Korea and the 4 Rivers Cycleway 31 Aug – 27 Sep

Friday 31st August

Busan port to Songdo Beach

Daily Total 62.39 km

Trip Total 24220.6 km

We arrive in South Korea at 6pm.  We get through Immigration and then are wondering where our trikes will be when a shipping agent comes over and asks us if we are the trike owners. (We’re probably the only European foreigners on the boat!) he takes us into a back room and then over several baggage conveyor belts and down a long metal staircase. Our trikes are sitting at the bottom, safe and sound. But then he tells us our bags need scanning so we take them off the trikes and put them on the conveyor belt and up they go to a scanning room. In the meantime our trikes are taken around to another part of the building. Finally we take our baggage on a trolley back down through an underground carpark and to our trikes. Daz pops back up to the arrival Hall and withdraws some Korean Won (1500 to the pound approx) from an ATM.

At last we cycle out into the evening gloom.  We’re heading about 7km south of the port to a beach where we think we might be able to camp. On route we pass through a bar area with lots of Russian people about and bars with Cyrillic writing on their signs. Then through a busy shopping boulevard and finally through the main fishmarket with stalls of fish still being sold despite the lateness of the day and there’s people in small restaurants eating the daily catch!

We get a lot of attention and numerous greetings. I think the Koreans are more outgoing than the Japanese. As we near our destination it starts raining and we decide to check out a few motels and hotels as we’re too tired and not sure about camping in the area. Fortunately there are a number of cheap motels and we book into one. We head out to find some food later and spot a pizza joint with a wood fired oven, bliss! Our first Korean meal, pizza, but it’s marvellous and so tasty! We think it’s our first ‘real’ pizza in about 8 months.  Bloody fantastic.

 

Saturday 1st to Monday 3rd September

Songdo Beach

Well last night there was torrential rain and a huge thunderstorm and when we wake on Saturday morning and it’s still raining cats and dogs! We decide to stay another day in the hotel. Then on Sunday and Monday I refuse to move so we just hide away in our motel.  In my defence the weather is pretty awful with frequent rain showers. For 3 days we enjoy the comfort of our hotel, good WiFi and loads of shit TV. There’s also the blog and Internet research to do but it’s a fabulous long weekend with a second visit to the delicious pizza joint.  We also have a Korean barbecue meal which is pretty good with our own personal burn pit in the middle of our table. The delights of Korean cycling can wait until tomorrow!

 

Tuesday 4th September

Songdo Beach to Songji-ri

Daily Total 58.69 km

Trip Total 24286.56 km

 

Finally the weather has brightened and we decide it’s high time we skeddadled and got on the road. And boy, what a road! We have about 10 kilometers to get to the start of the 4 Rivers Cycleway, our intended route to Seoul – approximately 650km of dedicated cycleways, but it’s an immediate climb out of our touristy beach area. Not only that but most of the pavements are at odd cambers but we’re too scared to be on the main road.  Korean drivers are much faster than those in Japan and they drive on the wrong side of the road – the right! Traffic in Busan is chaotic too and we actually feel pretty intimidated – not surprising when we’ve already experienced crazy drivers passing us at Mach 10 who barely give us any space. Finally we cross a large river, the Nakdonggang. On the otherside is the Waterways Cultural Hall where the 4 Rivers Cycleway begins. We go in and purchase a passport for 4500 Won. Along the river there are waystations where we can stamp our passport and then we’ll get a certificate at the end.  Passport stamped we recross the river and turn up onto the cycleway. The day passes in a relaxed fashion. The crossings over the main roads are problematic as I struggle to work out where the cars will come from and when we do need a detour on the roads I find myself staying left – not a safe bet when the cars drive on the right. We reach our intended destination where we plan to buy dinner provisions and we’re so fortunate that at this point there’s a rest station; toilets, water and even a covered pagoda. There’s even several fitness machines but we’ve already seen numerous machines along this trail – it’s like a huge trim trail.  

(Apologies, there are no photos here, we lost a whole load of pictures from today and the next !)

