It was bad luck that our departure coincided with the arrival of a huge tropical storm. The flight from Dumaguete arrived late and it's departure was further delayed due to the backlog of flights trying to land in Manila because of the rain. Once over Manila the plane had to circle a few times through the impressive thunder storm that was raging.
We just wanted to get to our accommodation so joined the queue for a fixed price taxi rather than the slightly cheaper metered ones with a much longer queue. It made good progress along the raised expressway but the descending exits were all into flood waters with some cars already abandoned. The roads were rivers and people were wading in water above their knees, quite used to this frequently occurring problem.
|Outside the hotel|
Our flight to Seoul was the next afternoon and as the rain continued we were anxious about getting to the airport along the flooded streets and whether the runway would be open. The taxi driver set off, through knee deep water. Within 750m we came to the back of a traffic queue caused by a deeper section of flood water. He did a quick turn right, through a petrol station forecourt, out the back over some rough ground, round a car park and out onto another back street. From there he took the shortest route onto the raised expressway and so we got to the airport.
By the time we got on the plane it was raining so heavily that the whole runway was covered in a couple of inches of water which gave a spectacular spray as the planes took off. Because we were heading to Korea, our flight path was straight through the massive weather system of Typhoon Trami. There was a group of school children sitting across from us. The turbulence was quite bad and every time we went through a bad section all of the school children screamed in unison. It was quite unnerving, but we landed safely, even though we were three hours late.
There was a long queue to get through immigration and then when we arrived at the baggage carousel the bikes were not there. It was now about 11pm and the airport was shutting down for the night. At the lost baggage counter we were told that no over sized luggage (ie bikes) had been unloaded. Dreading the fact that the bikes had been left in Manila the young man disappeared off to check with the plane baggage handlers.
Then he came back to say that one of the bike bags had ripped and the porters were having to carry it by hand from the plane. By now we were convinced it must be damaged, but when it eventually came off the luggage carousel there was only some slight damage to the plastic mudguards, but everything else was OK. Also, it was after midnight and the bus which we had planned to get for the hour ride into Seoul city had stopped running. So we had to get a very expensive taxi van.
|Admiral Yi Sun Sin Statue|
|Cheonggye Stream at night|
|Palace Guards at the gatehouse|
|Deoksugung Palace roof detail|
We also wanted to read more about the history of Korea and to understand more about the various wars that have been waged over it and the continuing stand off with its northern neighbour. In our hunt for some of the best books about the Country we came across the very readable account called Korea And Her Neighbours by Isabella Bird Bishop. She was a traveler and writer and made her journey into the heart of Korea over 100 years ago, but her riveting account is still held up today at the forefront of books about Korea. It is a very interesting and readable story that gives a good grounding to understanding the psyche of the Korean people.
Seoul to Cheongpyeong - 73km
Getting out of Seoul was so much easier than anticipated. From the hotel we headed up to Cheonggye Stream. This is a beautifully clean waterway (apparently pumped at great expense from the mountains) which flows through Seoul city almost parallel with the Han river.
|Old bridge on Han river|
|Rest stop cycle pump and map|
On this sunny Saturday morning there were lots of cyclists, singles, families and groups, enjoying the riverside. The further away from Seoul the fewer bikes there were. It was noticeable that all the Koreans were riding expensive multi geared mountain bikes with suspension but the slightest hint of an incline and they were off the bike and pushing to the top.
|Olympic Bridge over the Han|
Sections of the cycle path run underneath the raised motorways which follow the rivers. So you can cycle in shade and, with not so much noise transmitted downwards, it is very peaceful.
We turned off the Han river to follow the Bunkhan river north east. This valley also has a more recently completed cycle path all the way to Chungcheon. Along the way were lots of shady rest areas and stalls selling drinks and snacks.
About 3pm we decided to find somewhere to stay but the only accommodation were seedy looking motels with no receptionist, just a machine for the money and how many hours would you like?
At Cheongpyeong we gave up looking for anything better and booked into a motel with a receptionist. These places are very well equipped, with all the usual shampoo, shower gel, hairdryer but also conditioner, moisturiser, big tube of toothpaste, condom, cotton buds, razors, brush, comb and hair gel. The one thing they don't have is big towels. The ones provided are the size of small hand towels. A big flat screen TV with several English language channels and computer are normally included also.
