Getting to know Korea's mountains
Kim Chang-dae started the Seoul Hiking Club 13 years ago with one intention: to share the beauty of Korea's mountains around with foreigners. What surprised Kim was the lifelong friendships he has made with people from around the world.
One of the most important friendships of his life was made through the club. Kim now counts Danish-Korean Christian Rhee as one of his closest friends. The two often have dinner together and Kim helped Rhee start his own business in Seoul.
“Through the hiking club, I have met different people from over 20 countries,” Kim said. “While climbing, we have more than four hours to talk and get to know each other. And after the hike, dinner and drinking makes us closer.”
The 45-year-old Kim was born in Gyangsang Province, runs his own small theater and is a producer of plays and musicals.
What makes mountains in Korea special is their accessibility. In Seoul, it’s possible to take the subway to any number of mountains for a good day hike. Enhancing the ambiance are Buddhist temples scattered throughout the country.
Kim’s favorite is Bukhansan. but he said Soraksan in Gangwon Province is at the top of most tourists’ and expats’ list.
The Seoul Hiking Club is made up of about two-thirds expats and the remainder are Korean. The climbs last from three to five hours and are usually capped off with dinner (and sometimes a party).
All that’s needed is a pair of good hiking boots and a positive attitude. Kim suggests picking up any equipment you need from the market near Dongdaemun in Seoul. Prices for decent footwear range from 60,000 won to 200,000 won.
“Hiking regularly leads to a healthier body and soul. The long hikes help us get closer because we have no choice but to focus on our hiking partners.
“I became more international and generous through the friendships I’ve made over the past 13 years with expats and tourists. I still contact friends from around 20 countries on Faceook every day.”
The club has meet almost every Saturday since forming on Jan. 3, 1998.