Wednesday 5th September

Songji-ri to Nanji

Daily Total 53.45 km

Trip Total 24340.01 km

Our covered pagoda was comfortable if a little noisy with the motorway bridge close by. We are rudely awakened by the sun at 7am and it soon kicks us out of bed. Breakfast of porridge and we’re on our way again,  following the cyclepath. We are soon heading up a tributory for quite a few kilometres before crossing a bridge and retracing our path on the other bank to the main river. Must send a note, ‘Need new bridge!’ The day soon warms up and by 1 pm we’ve done 40 km and seen hardly a soul on this cycleway.  We divert off to find lunch and still the countryside is quiet and empty. We find a small hamlet with a store and a small family restaurant. There’s only 2 tables and they’re both full with workers from the local farms. We’re shown into a seperate room with one low table but then all the other diners depart so we move back into the main room. Mom n Pop bring us out a tray with various dishes, the main 2 being rice and a meat stew (we’ve no idea what the meat was!). It’s quite delicious and we only get charged 12,000 won, about 8 quid.

Back on the trail we cross the river, (again!) and roll into a small town. The supermarket seems quite expensive and it’s difficult deciding what to buy especially as Daz is having a spazzy moment and doesn’t know what he wants for tea. He’s fixated on the fact we’re running low on cooking fuel and we haven’t found a source yet in Korea.  His fault for not getting any in Busan city! Just out of town we spot a sports’ area with pretty gardens and more covered pagodas, that’s us for the day. We’re not convinced about this cycleway, it’s lovely to be away from traffic but the route is a bit monotonous and there’s a complete dearth of shops and restaurants. There are toilets along the route but these are deep trench latrines without running water. So despite being beside the longest river in Korea finding water for cooking, washing and drinking isn’t so easy. This is certainly a step back from Japan where there were convenience stores every 100m and each had a toilet with a heated seat and 3 different jet functions.

Thursday 6th and 7th September

Nanji to Geumnam-ri

Daily Total 126.52 km

Trip Total 24466.53 km

The epic that is the 4 Rivers Cycleway continues.  However now I’m cycling alone. So basically Daz and I have fallen out big style (really not surprising when we’ve been together 24/7 for the last 3.5years).   Initially I just wanted to cycle alone for the day but by early afternoon Daz is so fed up that I keep taking wrong turns (yup he’s still stalking me from behind at this point) that we wants his sleeping bag and mat off me.  This then leads to a complete division of kit. Since there’s only one cooker and one tent, he gets them because I don’t want to carry extra and I know I’ll never find fuel for the cooker. My bike computer isn’t working 100% so I’m missing mileage and my MapsMe on my notebook refuses to locate my position.   So I manage to lose the cycleway repeatedly and night 1 is spent sleeping under a porch. Unfortunately it starts raining and since I don’t want to ruin my gear I start cycling about 5am. So I’ve probably only had 3 hours sleep and I don’t know exactly where I am but by 1pm I find a pagoda and stop for the day.  I’m soon fast asleep but my rest is disturbed when I’m joined by 4 very loud locals. First they talk, then one goes foraging along the hedgerows and comes back with a load of foliage with some berries and seed pods. Clearly there’s some edible plants here and they share some of the spoils with me.

My chatty visitors grew to a gang of 6 and I felt severely outnumbered but around 5.30pm the chinwag finally ended and they all went their separate ways.  At last some peace.

 

Saturday 8th September

Geumnam-ri to Gunggi-ri

Daily Total 63.11 km

Trip Total 24529.64 km

A good night last night but still I’m cycling by 6.30am.  I’m starting to realise that just making and drinking cups of tea/coffee is quite time consuming and without the cooker there’s no reason to dally.  I see Daz just 4km down the road, he’s just coming out of his sleeping hole. I cycle on alone. Another beautiful day along the river. I almost stay ‘on track’ today – only 2 detours – you’d think it would be easy with all the signposts……. but it isn’t.   On one detour I find a poor stray undernourished kitten. I share some of my food and try to catch him but he’s determined to stay hidden under a car. Eventually I leave him but I’m sad to leave him in such a sorry state. I do my mileage and then find a pagoda by a golf cum croquet course.  Numerous people come to play and study me with curious eyes. I’ve discovered if I lay my Notepad out for about 10 minutes it’ll find my location and now I’m using the cycleway markers to work out my mileage. No sign of Daz since early this morning but I assume he went ahead when I made my wrong turns.

