Korea has a vast network of long distance bike paths. Along each path there are red phone booths every 20km or so which contain a stamp. If you collect all the stamps in a cycling passport, you earn the right to purchase a medal for your accomplishment. Cycling passports can be purchased on the
Riverguide website or at the start of some of the trails. Ever since I accidentally stumbled upon these booths while riding my bike around Daejeon, I always wanted to try to complete it. During my February “spring” vacation while I was teaching English in Korea I had the perfect opportunity to attempt the East Coast Bike Path.
My Cycling Road Tour Passport to collect stamps in.
Usually Korea is fairly cold in the winter. Average high temperatures in the costal city of Gangneung in February are around 44°F (7°C). However, during a short stretch of four days in February, the weather forecast was a streak of 4 days in a row of temperatures closer to 60°F (16°C). The next time I would have enough days off work to cycle the East Coast Bike Path wouldn’t be until summer vacation. However, if I waited until then I would have to deal with hot Korean summer weather. Even though my knee was still injured from my
national park hiking trip in January, I decided this would be my best opportunity to cycle the Korea East Coast Bike Path before my teaching contract would finish in August. A Night in Pohang
The Korea East Coast Bike Path extends from near the border with North Korea all the way South to Busan. However, the stamps that you must collect to officially complete the trail stop in Yeongdeok, 50km north of the city Pohang. Yeongdeok is quite small, so no busses go directly there from my home in Daejeon. On the other hand, no busses travel directly to the northernmost point at the Unification Observatory near the DMZ. Instead I chose to take a direct 2.5 hour bus to Pohang and ride north from there. I left Daejeon on a Thursday night so that I could start the trail early the next day. This should maximize my time with the incoming stretch of warm weather.
My set up: A Trek FX1 with the cheapest luggage rack and saddle bag I could find.
When booking a hotel for the night, I had the option to stay in the city for cheap or to spend a bit more and be right on the beach. Since this was my vacation I decided to splurge a little for the beachside resort. Normally prices are much higher, but due to low demand in the off season it was quite reasonable!
My beachside resort room at the Valentine Hotel in Pohang for $55 USD/night. The huge window looks out over the ocean! Links: Affiliate / Non-affiliate
I booked a hotel right on Yeongildae Beach, just a couple kilometers north of the Pohang Bus Terminal. After locking up my bike and dropping my bags off in my hotel room, I set off to explore the vicinity. This whole area seemed like it would be a popular night life/weekend beach trip type of place. Bars, cafes, and restaurants lined the beach, while a giant steel factory in the background lit up the area with bright lights. However, the streets were quiet. Not only was this the offseason, but the bars were also forced to close early due to the social distancing level of the Covid-19 pandemic. I imagine on normal summer nights this place is pretty crowded.
A Korean pavilion on the beach that was lit up. The bright purple lights in the background are from the large steel factory, POSCO.
Standing on the pavilion in the cold with the view of the beachside resorts and bars in the background.
Not far from my hotel I found a Korean pavilion out over the water with a good view of the city. I walked out there for some pictures, but didn’t stay out for too much longer. I wanted to get to bed early so that I could wake up early for sunrise on the beach. Sunrise would be at 7:00 a.m., so I set my alarm for 6:40 to give myself time to walk down to the beach.
Sunrise on the Beach
When I woke up and opened the window, I already saw a red orange glow on the horizon. I noticed for the first time that it wasn’t actually open ocean across from my hotel. A mountainous peninsula blocked my direct view of the sunrise. The weather wasn’t supposed to warm up until later in the day, so I bundled up in all my warmest clothes before heading down to the beach.
View from my hotel room just before sunrise.
The beach was mostly empty except for a few elderly people on morning walks and some groups of seagulls. Overall I have been lucky with the weather when I wake up for sunrises. The last time I had been up for sunrise was when I
climbed Mt Fuji. I had a clear horizon then, and this time there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Views from the beach right before the sunrise started.
The sun rising over the distant Homi Peninsula.
It didn’t take long for the sun to start shining above the mountains. I walked around the beach looking for interesting things to photograph with the sunrise in the background. Eventually I found a strange statue. I’m really not sure what it was, but I did think it looked cool with the sunrise, waves, and POSCO factory in the background. After walking around snapping photos for a while, I headed back to my hotel room for a large brunch. Before going on long distance bike rides I always like to have a large meal. It was still freezing cold at this point anyways, so I hoped it would be warmer after I finished eating.
Sunrise at Yeongildae beach. Korea East Coast Bike Path – Day 1 Begins
The Korea East Coast Bike Path adventure officially begins!
Now that the sun was higher in the sky I could feel the temperatures slowly rising. There was a cold breeze coming from the ocean so I still needed my winter gear. However, I figured that after riding for a bit I should warm up. As with all the other trails in Korea, the East Coast Bike Path follows a blue line painted on the road. Finding the line was easy because it was right along the beach that I had stayed at. The first section of the trail followed the coast where I saw many people taking morning walks. Views along this section were fantastic; you could see the city in the background with crashing waves of the blue ocean in the foreground.
Views of Pohang as I leave the city behind.
In America it seems like cities slowly transition into suburbs and then into rural areas as you leave the city. In Korea you can end up in rural places just minutes outside of city limits. I had only ridden for about 50 minutes when I already felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. Once I left the popular walking path behind the bike path was completely empty. Perhaps I was the only one crazy enough to plan to ride the Korea East Coast Bike Path in winter.
