Korean Bicycle Highway by Sawang Thongdee
Due to the fact that income is not my highest priority, there are only two seasons for me; working season and vacation season. Money is necessary but freedom is far more important. I would rather have just enough than be imprisoned by work life and the social norms of today’s world.
Last October I decided to take my companion, a blue mountain bike, to South Korea. The country is mostly known by Thais for great movie locations and cosmetic shopping. My plan was to bike on the connected routes between cities and to see the gorgeous changing leaves during fall.
After the trip, I looked through the photos and realized that this was more like a bike photography trip and that South Korea should be on top of the list of the best cycling countries in Asia.
The Korean government started a bike mega project many years ago. They have been constructing a connected cycling highway throughout the country. Now, it is half complete and will be completed in 2019. Most of the lanes are along the waterside so it is isolated from other forms of transportation. Some of it cuts through uncrowded roads to connected villages. In terms of safety, Korea don’t just make visible road signs, they also offer a full-colored map in both Korean and English for free! Or you can download it via smartphone as a navigator. Furthermore, there is also a bicycle passport to attract people to collect all the stamps on the rest stations.
I tried riding on the normal road and found out that it’s extremely safe. Cars slow down for the cyclists. Only the main highway do people drive fast, which means I personally didn’t like certain roads.
Public transportation is very bicycle-friendly. You can take your bicycle on the bus, trains, or boat without any extra charge. At the front of the trains and metro stations, there are bicycle parking lots and locks. For the flyover and staircase to the metro, there are pathways to push your bike easily. In a nutshell, Korea wants their people to use bicycles.
Cyclists and dogs are always rivals. Some countries, like Thailand, allow dogs to roam freely. But in Korea, they are always leashed. So there are no “thigh biting” incidents.
Panniers are not so popular for Korean touring cyclists. They tend to stay in a hotel or motel. I decided to stick with my cost-saving policy by tenting. I found a safe spot and camped there for a night. Furthermore, there are lots of free Wifi spots and I decided to bathe in the river. Afterwards I went to “Jimjilbang” which is a 24 hours public spa. Normally Jimjilbang will give you a thin mattress and pillow, so I spent a night there.
I cooked most of my meals due to the fact that cost of living here is as high as in Europe. I couldn't afford to eat in restaurants. So my breakfast and lunch I ate dimsums or “Tokpokki”, a soft rice cake serve in a red sauce, which are sold in the markets or in roadside shops. For dinner, I focused on quantity to end my day with a full stomach. Cooking is an important part of camping. A great camping spot, calming atmosphere, the sound of music through my portable speaker, nice food and local alcohol, what could be better than this?
The spectacular scenery along the river was the golden rice field and vegetable plots. There seemed to be a church in every village. Life in the korean countryside is very similar to the thai way of living. More than half of the population were senior citizens because the younger generations have left their hometown to work in the city. As for the view on the seaside, the curvy and downhill roads were as stunning as the river scenery. I cycled through a very peaceful fisherman village. The seagulls were sunbathing during the day. The korean authority called this road the most romantic road in Korea. I couldn’t agree more.
Even though, Korea is not a big country (maybe the same size as northeast area in Thailand), there were many interesting places that I could not resist stopping to visit; villages, ancient towns, museums and national park. It would probably take 3-4 months to see all of it.
If you love cycling and are able to arrange some “vacation season” for yourself, I recommend South Korea. It is the perfect destination to cycle alone, as a couple or even as a group. You will not be disappointed.