Gongju City 공주시, Chungcheongnam-do

Why Gongju? Apart from the slight personal preoccupation with anything Baekje (read up on your Korean history) due to archaeological sites close to where I live, not much more. It is close enough to Seoul to do a day trip, and small enough to be a walking town. It is also 20th July 2017, one of the hottest day of the year, so I was expecting a bit of walk in the sun.

 East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon

Packed with two cameras, one digital rangefinder and one film panorama camera, something sorely lacking in the digital world, I’m off on a bus from East Seoul bus terminal. There’s a bus every hour. Perhaps more frequency at Nambu bus terminal but I prefer East Seoul. Ticket cost 9,000₩ in 2017 and it takes two hours one way. Left East Seoul at 10:10am and arrived in Gongju at 12:10pm and the bus will not make a rest stop. Don’t think it needs to. I don’t know if Gongju ever gets packed with tourists, at least on this day I could just walk up to the bus station, pick any seat I want in the bus and buy the return ticket when I feel like going back. Like a private chauffeur, although next time an electric scooter to get around town may make a bit of sense.

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Suwon City Walls (수원화성) Revisit

The first time I visited the walls was right at the start of my posting to this country back in 2010. That’s 7 years ago! I remember it was a foggy cloudy day then. Suwon is close enough to Seoul it could be done within a day including walking the entire wall. In my first trip I came by metro and then local bus. This time, I’m taking bus #1007 from Jamsil Lotte World underground bus terminal right to the northern tip of the wall (장안문) where there is a ticket office. Tickets cost 1,000 won (2017) and you get a map and a round sticker that needs to be shown so that you don’t get charged more at other ticket offices around the wall.

 GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city - which means there's enough convenience stores to refuel. GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city – which means there’s enough convenience stores to refuel.

Let me try to describe the wall. The steepest part is in the east on Paldangsan, and the rest of the walls are pretty flat. There are watch towers along the perimeter and the patio type are open and makes for good resting places (for your sandwich, for naps, etc).

Instead of making this post too wordy, I’ll make it more gallery centric. Enjoy.

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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.

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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.

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