by Jan Boonstra
BACK to index page Bicycling in Korea
During the first 2 days it was terribly hot and hazy, so the mountains were dissolved in the grey sky and I was panting like a dog on a hot day, because my bloodveins couldn't get rid of the heat. Going uphill was a terrible struggle. I was exhausted throughout the day. The next 3 days were a lot cooler but it rained incessantly. I passed through the famous Soraksan mountains and reached the east coast. Again, the mountains were hidden behind the clouds and I kept on cycling, everything being wet, wet, wet. So, what's the fun so far? I may be a strange guy, but I did enjoy it. The weather made it all an even bigger achievement and I liked all the contacts with local people and holiday makers along the road. I learned that Korean holiday makers always have fun, it does not matter if the sun is shining or if the rain is pouring down. It also doesn't matter if they are relaxing on a camping site or jammed in the traffic.
A bit more about my tour: the weather became very fine and I continued through the center of the country, heading south, most over small roads. I went as far as the Chirisan mountains, where the road went as high as 4000 feet. What I particularly enjoyed was the friendlyness of the people in the countryside. Far away from the cities one gets a different view of Koreans: mostly a better one. I have been drinking rice wine and been fishing in the middle of the night with Koreans and some of them lived in Seoul, while I saw them as typical countryside people. But they were in their home village during the vacation and once back in their home atmosphere, the change like a chamelion. Of course I also enjoyed the beautiful nature. The mountains, the villages, the relaxing atmosphere, Korea sometimes looks like paradise.
And then, when I wanted to mount the bike in the morning in Namwon for the last stretch to my final destination Kunsan, I found my bike was....... stolen! After reporting to the police I took the bus to Kunsan, feeling bad and disappointed and changing my opinion of those nice, honest countryside Koreans. During the following days, the police in Namwon seemed really concerned about the matter and even the chief of police called me to tell how much sorry he was to hear that such a thing happened in Namwon. He promised to turn the town upside down in search of my bicycle. And then, 3 days later, I was called again with the message: we found your bike! This is amazing! So the next Sunday, a collegue drove me by car to Namwon in the early morning, because I was determined to ride my bike to Kunsan and finally complete the tour cycling after all.
The police was proud of themselves and I did my best in complementing them. They did not accept my "ddok-kaps" (money), even after much pushing. I could only buy the chief and the officer-in-charge-of-my-case a coffee in the coffeeshop next door. Then, the officer-i-c-o-m-c (mr. Kim) took me to his home (he also drove me to the bus station on the day of the theft) and showed me his family or, maybe more applicable, showed his family a peculiar species of mankind, dressed in bicycle shorts. How exciting is the life of a police officer! Then mr. Kim took me to Namwon's tourist attraction no. 1, the Kwang Han Yoo park, in memory of the legend of Choon Hwang that took place there. Mr. Kim did not want me to leave his town before I had absorbed some Korean culture and I was grateful to him. Countryside people are nice after all. I bid him farewell at 11 o'clock and headed for Kunsan on my bike, on which a few items were missing, but which was further in a good state.
from left to right mr. Kim, the happy cyclist, the chief of police