Sunday 9th September

Gunggi-ri to Hapung-ri

Daily Total 46.56 km

Trip Total 24576.2 km

No rain last night but instead a thick river fog.  Everything is wet – my sleeping bag, my ground sheet and my bed sheet.  Arghhhhh! Golf cum croquet starts at 6am despite the thick fog. I plan to try and stick it out until the fog burns off but I give up when the passing pedestrian traffic becomes too much. I continue along the main river and even become embroiled in an MTB event – I think I gave them a run for their money.

Late afternoon I turn off the main cyclepath to Seoul and follow the river to the Andong Dam.   In a tiny hamlet I find a cyclists’ toilet stop and there’s a building with a covered entrance and a hosepipe for a wash. Luxury.

 

Monday 10th September

Hapung-ri to Maae-ri via Andong Dam

Daily Total 88 km

Trip Total 24664.2 km

Today I follow the cycleway to the dam.  There’s some killer hills but eventually I arrive at the dam.  It’s pretty impressive with some nice sights along the way. So I guess I now need to head back the way I came.  

Unfortunately all the possible campsites I’d considered on the way up are dismissed for various reasons; no water, too public, no shelter, or already occupied.  The result is a return of 25km before I find a decent spot – it’s some kind of office but again with a covered entrance. It’ll have to do – it’s nearly 7pm and I started at 6.30am this morning! Bloody hell – still no sign of Daz.  I thought he was in front of me but I should have passed him doubling back from the dam.

 

Tuesday 11th September

Maae-ri to Gudam-ri

Daily Total 19.47 km

Trip Total 24683.67 km

I was determined to have a lie in this morning after my epic 88km yesterday but at 7.30am a car parks up and a guy gets out and goes into the office.  You’ve got to love this – there’s a weird woman sleeping on his office porch and he doesn’t bat an eyelid. In fact he brings me a coffee. I feel it’s only polite to get up and start packing away but then feel cheated when a few minutes later he locks up his office.  I think he’s leaving but actually he starts preparing his bushwacking gear in the nearby shed. Then another guy pulls up and he goes into the office and then brings me a coffee – and yes my kit is still all over his office porch. Then he gives me a bottle of water and a bottle of fizzy pop.  Within 5 minutes he’s headed off again in his car and the first guy is strimming and I’m left to pack up.

A lovely start to the day but I just wish it had been 2 hours later – who arrives at the office at 7.30am?????? So I head off and within 2 km guess who I meet – yes Darren. Blimey he’s like 54km behind me as he’s still heading up to the dam.  We have a long chat and he makes me a cup of coffee then he heads off to the dam whilst I head the other way.

I’m tired from yesterday so I’m not planning to go far. Also I want to keep Daz relatively near because I don’t have any tools to fix my trike, not even a puncture! When we went solo we thought there was sufficient passing traffic ie other cyclists, cars and locals to help out but honestly this cycleway is miles from anything and often I don’t see anyone for hours.   So the upshot, I only do 20km stopping to having a super impressive korean lunch – it was some sort of lentil and tofu stew but when it arrived it was literally on a full rolling boil. But it cames with rice and loads of very tasty side dishes.

Not long after I find myself a pagoda for the night. I’m going to have a lie down and relax and read my book. Next thing I know Daz is startling me awake. Wow he’s been up to the dam (well almost) and back. And now I can return to the pleasure of cups of tea, coffee and a pancake dinner cooked by Daz – very nice.

