Of course, I had to visit Bukhansan National Park, which straddles Seoul City and Goyang City in Gyeoggi Province. It is the iconic set of mountains just north of Seoul city center. In Joseon times, Seoul was considered an auspicious capital partially because of the mountains in the north was good feng shui. Now, it is considered the place for outdoor adventure in Seoul. It’s like Yangmingshan National Park in Taipei – a set of sparsely populated mountains just to the north of the bustling urban metropolis.
There are many routes through Bukhansan National Park, and I only had one day, so I had to pick carefully.
I started walking through forest and past streams.
I had seen the species of bird above a few times in South Korea, but this was the only time I managed to get a photo of one.
The trail I took is part of the Bukhansan Fortress route. Yes, another fortress. During the Joseon dynasty, it was decided that Seoul needed stronger defences, so a fortress was constructed in Bukhansan. The construction only took a few months.
Even though Buddhism was official forbidden in Seoul during the Joseon dynasty, Buddhist temples were allowed to remain in the mountains, and the Joseon government even requested that warrior Buddhist monks help protect the fortress. Today, there are about a hundred Buddhist temples and hermitages in Bukhansan National Park. One of the biggest of these, Geumsunsa, offers a templestay.
My goal, of course, was Baegundae, which is right on the border of Goyang City (Gyeoggi Province) and Seoul, and at 836 meters, is the highest point above sea level within Seoul city limits.
It had also been, as you can see in the photos above, a place where walls for Bukhansan Fortress had been placed.
As you get to the final giant lump of granite rock, views open up.
And yes, Baegundae practically is a giant lump of granite which got dropped on Bukhansan.
And it’s a steep final stretch to the roof of Seoul.
If this were Yangmingshan National Park, I could tell you the name of most of the peaks just on sight, but since I only went to Bukhansan once, I would be mostly guessing.
The views can bit a bit dramatic.
I keep on South Korea’s uneven population density in this blog, and it turns out, population density within Seoul city limits itself is very uneven. Knowing that this is one of the largest metropolises by population in the world, would you expect views like this within city limits (okay, at the border of city limits, but even so).
In the photo above, the camera is facing north, looking towards Dobongsan, in the northern part of the National Park. I would have liked to have returned and hike up Dobongsan too, but I never had time.
Surprisingly (considering the proximity to Seoul city centre) there weren’t so many people on the trail when I started, possibly because I started shortly after sunrise, or perhaps because it was Thursday, or I picked a less popular trail. Of course, as I got close to Baegundae, the number of fellow hikers increased considerably, and I kept on encountering more and more people on the way down.
I thought Bukhansan was popular just because it was next to Seoul, and that it wouldn’t have the same level of beauty as the remote rural National Parks. Well, after going to Baegundae, I think Bukhansan is actually more beautiful than some of the remote national parks. I agree with the feng shui experts of the Joseon Kingdom – Seoul is lucky to have this mountain here.