Surprises Around Every Bend – Hiking at Yonsei

Hike on Yonsei’s campus – check!

I finally discovered the trails on Yonsei’s campus, which my teacher told me about within my first few weeks here (I had asked her about good day hikes in Seoul).  I’ve wandered the trails thrice now, and I can confidently say I’ve discovered my “morning regular” route.

The first time I found myself on the trails, I ended up at a Buddhist temple.  I was happily hiking along when, all of a sudden (or so it seemed), the trail opened up and dropped me into what seemed like the middle of a Korean drama set in ancient times.   It was quite surreal to find myself approaching traditional-style buildings, having been surrounded by trees just moments ago.  Furthermore, the trail I was on brought me to the back of the temple, so I literally wandered through the grounds backwards, exiting out the entrance.

Turns out the temple, which is called 봉원사 (Bongwonsa), was established in 889 C.E. on the site that is now Yonsei University, and moved to its current location (adjacent to Yonsei’s campus) in 1748.  More than 50 monks currently reside there; I could tell it was an active temple when I walked through because of the mats set up outside.  I felt a bit uncomfortable (bordering on disrespectful) because there I was, sweaty and wearing a tank top and running shorts, strolling through this sacred space.  Even though I didn’t walk through any buildings, it felt like I was walking through a cathedral or some other (indoor) holy place.  I didn’t linger for too long and made a mental note to come back at some point more appropriately dressed.  (All historical information is sourced from a description entitled “The History of Bongwonsa” at the entrance to the temple.)

Sorry for (mostly) bad quality iPhone photos…

The second time I decided to go hiking (last week), I found the hike that most people come to this park for — the trail that culminates at the former East Smoke-signal Station in Muaksan (Muak Mountain).  It’s “Seoul Monument No. 13” and has a great view of the city.  After all, it was a smoke-signal station, so it had to have good visibility!

So how did I find it, exactly?  I channeled my inner sleuth and…followed someone who looked like he knew where he was going.  Creative, I know.  It’s a popular hike — there are always people on the trail, many of whom are decked out in full hiking gear with poles and everything — so I figured there was a gem somewhere in the forest that I just hadn’t discovered yet.  Fortunately, I picked the right guy to follow.

Did I mention how much Koreans love to hike?  There are a ton of avid hikers, which means two things: (1) days hikes are popular on the weekends, especially Saturday mornings, and (2) hiking stores are everywhere.  The latter means dry-fit, non-cotton clothing and trekking accessories (hats, poles, sunglasses) are readily available around Seoul, and usually for quite cheap.  Namdaemun Market is one hotspot (that I’ve been to), as are any areas around popular hiking spots (from what I’ve heard).  Hiking clubs are really popular, so there are lots of large groups that go together.  I passed through one group on my way up that was taking a group stretch break on their way down…synchronized counting and everything.  It’s also (somewhat surprisingly) popular among older folks — many of the hikers I see on the trail are over the age of 60.

Anyway, here are some photos from the hike.

I reached the top (which was only a few minutes from the top of the stairs) just as it was nearing dusk, but I wasn’t willing to wait around for the sun to set (I was hungry!).  So that explains the rosy glow.  It was a gorgeous sight.

That’s Namsan (Seoul) Tower on the left, and Seodaemun Prison and History Hall at the bottom, center.

Hangang (the Han River)

I went back to the same hike later that week to get some pictures on my real camera (almost all the photos above were taken with my iPhone 4, hence the poor quality), but due to on-and-off rain, the day was overcast and muggy.  Not ideal picture-taking weather…

A peek of blue sky. What a tease.

Now that I’ve carefully jotted down which turns to take and what signs to follow (I have a terrible memory), the Muaksan smoke-signal station has become my go-to morning hike.  At just under an hour round-trip and steep enough for me to break a sweat, it’s perfect for mornings before class.  All I have to do is wake up on time and hope it doesn’t rain, since I’m not too keen on hiking alone in my tennis shoes in the rain.  If I had hiking boots, maybe…  Anyway, I’m aiming for 3 hikes a week as part of my end-of-summer in Seoul get-in-shape master plan.  Fingers crossed for the rainy season to finally end!



  1. Pingback: Student By Day, Tourist By Night (And Day) « tasty adventures

  2. First time I am visiting your blog. Looks like you are having wonderful life enricihing experiences. The pictures are beautiful. Looking forward to more. Hope to see you when you get home. Auntie Vivian .

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