How to: Goryeosan Azalea Festival
We recently embarked on a ~3 hour travel to Gangwha-gun from Yeonsu-gu, Incheon. It's northwest of us and juuuuust south of the border :) . We attended the Goryeosan Azalea Festival that consists of a small hike, some festive colored lanterns, and a number of tents serving pajeons, makgeolli and more. The neat thing about this festival was that there were almost zero foreigners. Often times, festivals are what attracts both Koreans and Waygooks (foreigners) but this one was a bit of a tough one to navigate to. If you're reading this and wanting directions, please continue. From our place in Songdo, we took the subway up to Gyeongin National University of Education on Incheon Line #1. From there, we exited the station at Exit 2 and walked straight until we quickly came to a bus stop. We hopped on Bus #90 and took it alllllll the way to the end of it's route at the Ganghwa Bus Terminal. This was about an hour and a half ride on an inter-city bus so prepare yourself!
At the Ganghwa Bus Terminal, there were massive posters with tons of information on about a million different buses...in Korean. Luckily, there was a Tourist Information Center there. From our research, we were trying to get to Dolmen Square so that's what we told the ajumma at the information center. She wrote down the bus number, platform, time of departure and destination on a small piece of paper and handed it to me. Bus #32 on Platform 5 to Dolmen. It seemed that most of the people at this terminal were headed to the festival. You'll likely see a bunch of older Korean men and women dressed in their colorful hiking gear, ready to go. Follow them.
Take the subway to Incheon Line #1, Gyeongin National University of Education
Exit #2 out of the station
Inter-city Bus #90 to Ganghwa Bus Terminal (last stop)
Ganghwa Bus #32, Platform 5
This bus ride was only about 20 minutes. We got off when literally everyone else on the bus was getting off. It looked like we were in the middle of nowhere at a tiny intersection. We followed the seasoned hikers past the bus stop and up a trail. This was "the hike to the hike" as every hike works in Korea. The small road was paved and there were no cars driving on it, thankfully. It was a quaint little area with a mural along the wall, a few adorable houses, and plant life everywhere. We even saw a ton of dairy cows!
After about 15 minutes of walking, we reached a T. Straight ahead, there was a tent with tables, food and drinks. Don't worry, this will not be the only one. We were unsure whether we needed to go left or right. People were walking both ways, but we took a small leap of faith and chose the path that seemed busier. We turned left. From here, you can't get lost. The road runs next to a military zone where pictures are prohibited so...be careful. At the same time, people were picnicking along almost every part of the road on the way up.
Along the way up, there is a flat area with a temple and a map. At the time, there was music playing, people both resting and hiking with intent. It was one of the bigger stops along the way. We took the dirt trail up where the sign "등산로" pointed. This was the hardest part of the hike as it is a VERY steep incline. However, it's not that far so take your time if you need to, but know that it doesn't last forever. It eventually meets back up to a paved road.
We shortly reached the first observation deck where we saw a blanket of pinkish purple azaleas covering one side of the mountain. Beautiful! The majority of the hike from here is a wooden platform with multiple observation decks. Each one, crammed with people trying to take their best picture or selfie.
At the summit, we wandered a bit further than most until we found a nice little secluded area where we rested with some water and tteok - Korean rice cakes with steamed flour, filled with red bean paste - delicious!
About halfway back down, we stopped again at one of the food tents. There were about 4 other "rest stops" with tables, chairs, food and drinks. If you want the good stuff though, wait for one with a tent and people cooking. That's where the best hiking snacks are. It was so busy, people were vulturing the area looking for seats in the shade. We managed to snag two chairs and a hot spot in the sun but the makgeolli and pajeon were absolutely delightful. I have a feeling I will always be craving these things after a hike...and I'm not sure how I'll survive without them back in the States.
It was a long, eventful day, but such a good start to our hiking season!