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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mount Seoraksan, South Korea

Mount Seoraksan, Sokcho, South Korea 
Ulbansawi Course

Nature has a soothing effect on someone's soul. It nourishes the deep, unknown feeling of being close to its endless beauty. I am a child of the green pasture. I always stand in awe with the magnificent things I see when I'm out in the wild. The mountains is one of the most beautiful and mysterious place on earth. It grows and changes each season. 

When I got the chance to visit South Korea which boast a splendid arrays of beautiful mountains. I didn't thought twice of visiting one of the most visited mountain in the country. Mount Seoraksan is situated in Gangwon province in the Eastern Part of South Korea. It is also considered as the highest mountain in Taebaek mountain range. A national park located in the city of Sokcho which was also my next destination. The weather up in the mountains can change drastically, so better equip yourself with the right pair of winter hiking clothes.  

Here's my Winter Trek Vacation Checklist:
1. Heatech Top and Bottom
2. Winter Jacket with Fleece
3. Waterproof Pants
4. Poncho. The weather is unpredictable in the mountains.
5. Waterproof gloves
6. Bonnet or Ear Muffler
7. Neck Warmer or Scarf
8. Winter or Hiking Boots. Pair it up with some winter socks or hiking socks
9. Lip Balm for men and Lipstick for ladies
10. Moisturizer (petroleum jelly) and apply Sunblock
11. Snacks (energy bars,cookies)
12. Water 
13. Whistle and a Photocopy of your passport for emergency. At the same time inform your guesthouse that you're climbing Mt. Seoraksan for that day.
14. Everything pack inside a zip-lock bag. Bring along small packs of silica gel to absorb moisture.
15. Camera. Place a separate silica gel pack inside your camera bag.

I booked ahead of time via email for a two night hostel stay around the city area of Sokcho. A place nearby the mountain entrance of Mt. Seokraksan. The blog I've read was very confusing because it was pointing me to the Gangnam station instead of the Express Bus Terminal station. I should have figure it out on my own just basing on the name itself, yet I didn't and went all the way to Gangnam station. The wrong turn took my precious lunch time, I had to give up a good korean meal for a take away snack. Make sure to pack enough supply of goodies for the bus trip unless you're planning to sleep the whole time. Passengers are allowed to eat inside the bus even in the train service in South Korea compared to Singapore where a lot of things is banned. I purchased a money T-card in the airport for all my transportation transactions yet the counter didn't accept my card when I purchased the bus ticket. I've even used that card when I was in Jeju Island, so better have enough won with you and try not to top up to much on your T-money card. (Transportation T-Money Card and Initial Top-up: 30,000 won- 60,000 won / 40 SGD-70 SGD). The staff counter didn't bother to explain instead she angrily pointed me to another counter to pay cash. I'm guessing they only accept cash, so I just let that pass. 

How to get there: Seoul to Sokcho
1. Alight at Express Bus Terminal Station. (Brown Line 9)
2. Go to  Exit 2 to Yeongdong Line. 
3. Ticket Counters is just a few metres away from Burger King. 
4. Then proceed to Bus Platform 19 bound for Sokcho. Take the Donghu Express Bus. 
Ticket  Fare: 18,500 won / 22 SGD / 16 USD
Travel Time: 3.5 hour ride

How to get there: Sokcho to James Blue Hostel (details copied in the website)
a. Go to the right side from the Sok-cho intercity bus terminal to the sea (Downhill). Take the second right and walk along the street. Across the street, there is the hostel <James BLuE>. Welcome.There is an Information Center in front of the bus terminal.You can also ask them or ask any body "Si-cheong". That means the City hall in Korean.James BLuE is very near the Sok-cho city hall.[출처] 속초 게스트하우스 제임스블루 <James BLuE>가 도대체 어디? / Where is James BLuE?|작성자 James BLuE.
b. From express bus terminal. It's little bit far and takes around 25 minutes on foot.So I recommand taking a taxi!If you want to walk, go to the right and find a big supermarket 'E-MART'. It's huge so easy to find.If you can see the 'E-MART', you can see also two bridges blue and red one.Take the bridge. At the end of the bridge you will see Jamesblue hostel on you left.If you want to take a taxi. Talk to taxi driver 'Si Cheong, Dae Bo Jang''Si cheong' means city hall in Korean. 'Dae Bo Jang' is our old name.[출처] 속초 게스트하우스 제임스블루 <James BLuE>가 도대체 어디? / Where is James BLuE?|작성자 James BLuE.

Check in James Blue Hostel
1 Night : 20,000 won
Address : Kang-won do Sok-cho si Dong-myung dong 466-36. 
Taxi Fare from Sokcho express bus terminal to James Hostel: 4,000-6,000 won

I arrived at night The Taxi driver didn't know my hostels location at first so he tried calling the hostel owner, James for direction, then he realized he knew the guy himself. We had a good laugh, he welcome me to Korea and brought me safely to my hostel. So far for the past few days I've stayed in Korea the locals I've met were really friendly and accommodating. I've also noticed that most of my fond encounters with Koreans were all in the countryside, the city is too crowded for some to be nice to each other especially for tourist. It was already late at night and only available food outlet in the area was 7'11. This international convenient store is a lifesaver for all the tourist all over the world. A safe haven for shelter, inquiries, purchase food, medicine and all kinds of necessities you forgot to pack on your trip. 

