Manisan on Ganghwado

Ganghwado (Ganghwa Island) is Korea’s fifth largest island. Its strategic west sea location, in the estuary of the Han River, has resulted in an immensely important role in Korean history. Wars, kingdoms, sacrifices, temples, UNESCO world heritage sites… a lot has happened here. Currently, it is a favorite weekend destination for the citizens of Seoul to catch some history, hiking, beaches, seafood and exercise.

We were planning on taking a direct bus from Sinchon bus terminal, until I noticed on the one of the municipal websites the night before that we could catch the green 97 bus from Madu station in Ilsan. That particular bus makes a million stops through Gimpo on the way, but I’m sure it saved us time.

After what seemed like forever, we finally hit the short bridge and crossed over from the peninsula mainland to the island territory. Here was the first of many strange spray down stations for passing vehicles. Rotating nozzles were dousing every car, and some unlucky pedestrians, with a liquid that foamed white when it collected on the pavement and ran off the road. What the hell was this stuff?

The bus hung a left just past a big farmer’s market area. Shortly after, it stopped at Ganghwa bus terminal, the jump off point to all other destinations on the island. English marking is difficult to find so pay attention to where you are going. It’s pretty obvious when you see it.

I went straight for the tourist info. Thankfully, the young guy working was friendly, super helpful and more than willing to use his English skills assisting us. He gave us maps in English and directed us to the next bus bound for Manisan, which was the #41. He also provided info on which buses to take from Hwado bus terminal close to the mountain, to other locations on the island when we finished the hike.

After a half hour wait, we crammed on to the super packed #41 bus and in 25 minutes we were at Manisan. One stop after Hwado bus terminal, you are at the base of the mountain. Make your way through the huge parking lot and you’ll see the usual hiking gear and convenience stores. Stocked with water and kimbap, it was time to start our ascent.

The trail is pretty steep. Most of it is covered with trees and sheltered from the sun. You will experience dirt paths, rocky paths, climbing up and over large rocks, having to hold on to ropes to avoid falling down cliffs, and the typical Korean mountain staircase.

This sign offers some info about the wildlife found in the area. We heard a wood pecker. I have yet to see a deer or wild snake anywhere in Korea. Wait, what is that? There are wild ferrets on this mountain?

Once you get high enough, there are a few great view points to stop on top of flat, smooth rock surfaces and admire the scenery. You are supposed to be able to see a lot of Ganghwado, as well as the mainland and other smaller islands out in the ocean. However, it was an extremely muggy, foggy, hazy day and we couldn’t see a lot of anything out there in the distance on the way up.

At the top, it was a disappointment not to be able to set foot on Chamseongdan Altar. The history is pretty significant. 4000 years ago, it’s where Dangun, the founder of Korea, offered sacrifices to the heavens. Many kings of major Korean dynasties followed in his footsteps, lending to its symbolic importance. Unfortunately, it’s gated off now. If you continue to the very top, to the left of the initial view and signage of Chamseongdan, you can hop on top of large rock and get a clear view and photo..

I generally dislike the pain on the way down the mountain more than the strain felt on the way up. Manisan was no different. Thankfully, the foggy haziness was starting to lift, and the way down offered a better view of our surroundings, easing the pain a bit.

At the base, we blew the dust and dirt off our bodies at the K2 sponsored compressed air station and got out of our hiking boots. It always feels so good to put on normal kicks after a tough hike. Over coffee, soda, a snack and a lot of water, we contemplated our next move. Catch a bus at Hwado and lounge at a beach? Dining at a fishing village? Check out Jeondeungsa, favorite temple to many that visit the island? Or call it a day, we were pretty wiped out.

Wanting to see at least one more something of significance before heading home, I went back in the convenience store to ask the nice couple that ran it how long it would take to walk to Jeondeungsa. Pointing at the map, I made what I thought was the universal walking sign, alternating my index and middle finger in a walking motion. She typed 15 in to the calculator, as if to suggest it would take 15 minutes to walk there. Even though we were exhausted from the strenuous hike, 15 minutes wasn’t so bad, and we set out along the desolate road.

The walk gave us the opportunity to see more of the island at a slow pace, from street level. Every available piece of land is being used for farming. Many of the houses are decorated with bright blue or red roofs. And we saw some highly provocative, borderline pornographic images sketched and carved in to a pile of rocks just a few minutes past the entrance to the mountain.

An hour later, I was hot, thirsty, hungry, very sore and tired and cursing those nice people from the convenience store because we were still walking. Finally we saw this sign. 4.6 km still, from here? Are you kidding me?

At this point, the decision was made to grab the first bus that came by. It didn’t matter where we ended up, we’d figure it out from wherever that was. Nobody was using the two run down looking bus stops we previously passed. But I did glance at one of them to notice the 3100 bus was listed. The 3100 had passed us twice so far, once in each direction. Assuming we would end up back at the Ganghwa bus terminal, we prayed for another 3100 bus stop.

Shortly after, we found one and sat down on the sidewalk to wait. The 3100 bus showed up about 15 minutes later. Boarding the air conditioned savior vehicle, we asked the driver if the bus went to Ganghwa terminal. The look on his face was priceless as he replied no… because we shrugged our shoulders and proceeded to the back of the bus anyway, snagging the only empty seat. We had no idea where we were going, but we weren’t walking or hiking.

It felt so good to sit down. But it felt even better to see the 3100 route sticker above the window, indicating that this bus was bound for Sinchon, with a stop at Hapjeong on the way. And we were heading in the right direction. Well done.

Ganghawdo has a ton to offer. We didn’t get the chance to do much because of the Manisan hike and the epic walkabout. But now that it’s damn hot, we’ll be returning in the near future to escape the heat and check out the beaches, temples and other small islands in the area.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on July 5, 2010.

2 Responses to “Manisan on Ganghwado”

  1. >What the hell was this stuff?

    Preventive disinfection measures. The island’s cow farms were hard hit by foot-and-mouth disease, you know. Some locals who have recently returned from a tour of western China are suspect.

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