Beach views along the Korea East Coast Bike Path.
Some Interesting Tourist Attractions
An elevated observation platform to see the sea.
In the morning I had a very pleasant ride overall. The path meandered through small fishing villages right on the coast with beautiful ocean views on the side. Every so often the path came to special viewpoints for tourists, such as this observation platform. I never really felt the need to walk out on the ocean boardwalks; I had plenty of opportunities to see the ocean along the way.
While cycling the Korea East Coast Bike Path I saw more seagulls than I’ve ever seen in the rest of my life.
In addition to ocean boardwalks, I stumbled upon a Korean War museum. It was built into what appeared to be a real battleship of some kind. I walked up to it to see what it was about, but I ended up skipping the museum due to time constraints. If I had more days available on this trip it would have been nice to take it slower and stop at these places along the way. Unfortunately the warm weather would only last for four days. I needed to cover as much ground as I could before the cold returned.
I found a Korean War museum along the Korea East Coast Bike Path that was built inside a real Korean battleship. Yeongdeok Crab Village (영덕대게마을)
One of the most interesting areas the Korea East Coast Bike Path passed through on my first day was the Yeongdeok Crab Village. What I first thought was just another small fishing town turned out to be a big area dedicated to one thing – crab restaurants. I think I saw more crab restaurants on this one street than I had ever seen in the rest of my life combined. Crab restaurant after crab restaurant lined the streets all the way through town. Are they all pretty much the same? Which is the best? Unfortunately I’ll never know as I had eaten just a couple hours ago and I wasn’t ready to spend money on a large meal.
Yeongdeok’s Crab Village – a small town with more crab restaurants than you could ever eat at.
I did end up stopping for a snack when I saw a shop selling 대게빵, “crab bread”. Was it real crab meat baked into a savory bread? I wasn’t sure what it was and I was curious so I had to try it. Turns out it is just a sweet, crab shaped bread filled with your choice of walnuts, blueberries, or custard. Not exactly what I expected but it made for a decent snack anyways!
Trying the crab bread. It was good, but there was no real crab in it!
Even after leaving the Crab Village the crab theme continued for a while with various crab statues and art installations. If you ever visit Korea and want to taste the best crab, this is probably the place to be. I can’t say for sure because I didn’t eat any, but if there is this much it has to be good, right?
A statue just outside the Yeongdeok Crab Village. The First Stamp on the Korea East Coast Bike Path
Leaving the Crab Village behind I came to the first major uphill section of the East Coast Bike Path. It wasn’t too steep, but it was high enough to get a birds eye view of the ocean. By now it was midday, and the weather had finally warmed up enough that I packed my winter coat into my bag. Going uphill always makes the weather feel warmer. The first stamp was at the top of the mountain, so I took a quick break at the stamp booth. Now it was time to take rest for a while and plan the remainder of the day.
My first view from up on a mountain. The Korea East Coast Bike Path has a few mountains to climb, most of which have impressive views of the sea.
You can stamp your cycling passports at these phone booths. This was my first stamp on my Korea East Coast Bike Path trip!
Usually on my cycling adventures I book a hotel whenever I get tired. However, many of the hotels along the Korea East Coast Bike Trail are seasonal and closed for winter. In order to guarantee that I wouldn’t be stranded in the middle of nowhere I had to plan ahead slightly. I didn’t want to find myself hours away from the next hotel as the sun went down. Using my phone I checked a few hotel booking sites for accommodation. I found a hotel on the beach with vacancy 30km down the road. The next one after that was a further 20km away. I didn’t think I had another 50km left in me, so I booked the hotel 30km away.
Views like this cover almost the entirety of the Korea East Coast Bike Path. The bright blue water contrasted against the green mountains and dark rocks made for a beautiful ride. The Second Stamp on the Korea East Coast Bike Path
The last 30km seemed to go by quickly. Time flies when you are riding on such a beautiful bike path! However, once I approached the last town where my hotel was, the wind picked up. For the last 4km of the ride I cycled directly into a strong headwind. My fast pace was ruined! Worse still I was getting pretty hungry at this point. I really just wanted to reach the end quickly to eat a nice dinner and warm up in my hotel room. That last 4km felt like it took just as long as the 26km before it, but eventually I managed to fight through it. I arrived at the second and last stamp of the day. My hotel was less than one kilometer from this stamp, so I checked in shortly after stamping my passport.
My second and last stamp of the day!
Two stamps down, 15 to go. Checking Into My Next Hotel
The hotel owner was shocked to see a foreigner cycling at this time of year. I guess I really was the only one crazy enough to come here in the winter! She gave me a big bag full of oranges to bring with me for the rest of the ride. These will be good snacks on the road! My room was small but cozy, and I had another nice view of the ocean from my window.
My hotel room at Yeongdeok Goraebul Hotel (Non-affiliate link).
In total I cycled 52mi / 84 km on this first day. At this rate I could finish the entire Korea East Coast Bike Path in five days. The good news was that I had enough days off of work for this. The bad news was that that would mean cycling through one really cold day. All things considered I was quite happy with this pace because I did it all with an injured knee. As long as my knee doesn’t hurt too bad in the morning I should be able to complete the rest!
Continue reading about my Korea East Coast Bike Path journey:
Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5