 

Wednesday 12th September

Gudam-ri to Deoktong-ri

Daily Total 41.84 km

Trip Total 24725.51 km

This morning I think I might take a day off but Daz pushes on.  I’m just relaxing, reading my book when there’s a pile up on the cyclepath.   I think the first guy in a group of 3 stopped, considering a rest in my pagoda, and cyclist 2 was probably looking at my trike and didn’t notice that the guy in front had stopped and by the time he noticed, he panic braked and went over his handlebars.  Result: he’s spreadeagled across the track on his back. Oh dear! He limps in to the pagoda. I’m feeling responsible although perhaps he was looking elsewhere! After a couple of hours I decide I’ll take a leisurely cycle in Daz’s wake. The first 30km is just retracing my route from Sunday before crossing the Nakdonggang and taking a new route north towards Seoul and now handrailing the Saejae River.  After 40km odd kilometers I join Daz in his pagoda. Omlette for dinner – there’s definitely perks to being close to the cooker……. and the chef.

Thursday 13th September

Deoktong-ri to Mungyeong-si

Daily Total 5.37 km

Trip Total 24730.88 km

There’s a really cute puppy running around the campsite so he obviously needs to be spoilt by us for as long as possible.  

 I’ve done 5 nights on my own and been without a tent, cooker and repair kit and it’s really not a sensible course of action.  The night’s have been OK but in Daz’s company for the last 2 nights I’ve slept 10-12 hours. Alone I slept about 6. I don’t lie there worrying something will happen but after a few hours sleep something will disturb me and then I can’t drop off again.  And without sleep or cooking to occupy my time there’s just too many hours in a day to fill. So I’m going to stick with Daz. We eventually set off but rain soon stops play. We sit around for a few hours under a pagoda but we’ve attracted the local eccentric.   He wants to sing YMCA and the Green Green Grass of Home. He does disappear for awhile but comes back with loads of snacks which he shares with us and his buddies.

We decide to retreat into a nearby coffee shop. That wastes another 4 hours. The forecast isn’t looking good for the next few days so we’re going to stay here tonight.  We find another pagoda away from our new buddy and tonight we actually put up the tent.

Friday 14th September

Mungyeong-si

We stay in our pagoda another day because the rain continues.   Our new special friend brings us a new tarpaulin because he’s not happy that our trikes are getting wet.  Initially we just cover the trikes but later we use it to close off the windward side of our pagoda because the wind picks up and blows in the rain.  Our friend visits us frequently throughout the day often bringing drinks or snacks. He talks to us constantly but of course we don’t understand a word but often he just talks to himself.  

 

Mid afternoon we find a restaurant for lunch but the remainder of the day we stay in our pagoda. We have several visitors and also enjoy watching a fisherman who has 12 rods deployed in a very short span of river bank.  He’s been there since we arrived yesterday and his rods are left out all day and throughout the night. We don’t see him catch a single fish!!! Thank God I rejoined Daz when I did – I’d have been up shit street in this weather without the tent – I’d probably have resorted to a motel.  Fortunately our brief separation gave us some much needed breathing space and we’re finding pleasure in our trip which has been missing for awhile.

 

Saturday 15th September

Mungyeong-si to Suanbo

Daily Total 52.75 km

Trip Total 24783.63 km

Today we push on and our friend escorts us 5km on his moped.  The scenery is definitely improving as we come north and today we switch to our third river – Yeongang.  

There’s a big climb today and at the top we meet a touring cyclist from Taiwan – he’s got hardly any gear on his bike yet it includes a tent, cooker and sleeping bag – a very light traveller.

 Along the route we see paddy fields almost ready for harvest, chilli fields, apple and peach orchards, sweet cheshnuts and so much more. It must almost be harvest time in this bountiful area.

After about 50km we see a sports’ complex with water, toilets, shelter and an adjacent golf/croquet pitch.  We think this’ll do for the night and I head on to the golf (?) course and borrow a club and play 2 holes.

