Dmthoth [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS). "New Bike Route Runs along East Coast." :: Korea.net : The Official Website of the Republic of Korea. Web. 17 Sept. 2016.
Is it worth it?
Yes, yes and yes. Riders all have differing opinions, but I think the East coast route is one of the most interesting routes in Korea. The road is never boring, never the same, the views change from little harbour towns to beaches to hotels to farmland to barbed wire fences. The Seoul to Busan route is very popular and can at times even be overrun, while the East coast is not yet so well known and popular among riders. Many want to wait until the whole East coast route has been completed up to Busan, but I'm glad I did not. I've cycled parts of the Southern route to Busan and I think it will take a long time to complete the rest of the cycle route, there are signs and part cycle track, but the coastal industries and mountainous areas make it very difficult to develop into a safe and enjoyable route. If you want to wait, you might have to wait a long time. So rather do the route that exist and enjoy the wonderful experience available! Also if you like fast in and out, the East coast might not be your favourite route, it will appeal to the adventurous rider who takes in all the little things, stop, enjoy the views, people, culture and challenges it offers.
Where to start? North or South?
If you would like to do the East coast trail the first question you will have to ask yourself is if you want to go North to South or South to North. There are reasons for both and you will have to decide what works for you. Here are some facts that will help you make this decision.
How to get there and back?
Most riders would depart from Seoul where there are many bus terminals, but to travel to and from the East coast you have to use the Dong Seoul Bus terminal (동서울종합버스터미널). This terminal is right at Gangbyeon station on the number 2 green line, exit number 4. It's a busy place with lots of buses and lots of people. If you go during a national holiday it might be hard to find a place for your bike on the bus.
The Southern part of the East coast route is closest to Imwon intercity bus terminal (임원시외버스터미날). The certification center is just about 1km South of the bus stop.
The Northern part of the East coast route is closest to Daejin intercity bus terminal (대진시외버스터미널). The Unification Certification center is about 3km North of the bus stop. These are small bus stops and can be tricky to find or identify. Have a look at the pictures below.
What is the best time to go?
The best time to go is when you have the time to go. Some riders go in the deep of winter, some in the heat of summer, it's all up to how determined you are. We went in July, in the middle of the Korean summer and I would recommend it very strongly. We were worried about summer rains, but even though we had a day or two of rain most of our days were either quite hot or cool because of clouds. When we returned home after our trip we found that the East coast was also much less humid than the rest of Korea. July and August are the official summer vacation months in Korea, which means the beaches and 2000 won showers are all "open" only at this time of the year. Any other time, you will not find a shower, parasol or lifeguard anywhere in sight.
How easy is it to follow the route?
With any cycling in Korea your best tool for navigation is Naver maps on a smart phone, it can indicate where you are, where the cycle roads are and where hotels, bus stops etc can be found. Knowing how to read Korean would be essential to use this tool to it's fullest.
The East coast route has a painted blue line following the cycle path, always make sure you are cycling along this blue line and you should be fine. Along the road you will also find various maps and lots of direction signs. In spite of all of this we still managed to stop and check our maps many times and even missed a stamp booth.
Of course part of the adventure is trying to find the route, stay on the route and getting a little bit lost from time to time. And Korea is a great place to do this with safety and without ever really getting into any trouble. There's always a Korean close by to help, just remember cyclists are always better to ask, taxi drivers or other people will give directions kindly, but will not take into account that you are cycling and need safe roads.
What bicycle should I use?
The East coast is a true mixture of all kind of roads (and even stairs). There are lovely stretches of separated bike path, wooden boardwalk style paths on or next to beaches and gravel or dirt roads with mud and holes. Tar roads include riding with a dedicated double bicycle lane indicated by painted lines or nicely separated by barriers from the cars. Sometimes you are just on the road next to cars with almost no shoulder and nothing but a thin blue line to indicate that you are on the East coast route. The route also takes you through rice patties on old forgotten cement roads or zigzags through little back roads of neighbourhoods. At times you are faced with wooden stairs as steep as you've ever seen or narrow grass and gravel forest paths.
I would not recommend a road bike for the East coast, but we passed many a road bike on the way. I also don't feel the East coast is a route you should ride as fast as you can from A to B, it's a journey to enjoy with lots of sights to see and adventures to have. You could rather do the East coast in 2 weekends, than trying to squeeze it into a few days. It's such a fresh change from the long boring straight flat cycle roads following many of the rivers in Korea, that it's best to enjoy every moment and stretch the experience as much as you can. A hybrid or mountain bike would be my choice of ride, but of course it's all up to each rider's preference. One advantage of a carbon road bike is it's easier to carry or push up and down stairs than a loaded pannier bike and you can take detours on the road with cars to avoid the off road parts.
