Head to a secret part of Seoul where they don’t speak English anymore

With Hallyu, everyone is getting familiar with Seoul. You’ve watched Running Man, have been to Dongdaemun midnight shopping, breakfast at Noryangjin fish market. Aha! But the national pastimes of Koreans are eating fried chicken with beer, singing at norae-bang (karaoke, or “song rooms”) and hiking! How can you drop by Korea without a hike. No, not those bustling Bukhansan or Seoraksan that travel itineraries send you. It’s Taebaeksan (태백산). The Grand White Mountain (by direct translation).

I feel selfish and wanted to protect this from travellers, because I was really at peace in the mountains of Taebaek. The air was great, crowd-less and foreigners-free. I met zero non-Koreans throughout the day.

I completed the hike alone during a turbulent period where I was living by reacting to people’s comments. I was unhappy. I was struggling to find a balance. Nature’s grandeur has a way to heal and to reset our soul. So off I went, unprepared, with only a few scribbled instructions grabbed from some blogs. There wasn’t proper info online on bus schedules anyway, which is why I wrote this guide.

Scribbling Taebaek san cheat sheet.
Scribbling Taebaeksan cheat sheet.

I really enjoyed the day hike. If you’re up for a little adventure to Seoul’s outskirt, here’s the homework I’ve done for you. The tips will get you there and back safely. I made some mistakes along the way. Sharing, so your trip will be awesome.

ONWARDS TO THE OUTSKIRTS- Taebaek

1.Take the subway to Gangbyeong Station

From wherever you are, take subway Line 2 and alight at Gangbyeon Station. The trick in Korea for non-Koreans, is to copy the characters and show it for help if needed: 강변역, “Gang Byeon Yok”, where “Yok” means train station.

I took the earliest subway departing from my hostel near Hongik Uni (Hongdae). You should too. Just check the timing and price HERE.

Take note that the last train leaving from from Gangbyeon subway station back to Seoul city centre is around 11pm-12am. Get back in time! Or you’d have to cab.

Subway schedule of last train leaving from Gangbyeon Station back to Seoul city centre.
Subway schedule of last train leaving from Gangbyeon Station back to Seoul city centre.

2. Walk to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal

The official write-up of Dong Seoul Bus Terminal from the tourism board is HERE.

From exit 4, just cross the street to the bus terminal.

Dong Seoul Bus Terminal from Gangbyeon subway station.
Dong Seoul Bus Terminal from Gangbyeon subway station.

3. Get the tickets to Taebaek

Earliest bus to depart should be 6am. As the trip from Seoul to Taebaek (not the mountain yet) is almost 3.5hours. In order to not end your hike too late (otherwise there’ll be little sunlight left), take the first few bus from Dong Seoul. I reached the bus terminal at about 6.20am and walked to the counter telling the person “Tae Baek”. I MANAGED TO GET THE LAST SEAT for the bus departing at 7am. #God_Bless. A rough schedule of the bus timings at Dong Seoul Bus terminal is HERE.

Waiting at the bus porch @Dong Seoul Bus Terminal so that I won't miss my bus.
Waiting at the bus porch @Dong Seoul Bus Terminal so that I won’t miss my bus.

4. Enjoy your ride to Taebaek

I packed some sweets and tangerines to snack while on the ride. Some kind stranger I met on my previous train trip from Busan to Seoul shared those tangerines. Do note though, gotta judge people carefully, don’t just accept random food.

Fruits exchange with a drama writer I met on the train from Busan to Seoul. I returned his generosity with a Singapore dollar coin, i think.
Fruits exchange with a drama writer I met on the train from Busan to Seoul. I returned his generosity with a Singapore dollar coin, i think.

REMEMBER. The bus will first stop at a resting pitstop where you can stretch, grab some food, or just continue to sit on the bus if you like.

