Mountains, Fireworks, & Beaches for Buddha’s Birthday – Seoraksan National Park with Seoul Hiking Group – A sneak peek

Thank you Buddha for being awesome, oh and happy birthday! This weekend I jumped on another night bus with Seoul Hiking Group and took a 15 hour, 25km trek into the mountains before some R&R on the beach. It was another incredible adventure watching the sun rise & fall over the ocean, a Korean mountain rescue, spotting a rattle snake, stunning views and an all around great time. Enjoy this sneak peek, more photos & a video coming “soon.”

Sunrise over the East Sea enroute to Seoraksan's toughest trail - Dinosaur Ridge.

Sunrise over the East Sea enroute to Seoraksan’s toughest trail – Dinosaur Ridge.

A new hiking buddy, Eric, enjoying the stunning views along Dinosaur Ridge, Seoraksan National Park

A new hiking buddy, Erik, enjoying the stunning views along Dinosaur Ridge, Seoraksan National Park

Mountain Rangers descend from a helicopter to help an old Korean man succumbed to heat exhaustion & dehydration along Dinosaur Ridge, the toughest trail in Seoraksan and possibly all of South Korea.

Mountain Rangers descend from a helicopter to help an old Korean man succumbed to heat exhaustion & dehydration along Dinosaur Ridge, the toughest trail in Seoraksan and possibly all of South Korea.

Hapojae Beach in Yangyang, South Korea.  Famous for the "finest sand" in all of Korea

Hajodae Beach in Yangyang, South Korea. Famous for the “finest sand” in all of Korea

Playing with long exposures & fireworks at hajodae beach, Yangyang South Korea

Playing with long exposures & fireworks at Hajodae beach, Yangyang South Korea

Bijindo – A hint of Thailand in Korea

Bijindo is an island just south of South Korea.  After enjoying a sunrise hike in Hwangmaesan we took the ferry from Tongyeong Ferry Terminal to Bejin Island (do means island in Korean).  The 40 minute trip went quickly as sea spray and fresh air came over the sides of the boat while a few seagulls entertained us by trailing behind and snatching chips out of the sky!

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Once on Bijindo it was easy to find our pension.  The whole island only has a few hundred people living on it in one small village and another smaller beach-side hamlet.  From afar it is easy to confuse Bijindo with one of Thailand’s many tropical paradises.

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Sunrise hike to Hwangmaesan’s Royal Azalea Festival – Seoul Hiking Group

Waking up at 4am is never easy, even when the bed calling your name is Seoul Hiking Group’s big purple bus.  We arrived at Hwangmaesan in the middle of the night as half the group snored away.  Most of us decided to let the cool mountain air wake us up and strolled through the undergrowth.  The sun began peaking out from behind the nearby mountains as our trail took us upward.

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Halfway up the mountain we got our first glimpse of azaleas.  Hwangmaesan was famous for them and a “pink mountain” was advertised but we were wary since azaleas back in Seoul were already starting to fade.  We held out hope but I didn’t think it would be as glamorous as Goeje Island’s pink mountain.

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Lucky for us it was stunningly beautiful!  The mountain was indeed covered with azaleas, unfortunately many of the pink flowes had already fallen from their bushes.  We still enjoyed a stroll among the flowers and a welcome change from the typical hungover mornings that Seoul hands you on a normal weekend.

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Pink Mountain, Bamboo forest & Macro Photography on Goeje Island – Seoul Hiking Group

The other weekend I was supposed to join Seoul Hiking Group at the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.  This famous festival is flocked to by foreigners and Koreans throughout the country.  Too bad I missed the bus in the morning and missed Jinhae entirely!  Ronda and I scrambled to book another bus only to discover they were sold out until 5:00 PM that evening.  We opted to take a bus directly to Goeje island where we could meet the group for dinner and enjoy some coastal hikes.

