I was wrong about Seoul being just another concrete jungle.
The capital of South Korea has plenty to offer – from addictive Kpop hits and bustling night markets, to majestic palaces and historic avenues, there are more ways than one to experience this city.
But perhaps what struck me the most is how the citizens of Seoul are blessed with picturesque mountainous views amid its urban sprawl.
For someone like me who grew up in a city-state where mountains are all but non-existent (save for some hiking trails that are unique in their own ways), the excitement was at an all-time high (pardon the pun).
If you’re wondering which mountain hiking trails you should absolutely attempt in Seoul, I urge you to get your trek on Inwangsan.
The name literally means ‘mountain of benevolent king’ in Korean. It might as well add another title: monarch of hiking trails. Pay tribute to this king with a trek up the mountain and you will be richly rewarded with a picture-perfect sunset, and mesmerising sights of countless city lights sparkling like so many imperial jewels.
Situated in the central area of Seoul, Inwangsan is a mountain with a height of 338 meters, which offers a stunning panoramic view of the city. Get to spot major landmarks like Gyeongbokgung Palace, Namsan Park, Seoul Tower and even the residence of the South Korean president.
Hiking up Inwangsan is akin to witnessing Seoul’s historic past. An ancient fortress wall, dating back to the 14th century, runs parallel to the hiking trail. But to get the true measure of its significance, you’d have to go higher.
The ancient fortress wall traces the crestline of Seoul’s sacred mountains namely Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan and Inwangsan. It was built during the Korean dynastic kingdom period to protect the city from invaders.
“Gazing out at the metropolis of 10 million from the peak of Inwangsan was magical.”
Under the hypnotising sunset sky, fellow hikers spread out in blankets enjoying rice wine and delectable local snacks. The entire trail took 90 minutes and over 10,000 steps to reach the summit. I just wish that I could have brought a bowl of Kimchi fried rice to dine by the sunset.
What made this hiking trip even more memorable – I was told the North Korean spies made their way along Inwangsan due to its proximity to South Korea’s presidential residence in a bid to assassinate the then President Park Chung Hee in 1968.
This incident caused a ban on public access to Inwangsan, which was finally lifted in 1993.
The mountain is also a military base so don’t be surprised to see South Korean soldiers patrolling the area. Also, please do not use a drone here.
Well, I thought I had conquered Inwangsan, but in reality, the vastness and beauty of Inwangsan has conquered me.
Will I attempt this steep and sweaty hike up over again? Absolutely. The view from the peak is well worth the struggle.
If you’re an urban dweller or desk jockey who find it difficult to work out in a gym (even if they’re blasting your favourite K-pop hits), perhaps it’s time to get outside.
How to Get There
By Train: Gyeongbokgung Station (Orange line), Exit 1
This is the nearest hiking trail from the central area of Seoul, it is easily accessible. Don’t worry about getting lost, you will meet many enthusiastic Korean hikers along the way who would be more than happy to point you in the right direction. In fact, hiking is their national pastime. There are well-marked trails and handrails along the path.
Choose lightweight, quick-drying sport attire. Bring at least 1 litre of water. The incline to the peak is sharp, put on a sturdy pair of hiking shoes and bring a hiking stick if you need extra support. If you’re planning to stay after sunset, remember to bring along a torch. The trail is not lit after dark and the descend from the peak of Inwangsan is perilous. The incline to the peak is sharp, put on a sturdy pair of hiking shoes and bring a hiking stick if you need extra support. If you’re planning to stay after sunset, remember to bring along a torch. The trail is not lit after dark and the descend from the peak of Inwangsan is perilous.