East Coast Adventure
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?
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!
The new road to / from 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.
Meeting some new cycling friends
On 25 July 2015 I met 5 other Busanites to join forces and cycle together from Haeundae to Jinha Beach. To be honest I'm not a big fan of Facebook, but it has it's practical uses, one of which made 5 strangers meet up at 08:00am in front of Starbucks to cycle together.
The purpose of the cycle was social and not performance based, and so we ended up being a very diverse and interesting group. And yet everyone's open mindedness and support for each other is what made the ride great!
Here's a slide show created by one of the participants:
Some observations from the ride:
Haeundae up the East Coast (Update)
Finish: Gijang and back to Haeundae
Elevation: mostly flat with a steep hill on Dalmaji road
Road surface: mostly car road, a small section of cycling track.
Transportation: Take the subway to Jungdong station on the green line, Exit 7
Transportation back: There is an option of a train between 15:00 and 16:00 from Gijang or any other East coast station back to Haeundae or Dongnae station. It has 5 bicycle seats.
After a bit of a lull in my cycling I'm back and I've been out and about lately revisiting some favourite routes. A lot of construction has been going on near Songjeong beach and Gijang, due to the development of the East Coast Tourism Complex. A huge Lotte mall has been built and they are still busy building a theme park, water park, hotels, retirement villages and golf courses. Some of this construction is resulting in new roads, tunnels and routes that did not exist before.
I've also been noticing the signs going up for the new East coast cycle route, starting at the top of the East coast of Korea. It seems down here near Busan, they are simply adding signs for the route and not really creating any new cycling roads. Also some of the route seems to follow the busy road 14, while there are other lovely coastal alternatives available. I was really hoping the old train track would be converted into a cycling track going round Dalmaji, but it will be left as an old train track for tourists to walk on, while Dalmaji hill has become part of the East coast cycling route. I guess for the long distance cyclists it will become that last climb before descending into Busan and Haeundae.
Another change is that Dalmaji road has been re-paved, almost 100%. This is great news! It's been part of my commute in the past and now many of those nasty potholes and uneven bits are history! There's also some markers installed near drain covers that stand out, which is a nice touch.
Above is the route I would recommend for the first 30 km up the coast. There are subtle changes.
Any information about cycling in South Korea.