There isn’t a shop or restaurant nearby so we finally decide to push on to Suanbo – it’s only another 2km. In Suanbo there’s loads of restaurants and shops and we’ve just had dinner and decided to camp under the town’s covered amphitheatre when a Korean cyclist comes passed.  We say hello and he tells us we should stay at the spa with him. He explains that this is the most popular hot spring town in Korea and that in the hotel we can get an onsen and a bed for 10000 (£7)won each. So we follow him. He’s Kim, a 76 year old from Seoul, and he’s cycling Seoul to Busan for the 4th time. At the spa we eventually work out that the bathing rooms are downstairs and that there’s also one large communal room with bed mats where everyone can sleep.  We’re given towels and bedwear – shorts and a T-shirt and sent on our way. Daz heads off to his bathing room and me to mine. It’s pretty much like the Japanese onsen except it’s really popular. There must be at least 20 women already at the scrub down points or relaxing in the hot pools. Feeling super clean and relaxed I’m ready for bed but Kim wants to show us some Korean hospitality. He takes us out and we have beers and sochi (rice spirit) and he orders dinner even though we’ve eaten.  We chat about our cycle ride, his family, Seoul and discover he’s a retired musician – a trombone player. He wants to see us in Seoul and be our guide. Soon it’s time for bed but we agree to share a genuine Korean breakfast – our treat since he pays for our dinner and beer.

Sunday 16th September

Suanbo to Mokhaeng-dong

Daily Total 34.46 km

Trip Total 24818.09 km

Well our communal night wasn’t that restful because of the snoring, chatting, farting, TV and early morning alarms.  Kim finds us a Korean breakfast joint and orders meat and veg soup and rice, along with an assortment of pickled and spiced veg – it’s hot, hot, hot.  It’s incredibly spicy and there’s so much to eat that it’s rather overwhelming for breakfast. Kim refuses to let us pay despite last night’s agreement – although he was a bit tiddly.  Wow we’re so glad we decided to push on yesterday otherwise we would have completely missed Kim and our ‘chimjilbang’ – spa with sleeping room. Apparently they’re in most towns and cities.  

We say goodbye and head off. After a morning of cycling in the rain we reach Chungju where we spot a football tournament going on. It’s part of the World Firefighter Games being held here this year. We get another stamp in our passport then speak to one of the official guides and he mentions he is doing the water point for the orienteering event. Wow, really!! Of course being the ace orienteerers that we are we’re super excited and decide to head over to the start arena to see some action.  The start is on top of a large wooded hill to the side of the river and sports complex. We cycle half way up then ditch the bikes at the roadside and walk the rest of the way. There’s already been one event this morning, a line event but it looks like were in time for the start of the afternoons score event. Whilst waiting to see the start we get chatting to some Australian firefighters, they’re all novices at orienteering so Daz decides to give them a quick lesson on the orienteering map and some tips. The runners are being set off by country and just before the Aussies head out Daz speaks to the organisers and manages to get a competition map. We’re going to go for a walk and see how we get on!  There are 30 controls and a one hour time limit. I’m soon dashing into the woods and finding controls, it brings back great memories. Then we spot an Indian firefighter lady wandering around aimlessly, we take her under our wing and she walks around the course with us as we help her with her map reading… well basically I keep taking her dibber and running off into the woods and getting the hard ones at the bottom of ravines or up steep banks! After a good walk/jog round we send her off back towards the finish as she is running out of time whilst we go and get a few more in before heading back. Well, at prize giving the Aussie ladies take a couple of gold medals, must have been Daz’s tactical briefing, and the Indian lady gets a silver in her age category!!  We feel very proud although totally cheesed off when the Indian lady completely ignores us. She obviously can’t afford to let on that she had some help but just a nod in our direction would’ve been nice!! Thanks for nothing!!

Prize giving over we head out and soon find our campsite for the night. There’s a covered pagoda, waterpoint and toilets but unfortunately a lot of mossies so we are soon in our tent having eaten and washed. There’s also a bridge nearby that’s quite noisy, but hopefully the traffic will fall off later! Nite all!!

 

Monday 17th September

Mokhaeng-dong to Beopcheon

Daily Total 41.24 km

Trip Total 24859.33 km

Today we follow the Hangang River and we meet Luke from Bristol.  He’s a touring cyclist who must have left England early this year.  He has a 2 year plan to cycle the world. It’s ages since we’ve had a good chat with another Brit so it’s really nice to meet him.  

