7 years of living and bicycle touring in South Korea has us convinced this is a world-class bike touring destination. When you think of a cycling holiday perhaps rural France springs to mind? The Netherlands? Vietnam? They’re old hat… South Korea is the world’s best kept secret when it comes to cycling holidays. We’ve been on a few long distance voyages in this country and each time we’ve been blown away by the facilities, the scenery, the friendliness and the food.
1. Korea has an amazing network of bike paths and facilities
The bike paths reach to nearly every corner in the country and they’re building new ones faster than we can ride them. They are mostly car-free, bicycle-only paths but they occasionally incorporate on-road bike lanes (but only on quiet country roads with very little traffic).
The Four Rivers Path is the most famous, it follows the routes of the four largest rivers in South Korea: the Han, the Geum, the Nakdong and the Yeongsan. There is another which runs the entire length of the country, from Incheon and Seoul to Busan in the South-East a total of over 600km.
Jeju Island south of the Korean Peninsular is famous for it’s beautiful beaches and dramatic landscapes and is encircled by a coastal bike path over 200km long. Here you can punctuate your time on the bike with swimming in the sea and sunbathing.
Because cycling is a popular past time in Korea and growing fast, on many cycling routes anywhere near Seoul or on Jeju Island, you’ll find an abundance of useful shops and restaurants. Small restaurants, convenience stores, bike accessory shops, bike mechanics, motels, guesthouses and rest stops with public toilets – all specifically for cyclists – seem to be every 5 km or so.
2. Korean food is delicious, unique and regional
Korean food is unique and has flavors you wont find anywhere else in the world. Koreans are passionate about food – they love it fresh, they love it fermented, they love it organic and they love it local – every corner of the country has it’s own specialty food whether it’s spicy chicken stew in Chuncheon, fresh strawberries in Nonsan or rice served with wild mountain vegetables in Jeonju. Travelling by bike gives you lots of opportunities to stop and sample the local cuisine as well as the appetite to handle it all.
3. The stunning combination of mountains and sea
The Korean Peninsular is almost entirely covered with mountains. Swathed in forests and shaped like something out of an ancient Chinese brush painting, the mountains are amazing in almost every season. In the Summer they are lush and wet; in the Fall they turn golden brown and are draped in mist; in winter they are frosty white with snow; while in the Spring they come to life with bright green growth and white blossoms.
Surprisingly, outside of the cities Korea has some incredible beaches that are great for swimming and camping, especially on Jeju Island and some of the smaller islands off of the Western and Southern coasts. You can expect white sand, warm water and dramatic forested mountain ranges as a backdrop – and you’ll likely have it all to yourself.
4. Korea is off the beaten path
Laos not hardcore enough for you? Has Thailand got too many western backpackers for comfort? Korea is not a popular tourist destination for westerners – once you leave Seoul you’ll be lucky to find anyone who speaks English. The hospitality industry here doesn’t cater to you… it caters to visitors from Korea and other Asian countries. Cycle touring in South Korea means you’ll be eating Korean food and you’ll have to speak Korean or use sign language otherwise almost nobody will understand you. Many hotels don’t have beds so you’ll be sleeping on a blanket on the floor. Thank goodness for number 5.
5. The locals are very kind and helpful (especially in the countryside)
Koreans love children. If you’re travelling with kids you can expect a lot of attention and a lot of kindness from random strangers – sometimes to the point of being overwhelming. They love older people too. If you’re over 60 you can expect extreme politeness, deference and helpfulness from many of the Korean people that you meet on your travels. If you don’t have kids and you’re young, most people outside of Seoul will still be amazingly kind to you, especially if you keep yourself looking neat and presentable. (In South Korea, this is essential.) Expect friendly waves, hellos, smiles, gifts of bottled iced water, candies or fruit from complete strangers. No kidding.
Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments!