Autumn Hiking Adventures in Korea – Part 1 – Saryangdo Island
Once the heat and humidity of summer had passed I was keen to start hiking again. However, we don’t have long before the siberian winter draws over South Korea so we have tried to fit in our final must-do Korean hikes before the weather gets too cold.
October – Hiking in paradise on Saryangdo Island
Recently Ash, Keir, Emily and I went on a stunning overnight trip to an island called Saryangdo just of the south coast of Korea. I’d read that there was a brilliant ridge hike that was well known amongst Koreans but not as much amongst us waygookin foreigners. The pictures looked beautiful and the idea of doing a mountain hike on an tiny island had me sold on the idea.
We planned to travel to and arrive on the island on the Saturday and find somewhere to stay in the village at the start of the trail. Then we’d get up early the next day and hike the 6km ridge trail before heading home.
We caught the 7:30am bus to Tongyeong from Daegu Seobu (west) bus station on the Saturday morning, then another bus from the bus terminal to a quiet ferry terminal on the other side of Tongyeong. The terminal was packed with lots of ajummas (middle aged married women) and ajussi’s (middle aged married men) decked out in neon hiking gear so we knew we were in the right place.
Once there, we found a map and worked out that we needed to stay in the village on the opposite end of the island in order to hike back over the ridge trail to the harbour the next day. The sun was shining, we were all feeling pretty energised and the low key atmosphere of the island made us certain we wouldn’t be rushed off our feet with activities when we got to our destination, so we decided to walk the 6 or so kilometres around the island.
About 10 minutes in to the walk a big group of men and women started shouting us to join them. Because we had a fair way to walk we couldn’t stop but Ash went to investigate and came back with a bag of freshly cooked crabs. He was in heaven but the rest of us weren’t really up for walking and eating crab at the same time, especially after looking at the crab guts all over Ash’s hands as he ate the first one! Therefore Ash ate ALL of the crabs himself in quick succession.
The island was beautiful and the scenery surrounding us was breathtaking. Dotted all over the ocean were tiny islands. It was exactly how I had imagined coastlines in east Asia before I moved here.
It took us about an hour and a half to walk around to the village. I say village, but it was more like a hamlet because it was so small. It was very picturesque and was nestled in a cove beneath the mighty ridged mountains we would be climbing the next day. There were only a handful of minbaks (guesthouses), one restaurant and a few convenience stores/people’s houses. and it took us about 10 minutes to walk around the whole place!
We went to the only restaurant to get lunch and thought it was closed. However a very old woman started shouting and calling to her friend who owned it! She came with a big basket of cabbage (she’d obviously been off doing other things because no one hardly goes there!) opened up, suggested we have some doenjang jjigae (fermented soybean stew) and began cooking for us in the tiny empty restaurant.
We spent the rest of the day playing cards in our shared room and took a quick early evening stroll. We didn’t really mind having a quiet day and an early night because we planned to get up early the following morning to begin our hike.
We were up at the crack of dawn the next morning, quite literally, and were sat up on the side of the mountain by 7:30 eating breakfast and enjoying the tranquil quiet atmosphere and breathtaking scenery.
We knew the crowds of hikers would turn up soon as we’d seen lots of people on the ferry the day before and sure enough as we headed up to the first peak we heard lots of jovial shouting and were soon surrounded by extremely agile ajummas and ajussi’s chattering away as they charged ahead! At one point it was ridiculous how busy the hike became! This picture just about does it justice.
The walk took us 6 hours and there were some rather hairy sections for someone like myself with leg trembling vertigo issues, but it was really exciting! We had to pull our bodies up over rocks, flatten ourselves and slide along precarious looking edges and watch our feet. There were also some bridges connecting peaks and ropes to guide climbers down sheer rock faces. The sun was shining the whole time and the view just got more and more impressive.
When we finished we had to wait a little while for the ferry so went to a sea front restaurant for lunch. We were all totally shattered on the way back so lay down on the back of the ferry and snoozed in the shade.
I actually think this was the most breathtaking and challenging hike that I’ve done in Korea. I’m so glad that I got the chance to experience Saryangdo before leaving Korea as it is truly a hidden gem!