We stop in a small town for lunch and for the first time ever our tactic of just pointing out the cheapest meal – 8000 won backfires.   It’s some disgusting chewy, fatty meat in what looks like used washing up water – bleughhhhh – gross. Daz guesses that the horrible meat is offal – and that’s my meal over.  The local restaurants often don’t have a paper menu but instead have it written on the wall – often not more than 10 items ranging from 6/8000 won to 45000. So we either pick the cheapest or if the staff are helpful and engage with us we take their recommendation.  So obviously our meal selection is a total lottery – living life on the edge!!! Tonight’s campsite is a small park just before the town of Beopcheon.

Tuesday 18th September

Beopcheon to Yeojubo

Daily Total 28.86 km

Trip Total 24888.19 km

Well not much progress today.  We stopped to chat to 2 Korean touring cyclists and had to examine all their amazing gear; they had single man tents, mini helinox chairs, a bag shower and about 8 pristine cooking pots.  They had actually cycled the Korean Grand Slam – that’s all the dedicated cycleways in South Korea but they’ve also cycled Taiwan and SE Asia. Then later we spot another couple of tourers -this time Brits, Sam and Kerry.  They’ve only just started their trip with a flight to Seoul and now they plan to cycle for 6 months before heading to Wellington in New Zealand where they plan to settle. So today a lot of gossiping and not much cycling – tomorrow we must do BETTER!

Wednesday 19th September

Yeojubo to Geumnam

Daily Total 59.83 km

Trip Total 24948.02 km

Yesterday evening we met Nick from Staffordshire – he’s just cycled from Greece through Europe, Central Asia and then flown to Seoul.  His last country will be Japan. He’s a really lovely guy and we were both hoping he’d pitch his tent with us but unfortunately his tent and bed mat went missing on his flight from Almaty.  So he needs to find a motel in town.

Today we’re determined – well I am – to do a decent day’s cycling especially after Darren told me yesterday that I need to buck up! Only one distraction today – an Australian couple Steven and Cathy who are in South Korea and Japan for a month’s cycling holiday.  I like their style – no camping or camping cookers allowed. Cathy says she’s too old to camp and I’m pretty sure I’ve been too old since I turned 30!! Anyway these guys have cycled all over Europe and they tell us cycling in Australia is a really bad idea – apparently the drivers are crazy and then there’s the heat, the spiders, snakes and the massive distances – they say “don’t do it” – so of course Daz wants to fly there immediately – there’s nothing he loves more than a challenge.   I’m definitely more focused today and the cycleway is definitely getting more interesting and actually passes through several small towns.

Before today I’d only seen 2 Korean towns – Busan and Andong! At the point where the Hangang River meets the Bukhangang River we leave the Seoul cycleway and head up the Bukhangang River. Apparently this river valley is supposed to be really beautiful – it better be because it’s a 70km detour to the head of the valley! Unfortunately there’s even fewer pagodas and toilet blocks than usual so we decide to camp in a pretty little park by the river. There are toilets and water but no shelter.   

Thursday 20th September

Daeseong

Last night it started raining about midnight and didn’t let up until about 2pm this afternoon.  We decided to stay where we were because we were near a convenience store and some restaurants so we were able to feed ourselves! It proved to be a really dumb move when the rain set in again around 8pm and again continued until 2pm the next day,  only now even heavier. The tent is waterproof but the problem is it becomes uncomfortable lying in bed for such long periods – our inflatable sleeping mats are great but not so good over prolonged periods.

 

Friday 21st September

Geumnam to Daeseong

Daily Total 7.89 km

Trip Total 24955.91 km

 

When the rain peters off at 2pm we decide to try and push on and get some mileage done, but almost immediately a light drizzle starts. We cycle along the river and after about 7 km we spot a really fancy golf / croquet course. We’ve considered having a game before but never bothered but today’s the day. That’s all thoughts of cycling gone out of Daz’s head even though 5 minutes ago he was suggesting we push on for 30 to 40km! We pull over and ask if we can play, and they actually have clubs and balls we can borrow. The course consists of four, 9 hole courses. The ball is about twice the size of a golf ball and the club is a cut down solid looking driver/putter.  The course has many undulations, plateaus, ditches and water hazards (big puddles from the rain). It’s great fun and unlike normal golf it’s very easy to play. It’s also very evenly matched, our first 9 holes is a draw, then Daz wins the next two with me winning the all important final one! Thoroughly satisfied we decide to camp the night here too. There are toilets and a covered pagoda for us to sleep on. Bonus!

