Last days of autumn, Seoul

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It is now middle of november, and trees are shedding leaves as winter nears. The trees in Seoul are no exactly the ones that are giving the red coloured leaves, more likely brown then red, but there are some maple trees around too. The weather is starting to dip down below freezing in the early morning, so there is not too much more time to go around looking for something to take pictures of before having to wait for the next autumn.

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I have two favourite macro lens. Today I have my Nikkor 70-180 and this situation is where it shines. This versatile lens allows me to crop close, or to zoom out to 70mm for more coverage. When zooming using that lens, you do not lose focus at all, the only thing is that you change the cropping on the picture. Nice. Too bad this lens is not that easy to find either new on the second hand market. When used properly it is sharp at infinity and as a macro lens. For someone who doesn’t bother with shooting sports or models, the 70-180 is my lens that cover the 70-200 range.
When shooting leaves in autumn, look around for contrast in colours. Look also possibilities to isolate foreground and the background. When the leaves are close enough to the camera, even at f5.6 you will be able to get nice enough blur in the background for isolation. And it is lucky I have the option to crank up the ISO on the D3s, and typically I will be using ISO1000+ up to ISO12800 when the skies turned dark. Normally I would use up to ISO 1600 only for critical shots where noise free photos and maximum detail is required, but today I wouldn’t call it a critical day, so for cases lke this, I’d go up to ISO12,800. I can remove some of the noise later when I get into Lightroom.

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*end*

Munsubongsan, Seoul, South Korea

I’ll make this post the laziest one that I’ve had so far. Rather simple. North Seoul. Mountain. No map, just follow those usual old Korean hikers and live to record GPS paths and pictures. It was a bright day, so it made taking pictures boring.

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So lets do it quick:
1. Line 3 Metro to Gupabal
2. Bus 7211 to 진관사
3. Munsubong 문수봉 727M ( 37.632133°, 126.971909°)
4. Down to Daenammun thru ilseonsa temple

Trip Statistics:
Odometer 11.4km, Moving Average: 3.6kmph Moving Time: 3:11 Stopped Time: 1:30 Maximum Altitude 727m

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View from the top of Munsubongsan. Picture is a subtle HDR.

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The rocky top of the mountain is littered with boulders, and there are hikers as far as the eye can see. Some are more daring than others. Behind me is an all wall protecting Seoul from invaders.

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This is the real peak of Munsubong, but it is not that easy to get up as it requires some rock scaling on your hands and knees and perhaps a rope.

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At the peak.

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And it is still autumn, just a reminder.

Continue reading “Munsubongsan, Seoul, South Korea”

Ungilsan, Seoul, South Korea: Autumn Hike

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Ungilsan in Autumn: Achieved by focusing much closer than the subject itself and let the bokeh work its magic.

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Although I was using a wide angle lens, the slope on the left and right is not an optical illusion.

This trip started as a routine mountain hike a little outside of Seoul at a place called Ungilsan (운길산) mainly because it is possible to get there by taking the suburban line 1 metro to a station with the same name. At least on the map it looks like there is a mountain to climb over there. And it looked like one of those popular places to go on weekends as there are quite a number of overdressed korean hikers (nothing new here). The metro line is supposedly quite new, going all the way to Yangpyeong town and going upstream along the Han River.

Ungilsan metro stop is new enough to be built less than a year or two ago. Just outside the station is a large map of the hiking paths that lead off the station. I counted at least 2 or 3 high peaks and many smaller routes. There’s no real need to memorize it for me since all routes would be new to me. Best would be to follow the crowd. The path starts by going back where the train came from, past many village restaurants on your left. This is where it is possible to load up on lunch by buying a kimbap or two (Korean maki rolls). Then the road goes under the train track and through a small village. Very quickly it starts to go uphill through some woods.

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At the village at the bottom of the montain, some of the lower peaks around Ungilsan

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Some parts of the hike is quite like an easy walk.

Continue reading “Ungilsan, Seoul, South Korea: Autumn Hike”

Islands off Incheon, South Korea: Muui-do

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Revenge of the killer seagulls. Just lucky timing, on the way across from Jamjin-do to Muui-do.

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Fishing boat at Yeongjong Pier with Incheon City in the background

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Panorama of Incheon City in the horizon from Muui-do

It seems that autumn is finally upon us. Temperature has dropped to 20C on a sunny day like today. Looks like the right time to explore some islands off the city of Incheon. Island hopping is a term I wanted to use, but it is technically not really any hopping at all, since by public transport I would be lucky to even get to one island per day. What more, everything is in Korea here so I will have to guide by chance and by the grace of my GPS. Good light also means I can ditch my big camera and go light with a D300, lunch and plenty of water. Always ready for an adventure.