How hard is the cycling?
This will all depend on your riding experience and training before departure. If you ride 100km and hilly roads often, then you will love the East coast route and not find it particularly challenging. If you ride 20km to 50km and do less hill climbing, you will find the East coast doable but challenging at times. If you rarely ride a bike you will have a sore butt due to suddenly spending hours in the saddle and the hills will make you suffer.
We have many kilometers of cycling experience but did not do much training before our trip and found the hills from just before Samcheok to Imwon quite challenging, especially the last day. Some people report the East coast is a flat ride, maybe for a very fit super cyclist, but for the general rider it will be hard work at times. Of course the feeling of achievement, the views and beautiful roads make it all worth it. I hope to do it again, with some more preparation next time so I can enjoy the climbs more.
Where to stay?
When touring through Korea, the most convenient way to plan your accommodation is simply to cycle until you want to stop and find the closest motel. They always have rooms and are not too pricey for 2 or more people. It also gives you the option of being flexible with how far you cycle each day. Using motels (40 000 - 60 000won) means you can carry much less weight on your bike. No need for towels, shampoo, soap, toothbrush etc, it's all provided each time. If you like your comforts and have the money to spend it's the best way to travel by bike in Korea.
We took a very leisurely 2 weeks to enjoy the sights and beaches of the East coast and so decided to camp instead of using motels each night. We carried our tent, mattress, sleeping bags etc with us, making for a much heavier bike load. After long sweaty days with lots of sunscreen we wanted a shower of some sorts at the end of the day but found the official well equipped camping grounds quite expensive and the cheaper or free areas without real facilities. At times we used the beach showers for 2000 won, but they all close around 6pm and only open around 10am, so it's not really so convenient if you want to depart early morning or cycle till late at night. Of course it's possible to just jump in the ocean each morning or night if don't really care about showers and soap. We enjoyed the adventure of camping and just sleeping where we wanted, under the stars and on the beach, but we balanced it out by sleeping at a motel here and there.
One night we splurged and stayed at the brand new Daemyeong Sol Beach resort. It's right next to Samcheok beach. Quite a treat.
What were the highlights?
There is a social 20 km bicycle event at the Nakdong river (near Hadan station) on Saturday 13 August. Only the first 500 participants are allowed. It costs 10 000 won. You can register by filling out the google form on the event page and transferring the money to the organiser's bank account.
The google form is in Korean, but I've translated it and it's really simple to fill out. See the pictures attached for guidance.
The organisers did not share a route map, but here's a probable route map:
I've registered and hope to see some of you there!
Life has been busy and my bicycle and blog has seen less of me than I would want, but an adventure is waiting around the corner. I have a lovely 2-3 weeks available with a partner to take on some of the longer routes that time has not allowed. And this time we're going to try camping along the way.
Usually I don't like to plan bike trips too much, just book a bus, hop on the bike, ride till we're tired, find a motel and do it again the next day. It's so stress free and satisfies the wanderlust. But this time as it's a 2 to 3 week trip, we've decided to go all out, especially since we want to plan our buses and camping locations.
Just looking at the places on the maps, planning the kilometers and camp sites is already part of the adventure! I hope to share lots about the East coast route soon, even though it's not completed yet. We will go from Busan to Goseong to Chuncheon to Seoul to Ara, the Han and down to the Nakdong. Happy and safe cycling to all!
(This post is in response to Annick's questions, thank you for the idea.)
When you arrive in Incheon airport it's super easy to just hop on the subway with your bike, however that is not the case in Busan. Gimhae airport is located just West of Busan city and it is connected to Busan by a light railway train. It is an automatic elevated train and no bicycles are allowed on it.
So how to get from Gimhae airport into Busan? Or how to get from Gimhae airport to the Nakdong river path leading to Seoul? Or how to get from Busan to Jeju by plane? Well of course you can take a taxi, if the driver agrees and if you take your wheels off. Some airport buses would probably let you store your bicycle under the bus in the luggage department.
But the best option yet is to simply ride your bike.
Few people are aware that the airport is 1,5km away from the Nakdong river bike path. So with a little GPS and Google or Naver maps it should be super easy to navigate yourself to the bike path.
