Hiking is one of the most popular recreational activities to do in Korea, and one of the best times to do this in during the Fall. During the Fall in Korea, not only is the temperature cool enough to make the hiking conditions comfortable, but the foliage also provides for many scenic and colorful views. It is for this reason why on a recent Saturday morning in Seoul, my girlfriend and I had signed up for a trip, through meetup, to visit MunGyeong SaeJae, which is located in the heart of Korea. Despite it lightly raining and the temperature being on the chilly side, we dressed warmly and got on a bus which would lead us to our hiking destination. This would be my first hiking trip I have taken during my time teaching in Korea, and I was especially excited for this adventure as the outdoors were currently filled with warm fall colors.
As my girlfriend and I approached the red bus that would take us to MunGyeong SaeJae, we noticed grandmas and grandpas appearing out of nowhere in their hiking uniforms and climbing poles, like soldiers ready for battle, to climb inside for this adventure. Crossing the street, I could see the tour organizer collecting tickets with her clipboard of names. My girlfriend and I walked up to her, but she seemed a bit surprised to see a foreigner and the shock of possibly having to speak English showed on her face. My girlfriend though calmly asked in Korean if we were on the list and handed her our tickets. She checked us off as hopped on the bus and off we were to the mountains.
The trip from Seoul into the mountains took roughly three hours. We stopped halfway for refreshments at an extremely busy rest stop packed full of shops, foods, and people. I had never been to one of these places before, and was surprised by the quantity of food stalls. I stopped for one of the delicious corn dogs paying only the equivalent of a U.S. dollar. After the brief stop we got back onto the bus and departed for the last part of the trip before our arrival into the mountainous area.
Outside of the window, trees and hills were all around, and it seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere when our bus stopped. After an announcement in Korean from the organizer, everyone gathered their bags and headed outside. The cool mist was a bit too much as it nipped at my face, and although it would soak my coat, it wouldn’t damper my spirit.
The hills were tall and rolling all throughout the area. The trees sprang up from everywhere we looked. Despite the grayness and mist, the ground, the trees, the leaves were full of color and richness that wouldn’t let me feel dismayed. It was beautiful.
After hiking for some time, I felt surprised to see a large wall standing on the top of a never ending hill. It seemed to cut into the forest while proudly declaring Korea’s rich history. The wall had been used to defend Korea, and had been created after the Japanese invasion of 1598.
The area inside of the wall continued with the path and had many beautiful Korean statues, bridges, and natural scenes. The most beautiful scenes in my mind are of the bridge being overshadowed by a towering and powerful mountain.
The bridge was decorated with stones that were carved into many different shapes. But the warmth from the colors all around gave a feeling of overwhelming beauty. Everyone wanted to capture this beauty for themselves with cameras sprouting out from every hand. But the thing about beauty is that it can only be felt and remembered. Pictures can only describe, memories provide feeling
The other memorable scene was next to a stream that had a number of small waterfalls. The stream was calm and peaceful, leaving a sense of serenity. The small sound of the water falling into itself as it moved forward towards its own destination gave the feelings of wonder and joy. I knew that it would be very difficult to match the beauty of this destination.
The area was rich in culture and history. The path had been created to allow students from ancient Korea to make their way towards the more heavily populated area in preparation for a large test that was held. I couldn’t imagine being one of these students trying to memorize and recite the lines that had been studied for months in preparation of success or failure, and then prodding through these beautiful mountains trying not to get too distracted. I felt lucky to have the chance to simply enjoy the nature. With nowhere to go but enjoy our way on the path, it seemed that our time here had nearly ended.
Finally, with our coats dripping from the rain, and the smell of a hard hike mixed with the smell of damp feet, we found ourselves at the bus where it was brought to picks us up. We all gathered back on and headed back home. If you get an opportunity to get out of the city for a weekend and enjoy nature, especially during the Fall, I highly recommend it.
Neil Frazer has been teaching with Chungdahm for a little over two years. He comes from a small town in Wisconsin, named Spooner and graduated from Olivet Nazarene University with a Bachelor's of Social Work. After traveling to Korea in college he quickly fell in love the culture, food, and quality of life that Korea has to offer and immediately knew he wanted to come back. He looks forward to sharing his experiences of living in Korea and working at the Pyeongchon branch, near Seoul.