설악산 국립 공원: Hiking in Seoraksan National Park for Buddha’s birthday!

In Korea we get two days off work, in May, to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. The long weekend means traveling and traffic for the entire country. 

Merriam – Webster Definition
           dragon: an imaginary animal that can breathe fire and looks like a very large lizard with wings, a long tail, and claws. 

My Definition
           dragon: The name of the most awesome Korean man in the world. I am pretty sure that the entire bus developed a crush on Dragon, the man with an awesome perma and great English. 

Day 1: hiking Ulsan Bawi (bawi = rock)

          I knew this trip was going to be epic as soon as our group leader stepped on the bus and began talking. He grabbed the microphone and announced, “Hello everyone, my name is ____, but you can call me Dragon.”

         Hayley and I turned to each other and exchanged knowing smiles. 

          We departed from Seoul on Saturday morning, and drove four and a half hours to reach Seoraksan. We were informed that our first hike would take around 4 hours to complete. I knew we would be hiking, but I didn’t realize we would be hiking UP Ulsan Bawi.

설악산 울산 바위: Ulsan Bawi, one of the most famous landmarks of Seoraksan. 

A lovely temple around half way. These lanterns are everywhere to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.

Hiking masters

        And now, “up we go!”

Kelleen Teacher, our resident geologist freaking out over the rocks. 

          I nearly died on the way up; I don’t think I have seen so many stairs in my entire life! As exhausted as I was, the view at the top was worth the effort.


          I have a problem, a fear actually. (step one is admitting it, right?)

          It’s not a fear of heights…….not exactly. My mother suffers from Acrophobia, a dilapidating fear of heights, but my fear decided to mutate and manifest differently. 

           I am not afraid of high places, in fact I find them quite exhilarating. 

          My fear is more of a “I am afraid that I will involuntarily fling myself off of high places” kind of feeling. 

          It is a bit awkward to not trust oneself to NOT randomly jump off a cliff edge, but as I am still alive and didn’t throw myself off the edge of Ulsan Bawi, I think I am doing pretty well.

The score so far:             Mikaela : 1              Fear:  0

You can’t visit a famous place without enacting the popular Korean heart pose. It’s a necessary for every authentic Korean travel experience. 

           I have no idea why this man is loaded up like a pack mule, but I applaud his stamina. I had a hard enough time hiking up the trail with only my camera bag on my back. 

Day 2: more hiking

          Our hike for Sunday was originally going to be an eleven hour hike, covering a large portion of the park. However, on Saturday evening Dragon informed us of a change of plans. 

          Because of the Sewol ferry disaster the 11 hour course was closed for safety reasons and reparation. The connection between a ferry sinking and the safety of hiking trails doesn’t make sense in my brain, but I have to admit, NOT hiking for eleven hours was perfectly fine with me.

          We changed our plans, and headed out on Sunday morning for a seven hour hike. 

There he is!!!! Dragon, the best group leader ever!

These signs were everywhere. I find them highly amusing, not sure why. Maybe because the big bear seems to be wearing a type of Tyrolean hat, even though it obviously speaks Korean.  

“One, Two, Three, Kimchi!”

Heading up there. Oh dear, the fear is kicking in again!

The score so far:             Mikaela : 2              Fear:  0

Yes, amazing hair. Not only does he have highlights, but he also has a weird tail of hair in the front.

side note: what are his parents thinking? They are hiking in a beautiful national park, and letting him play video games? What?

Not sure what it says. I am guessing, “Don’t let your child push you over the cliff.”

Hiking masters at our finest! Thank you Dragon for the picture!

          You can’ go hiking without someone sustaining an injury. Hayley was lovely enough to oblige us by “gracefully” falling down on a steep path. 

          I was making my way down at a steady pace until I heard a shriek from behind me. I turned around to see Hayley sprawled in the dirt grasping at her elbow. 

Dictation time: An interview with CK

Me: what was the experience like?

Hayley: It was a weak moment in my life. My elbow hurt severely, but really, the worst pain was my injured pride. My two friends were too busy laughing to ask me if I was okay, but, Dragon the Hero, came to my rescue. Due to the embarrassment, I jolted up and made my way quickly to our lunchie spot. My hand was numb, with a noticeable tingling in my fingers. I thought to myself, “crikey, another visit to the ER!”  I did not want to cry, but as I spread the peanut butter on my sandwichie, one tear slowly emerged from my left eye. It made a lonely path down my cheek. I turned to Mikaela and Kelleen, pointed to the droplet, and said, “look!”  Finally the cows (my new insult for the month) showed some sympathy for my plight. 

This picture was taken of her sick elbow minutes after the mishap. I wish I had gotten a picture two days later when the entire thing was every shade of blue, black, and purple. It was quite majestic actually. 


          At lunchtime we found little pockets of Koreans everywhere. They all found little picnic areas to break the midday meal together.  Of course (in Korea), there is nothing like taking a rest from hiking to imbibe with friends.  

Soju in the middle of the day, classic!

And make sure you are carrying your water hose with you to attach to the non-existent fire hydrants.

Add caption

It is not uncommon to see these stone piles around Korea, or in other Buddhist areas.

“Look, a wildlife!” 

This is how we usually take pictures……….
This poor girl with our group got stuck making weird poses with us.
Day 3: random fun times IN the river.
          On Monday, our hiking excursion was quite relaxed. Some people decided to hike to the waterfall. As we had been there the day before, we decided to goof off, embrace our inner monkeys, and climb on the rocks in the river.

         Needless to say, the Koreans thought we were crazy. There were so many photos taken of us. 

          I am sure the captions will read, “These are the crazy foreigners we saw while hiking.”

King of the rock!
“Halp me!”

Approaching the beam…….
A solid start with excellent balance.

Look at that technique!

and………………the dismount!
I give it a 9.9

The trip home

        We left Seoraksan on Monday at 12:30pm. This is where the traffic part of Buddha’s birthday comes into play. Highlights of trip home:

– a four hour bus ride to Seoul turned into a nine and a half hour bus ride.
– At one rest stop, out of desperation, the women’s bathroom was not used. The men’s room and bushes might have been involved. 
– train tickets home to Ulsan had to be booked and canceled three times. 
– Dragon was a sweetheart, and so concerned for our comfort.
– Finally arrived in Ulsan, delusional, at 1:15 am. 
– Made it home to the countryside after almost 14 hours of travel, to receive a text from Hayley saying,”Our cab almost ran over a deer on the way home!”

          An epic ending to and epic trip. 

side note:  I find it funny that the only “wildlife” we saw in the national park were butterflies and a chipmunk. Then Hayley and Kelleen almost die from a deer collision just minutes away from their industrial town. 

One more, final comment.

Dragon, we miss you!

We visited Seoraksan through an travel group called adventure Korea. The read more about their various trips in Korea, click here.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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