Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Gwanggyosan - An easy mountain hike in Suwon, Korea

What's a trip to South Korea without a hike in the mountains?? Afterall, this is a national pastime (albeit for the mostly aged Koreans).  The many times I've been to South Korea, I've hiked one mountain each time, and this time it was no different.  I wasn't based in Seoul, but in Incheon.  No nice mountains to climb in Incheon (I think, I may be wrong), but my brother recommended me to visit Suwon for the fortresses and stuff but of course, I was attracted to the mountain that lies just outside the fortresses.
It's easy to reach, and not difficult to hike too! Get off at Suwon train station and walk out exit 4 where you will see the tourist information center.  It is very helpful to grab a map of Gwanggyosan even though it is in Korean - as it shows you the names of the peaks and route so you can do match the signage when you are actually climbing! Signage are all in Korean, so without the map you will have absolutely NO IDEA where the hell you are heading.  Bus 13 at the same side of the road will get you to the drop off point - alight at the reservoir - don't worry, you will see loads of fully geared up Koreans alighting there as well.  oh did I mention, there's FREE WIFI on board the bus too!  There is a HUGE bicycle rental shop at the stop as well, so look out for that too.  Once off, start off the hike right behind the bicycle rental shop.  I believe this is Route 1 in the map and just follow straight up, up, up.  There are signs and boards along the way at intersections but they are all in Koreans, so not much use.  Just go straight and follow the arrow that points to the longest distance. 
As I said, the map is very essential.  Because to get to the 1st peak, you need to match the Korean characters on the sign to your map else you might miss it.  Of course, you could follow the crowd but my experience there was the crowd went 2 directions - left and right.  To get to the 1st peak, you have to climb up a rock face.  It is not really that steep and you can do it without the ropes like I did.  Took me 1H to get to that peak.
After that, follow the sign (that points again to the longest distance) to the highest peak.  Again it really helps with the map so as to make sure you match the Korean characters correctly.  You'll come to a pavilion - this is NOT the highest peak.  I thought this was it and was utterly disappointed, only to follow the steps down and then discover - OMG I was wrong!  This part was still a bit fuzzy to me, how the hell did I make the mistake!  Anyway, from the pavilion, assuming you got there from that rock face peak, your next route should be the right side down the steps/slope.  NOT the side that faces the edge.  Follow that side to the highest peak.  Again I can't stress how important it is to map the Korean characters to your map.  You will get to a sign that points to 36m ahead and that is the peak.  You will see the standard rock that shows the name of the mountain and the height and a panoramic view from above. 
From there, DO NOT attempt to go down the right path - I made the mistake of trying to NOT take the same route, thinking the other path would take me down the other way.  Oh it sure would have, but down a totally different face of the mountain where I would NEVER KNOW where I would have ended up at.  Sure, I tried to map the characters and couldn't find them on the map.  And knowing that those characters DID NOT exist in my map, I still followed that path.  I saw people heading that way so I went.  20mins after, someone told me I'm on the wrong path.  So I had to re-traced my steps up again and down the same path I came up from.  Going down, I took Route 4, a split from the same path down from the peak.  It was easy walk down and soon enough, I got back to the bustop to Suwon station.
All in all, it took me 3.5H up and down.  It was a nice hike but not the best mountain I've been.  The view was not that fantastic as compared to Gwanaksan or Bukhansan, but at least it gave me a bit of activity for half a day!