.

    1. Hi Karsten,

      Glad to have inspired you! I bet this trip would be even better in spring, before the rain and humidity sets in.

      However it’s great that you are going to do the 650 kilometers! Share some pictures of the bright fall colours, it will look amazing..
      Can’t wait to cycle that route myself.

    1. Hi Marie :)
      Yeah definitely stick to the seaside.. As I wrote we covered lots of kilometers in one go, but we didn’t enjoy it at all. Next time I will avoid the highway!
      Thank you for adding the map of a nicer route!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. Some questions for you.

    Did you have other options or consider an alternate route than riding on Highway 7?

    How much clothing did you take with you?

    You’d mentioned that you and your riding partner had not trained for the ride. On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult was the ride? Reason I ask is I’m considering taking my teenage son with me during a bike tour in Korea.

    What mode of transportation did you use for your return trip?

    Enjoyed your story. Thank you again for sharing.

    1. Marie (comment above) suggested the alternate route which is much nicer! Sometimes we rode parts on nr. 7 that were nice and not crowded. But between samcheok and pohang: avoid it! Dangerous, dusty and boring.

      We made the trip in 5 days (+ 1 day in Sokcho and one day in Busan) I took one cycle short, one track pants and four t-shirts, I just washed them.

      I haven’t cycled for over a year prior to this trip. I did cycle a lot my whole life before I left Netherlands. I would say on the scale from 1 to 10 it was about a 5, because I had such bad stamina. If I trained it would have probably been 3. But no sore muscles in the end, only the saddle pain on the last 100 km was terrible.

      Note: we had great weather. It wasn’t humid. Like 25 degrees, sunny or little clouded. We took a swim to cool down. If it was as humid as yesterday in Jeju-do (95%) I wouldn’t even attempt it.. you will get dehydrated super fast.

      I suggest to do it in minimum 5 days, but rather take 6 or more. You will enjoy the scenery better ^^ if your teenage son is just of normal health, you will have no issues and enjoy the ride! A lot of “화이팅!!” along the way cheered me up.

      For the way back, I stowed my bike in an express bus. There’s usually enough space.

      Thanks for reading, hope this helps a bit! Have a great time and enjoy the food, people and landscapes!

  3. Hi, sounds like a great ride. Question: do jimjilbangs have proper places for you to safely store your bike?

    cheers
    mk

    1. Hi Michael, sorry for the late reply.
      I guess the answer is no. Maybe some of the big ones do, but don’t count on it. However, because of the abundance of CCTVs everywhere your stuff is relatively safe, when locked properly. Our bikes were not expensive, so we kept them outside. If you speak Korean you can figure something out with the jjimjilbang staff perhaps.

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