What is Saturdays in Korea?

Tired of doing the same old thing every weekend? Saturdays in Korea is activity club for those who want to break their normal weekend routine and do something different. For Koreans, it's a good chance to practice English. For ex-pats, it's a good chance to practice Korean. For everybody, it's a great chance to meet new people and have fun.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Manisan (마니산), Kanghwa Island (강화도) - May 5th, 2012

Located off the west coast of South Korea near the North Korean border, Kanghwa Island is host to a peaceful landscape full of history, relics, temples and not to mention, farms.  Dominating the terrain of the southern part of the island, the mountain Manisan was the location of our hike over the Children's Day Weekend.


Meeting Location & Transportation

There is only one red express bus that travels to base of Manisan.  This bus does starts near downtown Seoul at Sinchon Station (신촌역), but I found that meeting Yeomchang Station (염창역) allows an easy meeting point, especially for people not living in downtown Seoul or near the Hongdae area.  Additionally, Yeomchang Station is an express station for Line #9.

View Manisan Meeting Location in a larger map

Outside of Exit #2, you can see a westbound bus stop in the middle of the street.  From here, you can take the Red Express Bus 3100.  This bus takes a little bit less than two hours to get to the base of Manisan.  This could be long, especially if it is a good day for hiking.

You will need to get off at the second to last stop which is Manisan Entrance (마니산입구).  If you miss this, don't worry.  The last stop, which is the Hwado Kongyong Terminal (화도공용 버스터미널), is only a short distance down the road.


Once you get off at the Manisan Entrance (마니산입구) bus stop, all you have to do is turn south and there is the entrance.  Along the way up, there are some convenience stores that sell snacks, water and hiking supplies.  Additionally, there are restaurants in the surrounding areas that you can get some food at.

A few meters up the path is the entrance.  Here you must pay the entrance fee, which is 1,500 Won for adults.  Note: Telling the ticket booth attendant that 'because your Korean speaking skills are like a child you deserve the children's rate' doesn't work.

View Manisan Hiking in a larger map

For your initial hike up (the Green Line), I recommend taking the longer 2.9km hike that veers off to the right a little while after the entrance.  This path will take you along the western spine of Manisan and give you some wonderful views of the Yellow Sea.

From Manisan (마니산)
From Manisan (마니산)

As you continue up, the first, shorter path connect to the longer trail.  From here, you will come across a staircase of 371 stairs that will get you to one of the highest points of Manisan, the Cham-seong-dan Altar (참성단), which has been on top of Manisan for hundreds of years.

It should be noted that you are not allow to consume any food or beverages (other than water) while you are in the altar area.  If you are looking for a place to have a picnic, just a bit farther east, there is a helicopter pad that is ideal for picnics, as long as it is not too windy.

At this point, you need to make a decision to continue hiking eastward or go back down from the direction that you came from.  While the scenery beyond this point is still wonderful and gives you a better view Incheon International Airport, there are a couple of reasons of why you might want to turn back now.
  1. The difficulty of hiking increases.  You won't need any special gear, but be prepared to scramble up and down some decently sized rocks. Also, the decent can be a bit steep and slippery at times.

  2. Getting back to the bus terminal may be a bit time consuming.  At the east entrance to Manisan, there is a bus stop with three buses that will take you back to the bus terminal to go home.  Since this is a bus stop in the country side, the time between buses can be over an hour.  Luckily, a message board that displays when the next bus will arrive.  If it is going to be awhile, you can sit down and relax at a restaurant nearby while you wait.  Another option is to hail a taxi.  This will cost you about 10,000 Won to get back to the main bus terminal.
If you do decide to continue on (the purple line on the map) you will have a great hike.  This is absolutely my favorite part of the hike.  You will be jumping from bolder to bolder as you continue along the spine of Manisan, but don't worry, there aren't any giant crevasses that will lead to a fatal fall.  Also, a guide rail has been installed for safety.

Along this path, you can look see the Yellow Sea and almost all of Kanghwa Island.  Also, off to the south you can watch planes take off from Incheon Airport.  On a clear day, you will be able to see some of the skyscrapers of the city of Incheon (인천) and look into North Korea.

From Manisan (마니산)

Once you reach the end of the spine, you will be starting you decent (represented by the orange line).  This part can be a bit tricky since it is steep and some of the rocks you will hike across will be quite smooth.  There will also be two path options when going down: The Ridge Path (left) or the Valley Path (right).  Both will lead you to the same spot.

If you take the Ridge Path, you will come across a pavilion that has a powerful mounted binoculars that will help you peer into Incheon.  The Valley Path will take you into some camping grounds.  Just before you arrive at the camping grounds, you can see some Chinese characters that were carved into the rock face hundreds of years ago.

From Manisan (마니산)

Either way, you will end up at the Hamheo Dongcheon (함허동천) bus stop where you can catch three different buses (1, 4 & 41) that will take you back to the main bus terminal.


There are two great restaurants near the entrance to Manisan.

The first is called 'Hometown Spring' (고향의 봄) which is located around the corner from the Manisan Entrance (마니산입구) bus stop.

The other is a Dwen Jang Bibimbap restaurant (편가네돤장), just down the road from the Hwado Kongyong Bus Terminal (화도공용 버스터미널).

View Manisan Restaurants in a larger map

To get to Hometown Spring, turn right when you get off the bus at Manisan Entrance.  From there, walk east down the road until you get to the end of all the regular restaurants lining the streets.  Here, you will see a wooden sign with Korean letters for the restaurant (고향의 봄).  Turn left onto the small road and quickly turn left into a small parking lot.  This will be the entrance to the restaurant.  When we went there, it looked closed since there was nobody eating outside at the time.  But after walking into the orange building, we found the main restaurant and had a wonderful meal.

From Manisan (마니산)

The other place is a Dwen Jang Bibimbap restaurant just north of the main bus terminal, behind a small hill.  While there are buses that go that way, the likelihood of not having to wait for one is small.  It is a short 10-15 minute walk from the bus terminal.  The only downside to that is the road is surrounded by farms and the stench of manure is present, though not overwhelming.

The Dwen Jang Bibimbap there is quite famous since it has won national awards for its recipe.

Both of these places are wonderful and if you are lucky, you might get some complementary country style soft tofu.

Manisan has been a great hike both of the times that I went there.  While it is quite a bit out of the way, it does offer some very interesting things to see.  Also, if you plan to make a trip to Kanghwa Island for a few days, there are plenty of other things to do on the island.

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