Saturday 22nd September

Daeseong to Daesunglee

Daily Total 62.66 km

Trip Total 25018.57 km

Today the sun is going to shine – well once the mist burns off.  We had planned to head up to the end of the cycleway at Chuncheon but we decide we can’t be bothered and initially stop at Gapyeong where we have lunch and try and decide on a new plan.  There’s a very popular tourist spot nearby, Nami Island and there’s even a zip wire ride. Unfortunately when we check it out the next available slot isn’t until 5pm. We decide to head back the way we’ve come but instead of retracing our steps on the cyclepath we handrail the river.  Well it’s not a particularly good decision with plenty of holiday traffic, hills and absolutely no camping pagodas. We go on and on and on. I realise that my right brake which has been a problem for awhile is actually sticking on so I’m often cycling with my right brake slightly engaged and I also notice my left tyre has blue patches – this means it’s starting to seriously wear already so my tracking must be out!     Finally after a long tough afternoon we finally rejoin the cycleway and immediately spot a possible camping spot in a car park/ boat yard ; there’s no overhead cover but there are toilets and water.

 There’s also a couple already there having a picnic. We pull in and immediately the couple come over to investigate. They’re a Korean couple from Seoul, Lee hyun hee and her boyfriend Choi Jin hwan. Well Choi photographs and videos our every move; putting up the tent, making a coffee, preparing our beds etc.  We show them our cool gear ie our collapsible mugs, our flatpack bowls and our solar panel and they are totally impressed – more wows and ahhhhhs than even Gordon Ramsey produces in one episode of Masterchef USA. They invite us over to join their picnic where Choi proceeds to light a woodfire using a butane blow torch – how cool is that. We spend the evening with them drinking and eating and even foolishly become involved in a karaoke-off. This is beyond ridiculous because Choi is a serious musician and Lee hyun hee has an incredible voice whilst our duets are remarkable only by the awfulness of my voice – possibly not dissimilar to a cat being skinned alive.  However I’ve had a beer or 2 now so I think I’m the next Beyoncé.

Sunday 23rd September

Daesunglee to Songchun

Daily Total 20.95 km

Trip Total 25039.52 km

 

Over the last week or so we’ve seen so many waterskiers and wakeboarders out on the river and I’ve been reminiscing about my first posting in the Army to Cyprus when I became a regular at the Dhekelia water skiing club and eventually became a proficient mono skier – only 25 years ago!  Well last night I told Choi I wanted to have a bash. Choi is a skier and reckons he’s good but who knows? So obviously I threw down the gauntlet last night. This morning with a slightly thick head I’m totally regretting the water skiing challenge but I’m quietly confident when there’s no mention of it.  Daz checks my brakes and tracking, Choi cooks some incredibly spicy hot noodles,we pack and drink coffee and make plans to meet in Seoul and several hours pass.

It’s about 12.30pm and we’re ready to head off when suddenly Choi says ‘so let’s ski!’. What he actually meant was “let’s watch you give it a go because it’s too cold for me”.  It just so happens that beside us on the river are 2 wakeboard / water-ski businesses but there are dozens along this river. So off we go and descend on the water-ski concession . With Choi as translater I am soon kitted out in a figure hugging wetsuit and wondering what I have let myself in for, I mean, 25 years was a long time ago. Choi even provides some coaching on a deep water start with one ski.  Daz, Choi and Lee all get on the speedboat to encourage / film me. Unfortunately it’s been too long and I fail to get up on one ski but we’d agreed that I’d try 3 times and then my final 2 attempts would be with 2 skis. And I’m up staight away. It’s fabulous and I thoroughly enjoy zigzagging behind the boat cutting in and out of its wake. Daz reckons my grin is ear to ear!

After skiing we say goodbye to Choi and Lee and cycle on.  We stop for another short game of mini golf and then soon call it a day, finding a spot to camp. The moon comes up and it’s almost a full moon shining down on the river – it’s a beautiful sight.