Seoul to Taebaeksan: First pitstop
Seoul to Taebaeksan: First pitstop (above)
Seoul to Taebaeksan: Food station at the first pitstop
Seoul to Taebaeksan: Food station at the first pitstop (above)

After the pitstop, the bus will proceed to a bus terminal. Almost everyone emptied out, and I thought. I’ve reached Taebaek earlier than expected in good time. Hey, let me warn you. THIS IS NOT TAEBAEK TERMINAL! I got off, and even bought the ticket to return to Dong Seoul from that terminal. While I was about to enter the washroom, some Korean ajusshi (uncle), tried to say some stuff in korean to me. All I caught was “taebaek taebaek”. I just nodded gleefully, and agreed I was going to Taebaek. Finally, Mr Kind Angel appeared. Mr Kind Angel sat in front of me on the same bus, all decked in a cycling helmet and cycling tights and cycling shirt. Alas, he spoke English, and translated that the uncle was the bus driver (not some over enthu uncle wanting to chit chat outside the loo), and he remembered my ticket goes to Taebaek. He was about to drive off, but realised I didn’t board the bus, so he came to find his passenger. Taebaek terminal is the next final stop. Stunned, I showed Mr Kind Angel the bus tickets I just bought at the wrong terminal. He just said no worries, took the tickets suavely and I followed him meekly like a sheep back to the counter. He got it refunded for me. “Chwi So (cancel) jut-seh-yo (please)”, was what I learned. Or you should wear a pink cap like me, so that the driver remembers you well.

Thanking the biker, I hop back to the bus, where the driver patiently waited for me at the door. Phewf.

So so so, if you can’t say Chwi-So or don’t have a pink cap, just remember to get off at the correct taebaek terminal. It’s the third and final stop the bus makes!

4. Change to a city bus to Danggol (yes, you’re finally getting to Taebaeksan)

Before that, once you get to Taebaek Bus Terminal, please buy your return bus ticket to Dong Seoul terminal first.

This is the timing. Look out for the Dong Seoul characters (동서울). I’ve box up the bus schedules that depart to Dong Seoul.

Taebaek Bus Terminal Schedule back to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal: Bus timings
Taebaek Bus Terminal Schedule back to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal: Bus timings.

I bought the 7.20pm tickets, as it’s the latest bus I must take so that I can still catch the subway at Gangbyeon back to Seoul city centre. I didn’t have sufficient info how long the track will take at first (now I know, it’s about 4hours). On hindsight, we won’t need such a late bus, but it’s still a good strategy. If you return to the terminal earlier than 7.20pm, refund it (as I’ve learnt from my earlier mistake!) for an earlier bus timing.

Keep the tickets well. Next, proceed to find your final bus transit that gets you to Taebaeksan from Taebaek Bus terminal.

Bus schedule from Taebaek Terminal to Danggol (where Taebaeksan is).
Bus schedule from Taebaek Terminal to Danggol (where Taebaeksan is).

Take the bus heading to Danggol. Alight at the Taebaeksan Provincial Park. It’s quite obvious where to alight, because it’s like a mini terminal. The ride is only about 10mins.Below is some pic of what’s around the Danggol busstop to help you.

Foot of Taebaeksan: What you'll see when you alight at Danggol. You've arrived to start your trek!
Foot of Taebaeksan: What you’ll see when you alight at Danggol. You’ve arrived to start your trek! Look at the autumn foliage. Amazing.

5. Go pee first and get the entrance ticket

We need to get a ticket (KRW2,000) from the counter to enter the mountain. Before buying, I saw that there was a toilet opposite the ticketing counter. Head there first before your trek!

6. Into the mountain

No fear at all. The tracks are brainlessly intuitive. Your ending point should be Cheonjedan (천제단). Follow the signs.

The terrain is manageable. Of foliage, stones, and steps.

Taebaeksan terrain
Taebaeksan terrain
Taebaek terrain
Taebaek terrain: This built stone steps mean you’re near to the peak ending point of Cheonjedan

You don’t have to be too fit. It’s an easy hike.

Entire hike up and down to the starting point where you alight from the bus will be around 4hours (inclusive of time for some selfies, and a little picnic).

There are stone totems around. Don’t sit! I sat on one, and when I stood up, an ajumonim (aunty) exclaimed and started praying. Taebaeksan used to be where the royals prayed for peace and prosperity, so it’s pretty sacred. I saw many hikers bringing offerings (korean wines like soju, makgoli) up too.