Once you are on the path you can cycle down the West bank all the way to the first certification center, it's about 10km. If you happen to be doing that in the last week of March or the first week of April you will cycle through a 10km tunnel of Cherry blossom heaven on a dedicated bicycle path.
Near the end of the lane of trees the path will turn to cross the river and you will soon see a sign for the certification center. After the certification center you can cross the rest of the river and start the route on the East bank of the Nakdong river and head to Seoul. Or you can cross the bridge and go straight for 1 km to reach Hadan subway station. From Hadan you can take the subway to anywhere in Busan.
If you cycled from Seoul, ended in Busan and want to take a plane to Jeju, you can cycle from the certification center to the airport.
Yes you can get away with putting your bike on a KTX, any train car or under a bus, but it may involve taking off your wheels, having to make sure there's space between all the luggage or pretending not to know rules and hoping not to be caught.
And so traveling between cities, if there is a train option with cycle racks available that will be my first option. There's always space, no taking wheels off or stressing about being caught.
But how do you find trains with bike racks? When do they run? Between which cities and where can you buy tickets or check? These were questions that kept me from using this care-free service. The answer is the Korail App!
Unfortunately it's all in Korean, but if you know your Korean letters you can book tickets easy on your phone and secure a bike seat and know which trains have bike racks. There are lots of tutorials online that explains how to use the Korail app, just do a simple google search, but they don't show you how to check for a bike rack.
I took a few quick screen shots and tried to show how you would find a ticket for yourself and your bike. It's not pretty, but hopefully it's useful.
I've taken the train from Haeundae to Ulsan and back a few times now, once I did not even have a bicycle ticket, because they were sold out. So I checked the time of the bicycle train and just got on it anyways, there's 5 bike racks, but lots of space available for more bikes.
Once you know the time the trains come and go, it's pretty much the same for each day. Every day at 7:38am a train with bicycle racks leave from Haeundae station.
For the trains near Haeundae and Ulsan the bike racks are always in the cafeteria car, number 4. If it's not a bike friendly train they take out the cafeteria car, so the train has car 3 and 5, but car 4 is just missing.
I'm already planning my next train cycle trip, maybe Miryang or Gyeongju...
It has been my goal to cycle alongside the Taewha river in Ulsan and to explore all the nooks and cranies with my bike in Ulsan Grand Park for a long time. Finally with the help of the slow train I managed to explore these lovely places.
Every Saturday at 7:38am a train leaves from Haeundae station and travels all the way to Gyeongju. This train departs from the brand new Haeundae station in the middle of nowhere, not close to the subway or the ocean or nothing. Actually the closest thing to the new station of note is the big highway running nearby. But if you use your pedals and wheels it's not hard to get to the new station.
And so only once or twice a day the slow train includes a cafeteria car, which also contains 5 bicycle racks and lots of space to stack or keep more bikes. On the Korail app you can book the bicycle seats if you use the app in Korean and if the seats have not been sold out.
Even though the train did not have any bicycle seats left when I booked, I just put my bike in car 4, its the cafeteria car so there's lots of space. The train is a really great way to get to and from Ulsan or Gyeongju without a 60 or more km ride.
From Haeundae station to Taewhagang station it takes just under 1 hour. Then from the station you can cycle right away to the river and the cycle track, it's just a few hundred meters. There are two courses, one going West and one going North. I tried the western course and left North for another day.
The Taewha river is not so different from many other river paths in Korea, but riding along an unknown road was refreshing and relaxing. Compared to the Nakdong river near Busan there were also very few people or cyclists around, so you could really just spin and cruise ahead on the generally flat course. Just as you set into your rhythm and think it's going to stay the same, you are delightfully surprised by bamboo forests filling the banks of the river and lining the cycling path. It feels like being transported to Korea's Bamboo tourist destination in Damyang, except that you can actually cycle through these forests. A truly wonderful experience.
Once you reach the furthest Western point of the cycle route, staying on one side of river you find a welcome and neat little coffee shop with sandwhiches, drip coffee and more. After grabbing a cup and a bit to eat I set off back along the river on the other side. At 3pm I took the train back to Haeundae, but I will be back to finish the Northern cycle track.
Route: West - East Taehwa river cycle path (Ulsan)
Distance: +/- 30 km
Terrain: Cycle track
Start: Taewha train station (Ulsan)
I cycled from Haeundae into Ulsan once, I remember the last part from Jinha beach being filled with big highways and construction, lots of trucks and little space to cycle on the side walks, it was not a pleasant experience and since then I've avoided it, mostly ending at Jinha beach and heading back to Haeundae.