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That turned out to be incredibly lucky for us because the buses got stuck in a torrential downpour.  In Korea a downpour means traffic.  Remember how the whole country was converging on this festival?  Well that combined with  confusion about a new pickup and how to handle the rain turned a 6 hour bus ride into a grueling 10 hour trek.  Most of the group still managed to snap a few choice photos at the festival but it certainly ruffled a few feathers which nearly led to a mutiny by some unhappy hikers.  Truth be told I’m not sure what revolting against the volunteer or bus driver would do but I’m glad that a few other hikers quashed this idea before any blood was shed.  Unfortunately there was an aftermath of drama worse than the prom king & queen’s breakup dividing the grade in twain.  Maybe I’ll write about that after all this macro photography goes up.

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So imagine all this action on a 10 hour busride while Ronda and I are stuck in a rainy stroll around Goeje.  We were definitely happier and focused on minute details around us to capture these memories before heading to a 찜질방 jimjilbang(Korean Spa) to warm up.  We enjoyed some riverside bird-watching with our artistic photography instead of the landscape & landmarks you are all used to seeing from me.

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At last the the call came in.  Buses were heading from Jinhae to Goeje but it would be at least an hour and a half so we weren’t in a rush to find a taxi.  We grabbed a bite to eat, stocked up on booze at the local 7-11 and jumped in a cab.  Swerving around the mountains with an ocean cliff below reminded me of the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam only this time I wasn’t on a motorbike and didn’t trust the cabbie on the slick roads.  It was easy to see how our buses got lost on the dark winding roads and delayed the meal until after midnight!

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When the group finally arrived our regular dinner BBQ ensued.  Rumor has it a handful of the revelers started playing spin the bottle which may have divulged into some even more risque acts as most of us hit the hay.

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The next day promised more confusion as some saw the schedule say depart 10am and others saw 830 hike along the coast.  Volunteers were told the first hike was optional but that most people should do it because its awesome!  Diana went around every door and knocked finding some of them locked (a detail that many complainers failed to find relevance in).  The itinerary was clearly stated and everyone on the trip was a mature adult.  If they wanted to sleep through or not even set their alarm then they would take the 10am bus or figure their own way out.  Unfortunately for us the already upset travelers jumped on this delay as another reason to hate us all.  First because we were leaving people behind and then after stopping to check if anyone who wanted to leave wasn’t on the bus and then because we were now behind schedule.

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Luckily that’s where the drama seemed to die out.  A handful of unhappy hikers took their own route home and missed the beautiful cliffs in Hallyeohaesang National Park and a wonderful afternoon that brought us to a bamboo forest and pink azalea covered mountain!  Enjoy the rest of these awesome photos. 🙂

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Moral of the story?  Goeje island is wonderful.  Seoul Hiking Group is for adults who can handle themselves and flexibility on a family-style, budget trip.

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I’ll refrain from calling out any of the specific drama that is apparently still swirling around this weekends faux pas.  There were certainly some organizational concerns and a tempers flared.  I wasn’t present and for that I can’t help but feel slightly responsible.  Well, not really.  I’m a volunteer and there’s no guarantee that my presence would have changed anything.  It certainly wouldn’t have stopped the rain, traffic, or personalities on the bus.

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Garden of the Morning Calm – Seoul Hiking Group

After an exhausting day and faux-rescue on Wunaksan it was time to relax at Korea’s Garden of the Morning Calm.  This colorful light show reminds many foreigners of Christmas and is fitting to visit in the winter.  Multicolored lights adorn trees and bushes throughout the massive garden.  Its a popular spot for Korean couples who can be seen frolicking hand-in-hand and posing for romantic photos.

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They have everything from love-struck bow & arrows to giant mushrooms, butterflies and other crazy concoctions.  The brilliant display mixes a rainbow of colors with our imagination to create a fantasy wonderland.  Its best to go after sunset so you can get the full experience of tunnels & lighted pathways.  Give yourselves an hour or two to explore but you don’t need all night.  It really is the perfect way to relax after spending your day on the nearby mountains.

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