Taebaeksan prayers and offerings.
Taebaeksan prayers and offerings. (above)
Taebaeksan prayers and offerings.
Taebaeksan prayers and offerings. (above)
Accomplishment: Cheonjedan peak. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Accomplishment: Cheonjedan peak. Give yourself a pat on the back. (above)
Commemorative shot: Some kind ajusshi returned a favour to take a pic for me as I helped him took a pic with the totem.
Commemorative shot: Some kind ajusshi returned a favour to take a pic for me as I helped him took a pic with the totem.
Taebaeksan view from the peak: Look at the mountains fold #Therapeutic
Taebaeksan view from the peak: Look at the mountains fold #Therapeutic (above)
Praying at the peak: I thought he walked out of a movie. That white hair and white traditional linen hanbok.
Praying at the peak: I thought he walked out of a movie. That white hair and white traditional linen hanbok. (above)
Praying at the peak: For blessings.
Praying at the peak: For blessings.(above)
Taebaeksan hike down: My food stash. Picnic at a serene spot.
Taebaeksan hike down: My food stash. Picnic at a serene spot. (above)

7. Returning to Taebaek Bus Terminal

I got back to the foot of the mountain at about 4.00pm. That’s much earlier than the return ticket timing I got. You can walk around some mining coal exhibition centre close to the Danggol busstop. Just note the timing for the bus from Danggol busstop back to the Taebaek Bus Terminal (ref to timing below).

Bus schedule: Taebaeksan (at Danggol bus stop) to Taebaek Bus Terminal.
Bus schedule: Taebaeksan (at Danggol bus stop) to Taebaek Bus Terminal.
Boarded at Danggol to get to Taebaek Bus Terminal: An ajummonim boarded a few stops later, mistaken me as a local, asked me in full Korean of how to use the electronic bus token (where you just need to tap a cute token that contains the credit). And...is that guy digging his nose at the corner? Caught you.
Boarded at Danggol to get back to Taebaek Bus Terminal: An ajummonim (aunty) boarded a few stops later, mistaken me as a local, asked me in full Korean of how to use the electronic bus token (where you just need to tap a cute token that contains the credit). My sleepy eye- bad photo moment. And…was some guy digging his nose at the corner? Caught you.

8. Back to Seoul- Zipping back to Dong Seoul Bus terminal

I reached the Taebaek Bus terminal at 5pm. That was earlier than my original 7.20pm. Nonetheless, my backup plan was to either walk around the taebaek city area around the bus terminal or try my luck and refund for an earlier one (since I know there’s the friendly refund system in korea). I managed to refund! So I left Taebaek Bus Terminal with the 5.15pm bus.

Since I returned to Seoul much earlier, I even dropped by Dongdaemun in my trekking gear. Yes, the trekking gear (it invited a lot of queer peeks). A good night shopping before ending my night back at my hostel.

Taebaeksan OOTD: Standing out in Dongdaemun (comparable to Oxford street of London) with the trekking outfit.
Taebaeksan OOTD: Standing out in Dongdaemun (a shopping district like Oxford Street to London) with the trekking gear.

WHEN TO GO:

Autumn (Sept-Oct)

This is when the weather is cool, minimal rain. We won’t see snow, so it is not witnessing the majesty of the Grand White Mountain, but it saves the trouble for special snow shoes (i.e crampons). We would catch the autumn foliage turning red and yellow!

WHAT TO BRING:

A poncho or brolly if you like

2x 500ml of water should be great (cool weather, wont be that thirsty)

Taebaeksan ammo: I packed this much. Overkilled on the water supply.
Taebaeksan ammo: I packed this much. Overkilled on the water supply.

Headlamp or handy torch (in case it gets dark)

Food/Snacks that perk you up during the hike, or to munch on while on the bus

I wore long sleeved underneath, a shirt, and a windbreaker. Do keep yourself warm since you’ll be outdoors for quite some time.

TL:DR

I came back to Seoul very happy. Refreshed. Reborn.

Next time in Seoul, be different and special. Consider a Taebaek hike. I’m sure you’d enjoy the outskirts.

(Trip made in mid-Oct 2014)

More traveling tips:

Why Hawaii, When You Can Gulang Island.

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