The town was quite small but as we wandered around looking for food we spotted a chef in whites and tall hat preparing sushi and had a great, but expensive meal of tuna.
Cheongpyeong to Chungcheon - 42km
The one thing the motels don't provide is breakfast, but there was a coffee shop down the road. French bakeries are very popular in Korea and most of them serve coffee and have seating.
The replacement railway is on one side with the river on the other. This project has only just been completed and there were fewer cyclists and not so many seats or refreshments. The only shade at lunchtime was in the car park underneath the railway station.This area of Korea is due to host the 2018 winter Olympic games, advertised on the posters at the side of the road.
The last section of cycle path at side of main road was closed. The sign was in Korean only but was pretty obvious. We crossed onto the other side of the river onto another, longer and uphill cycle route into Chungcheon. Lunch was the dish for which the city is famous, chicken marinaded in hot chili sauce and cooked on a table centre charcoal barbecue, served with lots of pickled vegetables (kimchi).
It was only 2pm so we decided to carry on north to Hwacheon as we had an idea that the cycle path continued up to there. After 8km the path we were following stopped at the busy highway and the only quiet road to Hwacheon was over a big big hill. So we returned to Chungcheon and stayed there overnight.
Chungcheon to Yanggu - 66km
|Vegetation taking over the cycle path|
Crossing the river we started climbing up the old Highway 46. A new road, with exactly the same number, has been constructed, climbing up the valley through a 5km tunnel. So the old road is perfect for cycling. Three lanes wide, smooth tarmac, no traffic and no noise from the new road. The gradient was steep in places, up to about 15%, but having the whole road to use meant we could zig-zag up the steeper bits.
|View on the way up|
The top was just above 600m and then a short descent to join with the new highway for about 10km on a broad hard shoulder. A roadside cafe served a delicious spicy noodle soup for lunch.
Yanggu to Girin - 62km
For the next two days our route would follow highway 31 south, through the Naerincheon river valley.
Leaving Yanggu we started a 350m climb up a wooded valley. There were soldiers everywhere. Most of them were young recruits on training exercises. They all looked far too young to be in the army. The roads north into the DMZ had soldiers controlling access.
|Wood, bark and fungi|
|Huge roadside ants|
A short tunnel saved us from the last 100m of climbing and then came the exhilarating downhill into the areas which saw the most intense fighting of the Korean war. This brought us into the river valley and we began a gradual climb.
The river is used for whitewater rafting but the water levels at this time of year are quite low and although some rafts were descending they were having problems getting along in the still waters and kept running aground on the rocks.
The lower part of the valley was rocky, narrow and scenic but as we climbed higher it was wider and less attractive with lots of agriculture, mostly market garden crops.
We stopped for the night at Girin which has a large army and air force base. The town was pretty grim and the row of motels along the road all looked grotty. We picked one at random which as expected was not very clean, with bedding that didn't look to have been washed recently so we slept in our silk sleeping bags. With so many military personnel it served mainly as a brothel and we were kept awake all night by the customers on the corridors.
Girin to Soksa - 82km
Today's ride was a hard one, with over 1100m of ascent, continuing on Highway 31 up the river valley. The road was busier with many heavy lorries and this section of the valley broad and boring. We had a climb up a small bluff before dropping down to Sangnam Myeon and a coffee stop. The 31 started another climb ahead of us so we checked the map and found a small, possibly unsurfaced, road which followed a winding river valley, rejoining the highway after about 8km. It starting well with a sleek tarmac road. This ended after 1km and became a rough, stony track that was regularly washed out with floods.
It was a difficult ride with loaded bikes and we wondered if 7km of this would be too exhausting. But 1km further on it went onto concrete and was surfaced all the way to the junction back onto the 31, a lovely scenic valley.
The hot afternoon didn't help as we continued to climb up the gradually shrinking river. The serious climbing started at the 60km point and we gained 450m in the next 8km. By now we had left all the traffic behind and except for some roadworks everything was quiet and still. Squirrels ran across the road and butterflies and wild flowers decorated the verges.