Monday 24th September

Songchun to Gangnam Spa, Seoul

Daily Total 39.69 km

Trip Total 25079.21 km

Today it’s the last leg of the 4 Rivers Cycleway for us as we’re cycling into Seoul not Incheon where the cycleway ends.   As we get closer to Seoul we can see the city growing on the left bank. It’s so cool to look at a capital city from across the Hangang River and from the safety of a cycleway.   Then we cross a bridge and we’re in Seoul. Our first stop is Lotte Tower where we buy tickets for tomorrow night and then we head to Gangnam where we’re meeting Choi and Lee.

We stop at Choi’s Samsung office and we have a few beers and show them some games; Spoof, cereal box pick-up, the beer can challenge and ‘who am I’.  It’s soon time to say our farewells and we head to Gangnam Chimgilbang (sauna) for the night.

Tuesday 25th September

Gangnam Spa to Jongno-gu

Daily Distance: 15.29km

Total Distance: 25094.5km

Our night in the ‘chingilbang’ was cheap but they kept the lights on in the communal room and it was really hot so it’s a relief to get out into the fresh air.  First task of the day, laundry. Second task is to cycle to Jongno-gu where the British Defence Attaché lives. Huw has kindly agreed to look after our trikes for the next 6 months until we return with a Chinese visa ready to take on China, well that’s the plan anyway.  We find his house without a problem although cycling on the roads has been a little fraught and this is Seoul at its quietest, it’s the Thanksgiving Holiday. Huw lives in a lovely part of Seoul and he and his wife Linda have thoroughly enjoyed their time out here. We sit and enjoy a lovely cup of tea and discover we’ve failed to appreciate how lucky we’ve been with the weather. September and May are the best months of the year with the remainder being too hot and humid, bitterly cold or shrouded in smog. It’s soon time to abandon our trikes and head to the centre of Seoul and a hostel for the next 2 nights.  

Having dumped our gear it’s back out the door and over to Lotte Tower and our nighttime view of Seoul. The Observation Deck at Lotte Tower is over half a kilometer into the sky. It dominates and leaves all other buildings far below. The double decker elevator is the fastest and travels further than any other elevator of its type in the world. There’s no view going up, but after clearing our ears we arrive on the 3 observation decks and terraces. The city is beautifully lit up beneath us and the Hangang River glides through like a dark snake amongst the lights. It’s pretty awe inspiring, but maybe we would have enjoyed it more with daylight views!!

Wednesday and Thursday

Seoul

Wednesday is a relaxation day – yup time for shit TV and sleeping.   Thursday we visit Nandaemun market, Dongdaemun History and Culture park including the amazing Design Plaza building (reminiscent of the Bullring in Birmingham), watch the changing of the guard at the Gyeongbokgung palace,  walk down arty Insadong road and visit the war memorial which is unfortunately shut for restoration however we do witness the Korean Armed Forces practicing and getting ready for an Armed Forces day show in a couple of days. There’s some very future tech wesponry and defence systems on display alongside the Museums fleet of tanks planes and ships.

We’re flying out of Seoul at 0330hrs Friday morning so once our sightseeing is done we head to Incheon International Airport.   Since we dumped our trikes we’ve been using the metro. The Seoul metro is clean, the trains spacious and we haven’t witnessed the severe overcrowding you find on London underground.  But this metro is particularly cool because there’s an app that will work out the best possible route from a to b; there are specific places to queue on the platform which align precisely with the doors of the train when it comes into a station, and each entry point has a number and the app will tell you the ideal entry number so you’re best positioned for a transfer at a subsequent station.  This might sound overly complicated but the Seoul Underground network is considerably more complex than London and almost impossible to read let alone find correct stations and work out a route.

 

So we’re into our last few hours in Korea, but we’ll be back next year and hopefully meet up with the Korean friends we have made. And perhaps see some of the sights we’ve missed like the Demilitarised Zone in the Buffer zone and City Walls of Seoul.  We probably did Korea an injustice by sticking solely to the cycleway but in one month we received amazing acts of generosity from so many people.  Korea is  beautiful and the people have all been wonderful and generous. It’s places like this that make our trip so special. See you again Korea!!

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