But with the construction of the East Coast cycle route I've been extremely curious how they will make a safe pleasant ride into Ulsan from the South. And so an opportunity arose where I was dropped off just north of Jinha beach with my bike and I decided to try and find a way or try and find a path into Ulsan. To my greatest surprise and joy I suddenly started seeing familiar bicycle signs and arrows and I before I know it I was on the soon to be East coast cycle route.
Right next to this sign I found the most amazing map. So far I could not find any information or visual presentation of where or how the cycle road would look like into Ulsan, even Naver's cycle map function is pretty empty. And smaller, safer cycle roads are not easy to find between the industrial roads entering Ulsan.
I cycled along this brand new cycle road, it was made along little roads going through the farmlands, avoiding the highways or bigger roads, at places there was some construction or unfinished road, but it was all clearly marked with a lightblue line painted on the right indicating the East coast route. Unfortunately it did not last, the last bit I entered the industrial area and even though I was still on a cycle track it was next to a very big road with lots of trucks. The cycle track was made on the sidewalk, but the sidewalk consisted of shops, big truck stops and pavement being interrupted by roads turning in. It was better than I remembered last time, but still not what I hoped. Going along I also felt like I lost the signs and the East coast route, or it simply has not been made yet. I cycled into Ulsan and used my GPS to navigate through the streets to the Ulsan Grand Park.
My conclusion: I now know where the bicycle road into Ulsan will run, even though it's not all finished. With time it will be clearer and next time I might find the last part where I lost the trail this time. At the moment with the cycle route not indicated on Naver maps or on any map I'm unsure how cyclists are finding safe pleasant roads from Ulsan to Haeundae, I hope this can be of some help to some of them.
The Seomjin river in the Southern part of Korea is not one of the main four river cycle paths. It will not help you earn a cross country or grand slam medal and it does not connect or go through any well-known places.
But what this river lacks in credentials, it makes up for by being one of the most beautiful and pleasant cycle routes in Korea. The Seomjin river runs past the Gurye mountains and through the fruit orchards of Korea. Instead of the endless flat and monotonous views of the Nakdong river, you are rewarded by tree-lined lanes ready to burst into their autumn colours and winding paths against the shoulders of the surrounding mountains. Even the river itself is filled by interesting rock formations and seem wilder and more untouched.
Sadly I found it hard to capture the beauty of the route with my camera while cycling, I just drank it in along the way and now and then took a picture, which still failed to capture it's true essence. Like any cycle trip during Chuseok the late summer weather was perfect, with flowers, insects, lots and lots of spiders and more heron's than I could care to count. The lack of other cyclists was also refreshing, 90% of the time we had the path to ourselves.
As for accessibility, the Seomjin path is as flat as it gets, with not a single hill of worth to mention. And yet it's twists and turns and short ups and downs with the ever changing scenery keep it interesting and enjoyable. We barely ever opened a map or looked at our phones, as the path is very well marked with every twist and turn. Every certification center had ink and stamps (and a few spiders). We also forgot our cycling passports at home, so simply bought new ones at the Southern starting point of the route.
The beauty of this river is also that anyone can do it in a weekend. Just take a bus to the start on Friday night. Cycle 80 to 90km on Saturday, cycle 60 to 70km on Sunday and take a bus back Sunday late afternoon. I am already thinking of when I can come back for a weekend to do it again if I had the chance.
Wheel pressure check, lights check, batteries check, patch kits and extra tubes check. We are out the door and on our way. While most of the cycling community will be trying to complete Seoul to Busan we will be heading to hopefully less crowded paths.
The beauty of this moment, sitting in the bus to Gwangyang is the unknown. The only surety is our bus tickets from Busan to Gwangyang and back from Mokpo to Busan. Tonight's accommodation, tomorrow's lunch and the cycle path are all wonderfully unknown and exciting!
There are two main obstacles for myself to completing some of the cross country cycling routes, those are finding enough consecutive days off from work and someone else who has the same days off and would like to join me in such an adventure. Of course nothing stops you from a solitary trip, but sharing accommodation is cheaper and I like to have some company.
Until then I would like to share some information about the Seoul to Busan route from Fergus Scott, who completed it with a partner in April. With his permission I share his detailed and useful account below.
Any information about cycling in South Korea.