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Google Earth capture of the entire journey mapped by a GPS. Green path is the actual route taken throughout the day.

Getting to the island is a multi-transport discipline. On my research, it looks like the easiest way to get there is to get out of Seoul and get on the express train to Incheon Airport an then hop onto a bus. The alternative way going through Incheon and then a ferry ride to the Airport island looks to be a longer journey. In most cities, Seoul included, the authorities have this idea that tourists are beings meant to be fleeced, so for example a metro ride to Incheon city proper is less than half of what it cost to go to the airport. Price aside, I’ve said that getting out of the city to the airport by Metro is not an easy task. There are some signs at metro station that looks like you could get a A-REX express train to Incheon Airport at Seoul Station, but don’t make the mistake I did. There’s no train going to the airport as of 2010. The line should be ready in the future, but just not now. I wasted 1 hour looking for that phantom train. Some maps indicate that the line is there, but some doesn’t. Best way seems to be to get to Gimpo Airport using Line 9 and then hopping to the A-REX to Incheon Airport without getting out of the station at Gimpo Airport stop.

Outline for today therefore, to take metro to Incheon Airport and then onto one of the island next to it by bus. End the day with a ferry ride into Incheon city before dark. It doesn’t really matter how it turns out. What is clear is that I will have to take a bus over a causeway to Jamjin-do and then hop onto a ferry to Muui-do. Will make up the itinerary as I go along…

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Incheon City from Yeongjong Pier

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So now at Incheon airport, it takes a little bit of investigation to know where to go next. I used up at least 1 hr here figuring out that it is impossible to walk to the pier (2km away) because of the airport security, so a bus is the best option. Go to departure area on the 3rd floor and take bus 222. Unfortunately there is no way to know whether the bus is going to Jamjin island or to Yeongjong pier for the ride into Incheon city. Just have to take your chance or ask the driver.  Bus fare seems to be 1000W as I didn’t really pay attention to my stored value card as I put it on the sensor.

However I was one of the ones that got on the wrong bus as the first one I took was going to Yeongjong pier on the return trip from Jamjin-do. When I got there, it was time to wait for the next bus to go to the island I wanted to go in the first place. Good time killer is to hang around the pier and look at all the tent-restaurants that sprouted out at the parking lot, full of drunk Koreans munching on BBQ pork and kimchi.

After half and hour, it was time for the bus to start moving again. Somehow I have a feeling that there’s not more than 2 buses that services this route going from one end of the Incheon Airport island (that would be Yeongjong Island) to the other end. The bus goes through the airport to pick up more passengers (or victims) and then darts to the west, where I wanted to go, confirmed by my GPS. Right after the airport the bus turns left into a small lane full of korean restaurants, seemingly built so that patrons can look at the sun setting over the sea. After a while, going through a tight road and avoiding carks parked on both sides of the road, the bus goes over a causeway connecting Jamjin-do with larger Jeongyong-do where the airport is located. The bus stops in the small island just before the ferry point. Roads here are tight, as real estate is not plentiful. A building sells 3000 Won return tickets to Muui-do for pedestrians.

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Ferry connecting Jamjin-do with Muui-do

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Four lanes of cars, they go in on the left then make a u-turn at the end of the ship and get out the same way.

Continue reading “Islands off Incheon, South Korea: Muui-do”

Gyeonggi Province, South Korea: Suwon City Fortress

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Suwon old city wall

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Architectural detail: An old door with armored metal sheets taken at one of the secret entrances into the city along the wall.

Alright, I’m here now in a new country, ready to explore the place out and what a better place to do this than during the golden weekend. We are now around end of September, and this is what the Korean calls their Thanksgiving and what happens is that the whole of Korea goes on holiday for a whole week. Equivalent to the lazy christmas week for the Americans and a shorter version of the French summer holidays. Offices will be closed. Everyone will either go home to visit their elders or gravitate towards the summer playground of Jeju Island. Whatever it is, I’m not about to go far on this long week, in fear of highway traffic jam, lack of return tickets on trains and flights, and overpriced hotels. Hell, I’ve not even had time to visit any place around Seoul yet. So its time to do a little research on Wikipedia and Google Maps for the best place to visit for this long weekend.

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Suwon City, nothing special about it. This is the view from the top of the hill where the wall passes through.