7'11 Rice Meal: 2,000-4,000 won

I went to bed tired from the long bus ride, woke up late for breakfast and left the guesthouse late as well. A great reminder of my laziness which I happily repeated over and over again. I left the guesthouse around 10:30 Am and immediately catch the bus to Mt. Seoraksan. I used my T-money card in all my bus and train trips in South Korea except for the bus ride to Sokcho. On my bus ride to Seoraksan I meet 3 friendly Malaysian ladies, all were teachers in  Johor Bahru. We chitchat till we arrived in our stop. I like it when people are amused of me for travelling and climbing a mountain alone. It isn't really my first trek alone in a foreign country, I remembered my first climb was Mount Batur in Bali, Indonesia. I walked together with the Malaysian ladies, took photographs and even hike together before we separate ways. They've even persuaded me to take the cable car however the trip was cancelled due to strong winds. I was strongly advised not to go the Ulbansawi Peak. My desired trek for that day was to conquer Daecheongbong Peak however there's a certain period in Korea where all the mountain summit are prohibited to climb, it happened during my trip. 

Mountain Not Access Period: Seasonal Forest Fire Watches by Park March 2 - May 15

Mount Seoraksan - Outer Seoraksan
Admission Fee: Adults 3,500 won
First Course: Mount Seoraksan Entrance to  Heundeulbawi Rock then to Ulsanbawi peak
Total Climb Duration: 4 hours 

I walked with my new found friends till the Sinheungsa Temple then a few metres away they let me go to my death wish. Proud and strong I walk my way up to the Heundeulbawi Rock then to Ulsanbawi peak. The wind was forceful and violent, a few climbers even turned back due to his force. Some Korean climbers motion me turn back,pointing to the sky twirling their hands rapidly signaling the bad weather. I was stubborn and impulsive instead of stepping back for safety I continued climbing the metal stairs. My grip was holding on to the metal railing not just for support but for my dear life. The furious wind kept pushing me to the sides, one slip and I say goodbye to the good life. I was intensely struggling that I can't even straighten my back yet I kept going up until I reached the top. Funny thing is I still manage to get a picture of the view from the top. When I stepped on the peak's ultimate ground the wind immediately slammed and pinned me to the big rock. I was trapped in a small corner of the big rock for a few seconds. It was hard to keep my eyes open, my legs were dead tired and I thought that was it. Nah! not really that's too dramatic. But I was really scared and I prayed hard for strength to lift myself up from my misery. One step at a time. I cried. I just focus on getting down. Gripped the handrails hard so I wont lose my balance. When I got the chance to breathe, I cried, laughed and I thanked God with all my heart. I was alone up there. If I stayed longer there I could go into hypothermia. I also have the feeling that the wind might change course and this time around it will be pushing me off the cliff. It will take days for rescue. Knowing all these things could have happen to me on that very moment made me appreciate life more. I hope we don't neet to go through life threatening situations to realize how precious our life is. I didn't go anywhere else afterwards, I went to the bus stop and message my mum when got back in my guesthouse. 

A life changing experience. Being impulsive and reckless won't get you anywhere. During the climb I thought of completing the climb no matter what happens despite the warnings from fellow climbers, because I thought to myself I'm such a loser for not reaching the summit of Mt. Hallasan in Jeju island so I can't afford another losing end again. Ego got in the way. Pride swallowed me whole and I've almost loss my life for that. It's really not about reaching the top, it's the experience. The journey which taught you more about yourself, your thoughts and about your physical being. You will learn things about your body like which part of the leg needs more work, or even things that makes you motivated and snacks that works for you. Simple things. Blinded with thirst for achievement and self pride. It's not actually a bad thing but when you know you're getting yourself on the edge with the dark knight might as well be rational and walk away with your head held up high. 

The next day I woke at the same time and went back for the cable car, unfortunately the weather was still bad so it was still canceled. I made my way to the waterfalls. If you want to avoid the crowd go hike on weekdays and definitely avoid the weekends. Everyone queued everywhere. I don't like the crowd, Korean hikers doesn't care who they bumped into and almost everyone wanted to be first in line. I had my lunch before heading out to the bus stop around 12:30 noon outside the Seoraksan Entrance, then again I was able to catch the bus right away. My planned was to get back to Seoul as soon as possible so I took the 2 pm Bus to Gangnam. The supposed trip of 4 hours turned to an agonizing 6 hours bus ride due to the weekend traffic jam.

Timeline-Ulbansawi Course: Left Guesthouse around 10:30 Am, cross the street behind James hostel and luckily catch Bus 7-1 bound for Sogongwon Bus stop, which is a stop located outside the Seoraksan National Park Entrance. Before 3:15 pm I was already in Sogongwon Bus stop and catch the bus right away back to the hostel. 

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