Jun 29, 2017
East Asia is such a super friendly place for foreigners with efficient subway or MRT lines throughout all major cities including Seoul, South Korea. All stations have English signs and all stops are announced in English. Namsan mountain is the most well-known of the four guardian mountains of Seoul with the famous landmark, Seoul N Tower topping the 262m peak. It’s not a challenging or particularly strenuous hike but it’s a nice break from the chaotic megalopolis below. It’s also a great way to join locals in their everyday activities and experience the fitness and hiking culture of the city. If you start your hike from the gondola station it’s extremely easy to find your way with signs in English everywhere. This is more like a vigorous walk in a park than a mountain hike. No rough trails to deal with. Stairs everywhere and there’s even rubberized sections of the trail to lessen the impact of hiking on a hard surface. When it comes to activities like this Koreans really know how to makes things comfortable. This may look like a road but it’s pedestrian only! On the way you’ll see sites you can check out like Waryongmyo, a Buddhist/Daoist/Shamanist Shrine dedicated to Zhuge Liang, a Chinese statesman and general who lived from 181-234 AD. As you meander up the trail you’ll start to get views of Seoul and the surrounding mountains. It’s a wonderful way to appreciated the city where half the population of the country lives. It’s easy to enjoy the serene atmosphere of the walk up Namsan. You’ll also have views of N Seoul Tower. The N stands for Namsan, nature and New look from a 2005 15 billion won remodelling project. Namsan is a popular place for Seoulites to visit on the weekend with many spots available for picnics and other outdoor activities. Namsan is considered Seoul’s principal park. It averages 23,000 visits a day. Every April a Cherry blossom festival takes place across Seoul with the longest avenue of Cherry trees anywhere in the city at Namsan mountain. There was a haze and clouds over the surrounding mountains of Seoul on the day I visited Namsan. There are 37 mountains in the greater Seoul area, many easily accessed by subway or bus. One of the most fascinating things I saw along the hike was Sukhojung, an archery field that dates back to 1630, still in operation today. Archery had played a prominent role in the defence of the country, particularly on Namsan mountain, one of the sites of The Fortress Wall of Seoul, the shield that protected the city from invaders. This outdoor gym was a sign I was getting closer to the direct stairs to the top of the mountain. As you get higher each step has a built in rubber cushion making it a little easier on the knees and joints. Koreans are real outdoor enthusiasts that also appreciate making the activity comfortable and convenient with covered rest areas, washrooms, and these wonderfully comfortable stairs. As I was on final approach to the top, with the tower now in direct sight the views opened up to show even though this is one of the most densely populated places in the world there are still large visible green spaces in greater Seoul. Follow Namsan’s portion of the Fortress Wall of Seoul, first constructed in 1396, and you’ll understand the strategic importance of the four guardian mountains and this wall that protected the city during the Joeson Dynasty. When I reached the top I was just in time for the patrolling and lighting ceremony reenactment of Namsan Bongsudae. There were 5 Bondsudae stations on Namsan during the Joeson Dynasty used to communicate political and military information to the king with beacons. Bongsu is the combination of the words bong, meaning torchlight, and su, meaning smoke. At the peak of the Joeson Dynasty there were 673 beacons located throughout the Korean peninsula. This Bongsudae on Namsan was reconstructed in 1993. It was an extremely warm and humid day so these sprinklers were a relief from the heat for everyone. More views directly under N Seoul Tower, which has been open to the public and showcasing views of the city and surrounding area since 1980. These locks underneath the tower are symbols of love from the countless dates that have taken place here over time. You can check out how many different languages love messages are written in, on these symbols of a forever lasting love. Or leave your own, but it looks like all the good views are gone. I like everyday activities, like cycling, hiking or walking in an urban area I’m visiting. The feeling of participating in the same daily workout or exercise that locals enjoy, like Namsan Mountain, makes me feel more engaged and like I’m actually living in the place rather than just being a sightseer or tourist. Next time you’re in Seoul, South Korea try hiking one of the mountains for a break from the busy city, a sense of touching everyday life, maybe even a little bit of history, and some pretty amazing views.