Soksa to Jeongseon - 52km
It should have been a lovely ride today, mostly downhill through a beautiful winding and steep sided river valley. But it rained....seriously heavy stuff with a strong, gusty wind. The rain started just as we walked out of the motel so we ran over to the 7/11 for breakfast, hoping it would stop soon.
It wasn't all downhill though, with two surprisingly difficult climbs. First one only about 100m over a bluff, but the gradient felt much steeper than the 10% sign suggested. The second one was higher, with the wind forming vortices which threatened to blow us off the road. We reached Jeongseon about 2pm and found a little cafe for a very enjoyable and necessary late lunch.
Jeongseon to Taebaek - 64km
Once again we got somewhat confused by the old and new roads, both numbered 59 and almost ended up going through a new tunnel before turning back over the river and onto the old road.
The whole day was spent in river valleys, gently climbing into the mountains. Leaving the highway, we took NR 424 and then 412, along an impressive gorge with pine clad slopes.
Further up the valleys there was more agriculture. Recently harvested chillies were spread out in the sun to dry.
At the valley's end was a steep climb up to 1,000m through the cabbages and back into the forest again. From there it was mostly downhill, turning onto Highway 35 and into Taebaek. This is an old coal mining town, now a centre for mountain activities and reminded us of some of the alpine mountain towns. Getting through the town was difficult as they were in the middle of laying very smart new stone pavements so the traffic was chaotic and the road very rough.
Walking round the town that evening we had our first sighting of a 'handbag cat'. Having seen plenty of small dogs carried in bags it was a shock to hear this cat meowing loudly at an outside cafe table. We saw a couple more further south in Korea.
Taebaek to Jukbyeon - 65km
The morning started with all the most horrible aspects of a cycling day at once. Torrential rain, low cloud, uphill straight away on a busy trunk road, heavy traffic and road works. Oh and did I mention the head wind?
With the poncho's on it was a battle against the wind so the 100m climb took masses of effort. After the crest of the hill there was a downhill glide but the rain intensified and the clouds got lower. A little cafe offered a bit of respite so we dripped our way inside, much to the amazement of all the locals. We had coffee with an added measure of some sort of local liqueur and a packet of digestive biscuits.
There were roadworks ahead and a workman on traffic control duty. He had his back to us and was on the phone so didn't hear our approach, even though Steve rang his bell. Our sudden arrival startled him and he gave us a lecture in Korean, which we didn't understand and waved his illuminated stick quite a bit, before letting us go through.
|First beach on east coast|
We booked into a motel in the fishing port town of Jukbyeon. It seemed like it should be a busy little holiday place but there were no holiday makers. The harbour was lined with fish restaurants, with racks of tanks filled with all manner of seafood but the restaurants had hardly any customers.
|The birthday party|
Instead we went into a tiny little sit on the floor place with only two tables. One of them was already occupied by a lively group of locals celebrating a birthday with the usual large quantities of Soju. They gave us big slices of birthday cake for our pudding.
Jukbyeon to Yeonghae - 71km
At 9am in the morning there was absolutely nowhere open for breakfast. It's difficult to get used to the fact that very few accommodations here serve breakfast. We tried to find a route along the old 7 road, now replaced with the motorway. It wasn't easy, even with the combined information on the paper map and the sat nav.
Getting to Uljin was enjoyable, riding along narrow concreted lanes, through farmland and small villages. There we found a' Paris Baguette' for breakfast, thank goodness the Koreans love their 'French' bakeries.
South of Pyeinghae there are several bays with sandy beaches but at this time of year they were all deserted. There are quite a few motels but although the doors were open there was no reception, just a phone number to ring and we were concerned whether any of the restaurants would stay open with so few customers. So we continued on to the next major town, Yeonghae, about 8km further down the coast.
Yeonghae - Day Off
|Goesi Ethnic village|
We giggled at the dead rat in the drain cover, obviously only recently deceased, and tried to figure out how exactly he had died, aren't rats supposed to be able to get through the narrowest of spaces?
When Karen went to the 'ladies' she found the sink occupied by a bright green frog.