South Korea is an ultra-modern society with massive apartment complexes and high-speed bullet trains. Koreans are some of the most tech-savvy people in the world—with smart-phones, outrageously fast Internet connections and a way of doing almost everything online or with an app.
I love how living in fast-paced urban Korea puts everything you could want within reach. But sometimes, it’s nice to get away from it all.
When I want to escape from the hustle and bustle, one of my favorite places to go is the sprawling Songnisan National Park in Chungbuk Province. Koreans affectionately refer to it as “The Korean Alps.”
It’s popular with the locals for good reason. It’s beautiful, especially in springtime, when the cherry blossom trees are exploding in color. Another popular time to go is in the fall when the leaves are changing and the mountains are a myriad of colors.
It’s ideal for hiking, and local vendors line the route to the main entrance selling supplies. You can buy everything from trekking poles and bottled water to kimbap (Korean sushi rolls) and deliciously sweet pumpkin toffee.
At the base of the mountain, small cafes sell more substantial fare. You can pick up a bowl of dolsot-sanchae-bibimbap (mountain vegetables with rice and spicy sauce in a hot stone bowl). It’s very healthy, cheap and delicious. It’s a good choice—you’ll need lots of energy for your hike!
Hiking in Korea can be challenging. Many of the mountains are rugged and switchbacks are rare. Instead, hiking trails here tend to start at the bottom and strike out for the summit in a straight line. Happily, these routes are well traveled and metal staircases and ropes are in place to ease your assent.
There is plenty along the route worth seeing. It’s worth stopping off to explore the massive temple complex, complete with a giant Buddha and a huge ancient rice pot that once fed thousands of monks. Refreshing streams crisscross your route and the mountainside is dotted with little hidden hermitages where devout monks say their morning prayers.
And finally, at the top, you’re rewarded with spectacular views across the park. With groups of Koreans chatting and smiling while they cook noodles and other hiking treats all around you at the misty summit, it’s definitely remote from the ordinary.
During my time teaching English in South Korea, I’ve explored almost every corner of the peninsula. I’ve so many favorite places here. I’m still amazed that I have been able to secure a job that allows me to live comfortably, save lots of money and travel so often around such a beautiful place.
It’s easy to get a job teaching English in Korea. It’s also rewarding. Koreans respect English teachers and are anxious to learn from a “native-speaker.” Of course, living in Korea has its challenges, but a weekend at a place like Songnisan National Park, or a quick trip to Thailand, will leave you revived and excited about living overseas.
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