Have you ever wished there was a tunnel instead of an endless, steep hill? Or a tarmac bike trail away from the noisy road? Not having to share the road with anyone but other cyclists? Bridges only for cyclists? Free toilets and showers? Water fountains to fill up your bottles with fresh, cool water? Vending machines selling snacks and drinks? Convenience stores and restaurants? Benches every couple of kilometers? Free camping spots? Cheap motels? A dirt cheap 24-hours spa? Bike shops? Inflators to pump your tires for free?
Sounds too good to be true? Well, what if all this was actually true? Pack your bike, book a ticket to South Korea and enjoy it all!
We first heard about a bike path in South Korea while we were in Georgia, around a month into our trip. We started researching and came across the Four Rivers Bike Path. This path connects Seoul with Busan (Korea’s second largest city) over a distance off 630km and is entirely for cyclists.
As the name says, the path follows four big rivers including dams and hydroelectric power plants. There are also other bike paths connecting to it (if you’re up for even more adventure).
With Beijing as our destination at that time, we weren’t sure if and when we were going to tackle the path. We always kept it in our minds as an option. Only when we were not amused about China, we decided to go to South Korea and end our trip in Asia by riding a trail that so many others had raved about.
We had visited Korea before and knew some Korean, were familiar with the country and how the people tick there. Having been once to Seoul and once to Busan, it was time for us to see what lies in between.
We entered South Korea in mid-July and were shocked by the weather. In China it was hot and rather dry, whereas in South Korea it was hot and humid. We felt as if we were working out in a sauna. We knew that July and August were the hottest months of the year and with most rain. To our surprise, the temperatures were between 35-40 degrees Celsius (unusually high) and there was no rain at all. On one occasion, we measured 47.5 degrees Celsius around noon in direct sunlight. Later on, we talked to locals and they all said that that summer was the hottest and with the least amount of rain they could remember. If you want a more pleasant experience, the best time to visit South Korea is either in spring or in autumn.
We decided to cycle from Seoul to Busan (north to south), yet winds have the opposite direction during summer so that we mostly faced a moderate breeze. In the heat, we very much welcomed some cool air. However, there was also a tropical storm going by the south-eastern coast of the country which caused a strong head wind for us that was not pleasant anymore.
We divided the whole journey into nine legs. Some were as short as 30km and others were as long as 80km. Depending on how much you carry, you can be much faster or take even more time. All the tunnels lie betweenn Seoul and Yangpeong. For the rest, you will have mostly short but steep hills, the longest being located between Yeonpung and Mungyeong and lasting for 10km over an inclination of 10%. At the end of this work out you will find yourself at the highest point of the trip (ca. 500m).
Most of the time we had the path all to ourselves, meeting maybe one or two handful of people per day. Near the biggest cities the path was much more frequented. Cycling and especially mountain biking are very popular in Korea so that on weekends some parts of the trail can become quite crowded. What adds to this is that, on the weekend, you can take your bike on all subway lines (in Seoul and Busan) and also on some suburb trains, which makes the path very accessible. Even on weekdays you can take your bike on some lines of Seoul’s subway network (for more info on when you can take your bike on which subway line see this table).
There are signs along the way that tell you where the Four Rivers Path runs, but they don’t tell you which river you are following, and when two rivers merge, there may suddenly be two paths. Gratsi got lost several times. Once, she made a detour of 20km on one of the hottest days while Jan was desperately waiting for her as he was running out of drinking water and didn’t have any money to buy some. From that day on, both of us carried “emergency money”.
Convenience stores along the path and in towns offer plenty to eat and drink for hungry and thirsty bikers: energy drinks, burgers, gimbap (Korean sushi) and instant soups. The three biggest chains are called “7Eleven”, “CU”, and “GS25”. You don’t need a camping stove as all the shops have a microwave and a hot water dispenser. Should you prefer healthier food we advise you to eat out. Buying from a supermarket and cooking at home or at a camping site will cost you at least as much as going to a restaurant.
Once you check into a motel, which usually costs between 25,000-45,000 Won for a double room, you get everything you need to chill for the rest of the day: a towel, air-con, tooth brush, shampoo and even a face mask. Along the path there are motels every 50km. In general, every little town has one. We barely booked in advance, but walked in and asked if they had a room for us.
Only once did we have trouble finding a motel. We set Yeunpung-myeon as our goal for the day as it seemed to be a small town on the map. Yet, there is only one motel and when we arrived the owner wasn’t there. Luckily, a lady from a small restaurant nearby was so kind to call her for us. We advise you to choose either Sangmo-myeon or Mungyeong instead as there are at least a dozen motels.
After we had finished cycling the Four Rivers Path, we hopped on a bus back to Seoul. Would this be the end of our bike trip? We finally agreed that flying back home would be too boring. Instead, we decided to cycle home. No, not from Korea. No way that we would go back to China, and the weather in Japan was as hot as in Korea. We longed for cooler temperatures. Thus, we chose as the starting point of the last leg of our journey Riga, the Latvian capital. From there, we would cycle another 2000km before reaching home.
Jan & Gratsi
P.S.: Check out our route map to see where we are!
P.P.S.: We hit the 5000!!!