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Old city walls separate the ordinary residents from the Kings that live inside the wall. Not true of course, just cooking things up.

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Map view of the walk. Train station is on the bottom left. Wall is that baloon formed by the orange line.

The old town of Suwon looks interesting. What it is, in short, a town with a core that has its ancient city walls intact. From the map it looks a lot smaller than the city walls of, say Nanjing or Xian in China, but perhaps they don’t have as crazy an enemy to protect against; who knows. Best of all, Suwon is just an hour or two out to the South of Seoul allowing travel by Metro in the morning and returning late in the evening. So the plan was hatched. I will need to plot a GPS course this trip while walking the whole circumference of the city wall, which looks achievable in a day.

Continue reading “Gyeonggi Province, South Korea: Suwon City Fortress”

Bukhansan, Seoul, South Korea: Climbing the Hard Way

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One of the daunting peaks at Bukhansan National Park

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Forest Canopy from the peak

The answer to question of what a typical normal Korean would be doing on their weekend would be to climb a mountain. So in my assimilation training, I picked up a friend and we’re off to Gupabal Station on Metro Line 3 on an excellent warm summer Saturday morning. We’re in shorts and t-shirt while the fellow hikers at the Metro station are all in Gore-tex and week long packs with titanium cups hanging off it. Reminds me of the old hikers in Japan, overdressed for the occasion. All I had was a bag with my camera and GPS in it, expecting an easy walk all the way to the top.

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Blue line shows the GPS plots from this trip. The peak is marked with the GPS coordinates, reason being I have no idea what the peak is called as of writing.

Target this weekend is one of the peak at Bukhansan National Park, a bunch of peaks to the North of Seoul City Centre. Its technically inside the city, surrounded by urban sprawl. Some of the peaks in the National Park are quite scary indeed, craggy peaks with no visible easy route other than with crampons and drilling holes in the rocks. And most of them are 500-800m high. Nuts. This is one of those weekends where my mind is in a “what the hell” mode and that’s how most memorable adventures start.

At Gupabal Metro station, there is a large crowd of hikers (remember what I said about what Koreans do on weekends?) waiting at the bus stop. Follow them and you won’t go wrong. The bus goes fast here, they are probably the proverbial race car drivers in their previous career. But quickly we get off at a nice village. Having a friend that knows Korean helps, but not mine as we’re all first timers here at Bukhansan. So I took out my GPS and said that peak looks interesting and lets go the path of least resistance which is straight as the eye can see.

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Make no mistake. This is the EASY part of the climb. I don’t have pictures of the tough part because obviously I’m hanging on for dear life.

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View across the valley. While I doubt climbers for that mountain will have to scale those rock face, they still look scary.

Continue reading “Bukhansan, Seoul, South Korea: Climbing the Hard Way”

Seoul, South Korea: Inwangsan


I have been having free weekends in Seoul lately and this weekend I was quite determined to go somewhere outdoors after a few disappointing sights around Insadong. Saturday was not that great, it rained. Pretty heavily too. Sunday started off good, not a sunny day, but with low clouds and chance of rain. I did a quick check of the weather, clouds are moving relatively fast, but the texture seems consistent and there doens’t seem to be too much risk of heavy rain, so umbrellas were not required. So picked up my small utility bag with a D300 SLR and a Nikkor 12-24mm lens and a GPS and I was out without a clue of the route to take, but as long as I’m going uphill I’m on the right path.

Target today is Inwangsan, a mountain just to the northern border of Seoul. Close enough to be able to reach it by Metro line 3, Dongnimmun Station. Not the mountain top, of course. The station straddles below a main road that leads out of the city to the north. This destination took up only a small portion of Lonely Planet guide book which I did not bother to bring along with me. So I started looking around for a way to get up the mountain. (By the way, realised after this climb that the proper and easy way up is on the east of the mountain, so you will need to walk anticlockwise around it from the Metro station. I went clockwise.)

Going up north, I came across a bunch of apartments and a pedestrian foot bridge after going slightly uphill, still along the main road with mountains on both sides. Figuring that as long as I go uphill, I’d get to a trail, I decided to go up a very steep concrete road, which leads to a small village on the foot of Inwangsan. Its a tough slog up this slope that runs about 200m. There were a few old hikers loitering around so I followed one. Look for the playground behind the village, where you will find the start of the trail identified by a map board which is unfortunately in Korean. It looks like the old city wall goes up this mountain along the spine so this should be fun.

Continue reading “Seoul, South Korea: Inwangsan”