This past weekend I went to hike 지리산 which is the highest mountain in Korea’s mainland and the second highest mountain when you include 제주도 (Jeju Island). Peter and I have been trying to get in a lot of hiking in Korea before heading back to the U.S., but really have not had much time. I am really glad though that we took the effort to come out to 지리산 because it turned out to be a gorgeous day with gorgeous views.

We met on Sunday morning around 7:40 at the 광천버스터미널 (bus terminal) and I ate a breakfast of rice, beef and vegetables (소고기덮밥) at the food court there. When I left the house around 6:50 everyone was still sleeping and I did not want to wake up anyone by moving plates and pans around in the kitchen. Peter ate at his house before coming to the station because his host dad tends to wake up early.

We then took an hour and half long bus to 구례 which is a very rural county of less than 30,000 people and the home of Korea’s very first national park, 지리산 (Jirisan), where we went hiking. The tickets from 광주 to 구례 were 7,800 원 which is just a little more than $7.

Although 구례 was one of the most rural places I have visited in Korea, it still had public transportation options. Once we arrived to the bus station there (which had only 11 bus ports, which included both local and national buses) we asked the ticket lady how to get to the base of 천왕봉 which is the name of 지리산s peak mountain. She told us that it was not possible and it turns out that 지리산 is so big (its a national park of many mountains) that you would first need to take an hour long bus ride to get around to the east side of the mountains. So we decided to do the next highest peak called 노고단 (1,508m) which starts at a temple site called 화엄사. The lady at the ticket counter told us which local bus to take to get to 화엄사, helped us buy tickets and then told us to quickly get on the 11 bus. I do not know how this trip would have been possible if we could not communicate in Korean. Before getting on the bus we went to a little restaurant and 편의점 by the bus station and got 김밥 and 과빼기 to eat on top of the mountain. A packed lunch was only 12,000 원 for the two of us combined.

So then we took the local bus that the lady told us take. We checked the bus sign to make sure it said 화엄사 before getting on. On the bus ride we remarked how much slower the life in 구례  is compared to 광주. But in fact 광주 life is sooooo much slower than 서울 life. We passed by four girls on a four person bicycle. Clinging to the bag of the bike was a fifth girl who was ride a little hover board. We also passed people riding trailers through rice farms and some 민박s which are little rural getaways for city people. However, after about half an hour our bus turned around at a dead end and started heading back for the bus terminal. Apparently the bus was not going to 화엄사 that day… so we learned our lesson the check with the driver the next time. Although we wasted an hour on the local bus, it was fun to ride and see the little town of 구례 and people watch.

We ended up getting off in 구례s little downtown and calling for a taxi. We actually got off of the bus in front on an empty taxi but did not take it because we wanted to use 카카오 taxi which is kind of like Uber. You put in your arrival address before hand and can track where you are on a map while you ride. This way we could prevent getting 바가지 쓰’d (ripped off) because we are two foreigners who do not know to roads of 구례. It also tells you who the driver is so it is safer. When we got in the taxi we called, the taxi that was already there honked angrily at us… so I realized we should’ve moved a little farther away from him before calling the Kakao taxi.

On our way to the trail we walked through the 화엄사 temple where there were quite a bit of tourists. We decided we would check it out at the end of our hike and headed to the trail immediately upon arrival. It took about 3 hours to the top and about 2 hours down the mountain. Unlike 무등산 you do not really get any views until you make it to the top. It was also a lot steeper than 무등산 and I was pretty tired by the end of the day. That day we walked 16.5 miles, or 26.5 km, which is 35,784 steps up 268 flights of stairs.

Here are some photos from our hike. About 90% of these photo credits go to Peter!

The flat section of the trail that welcomed us after 7 km of rather steep hiking.
Clear skies! Both our host families and teachers kept telling us to not go because of the rainy season.
Upon a second look of this photo I realized that the sign behind Peter’s leg says “do not lean on the fence.” Oops.

On our way up the mountain we met a lot of 아줌마s and 아저씨s which I was not surprised about; young Koreans seem to not like hiking. A lot of the older Koreans we met really liked Peter because of his good Korean. They were usually super surprised at first and then wanted to continue to have a conversation with him. One even called him “이쁘라!” “pretty!” We also saw a ton of bees on our way up the mountain. Maybe it was the anti-mosquito bracelet I was wearing or the 과빼기 snacks in my bag, but the bees kept darting towards me. Here is a panoramic photo I was trying to take when all of the sudden at bee attacked.


Also on the way up was a 매점 (snack bar) at the 노고단 대피소 (rest area) which was a really pleasant surprise because we drank through our water much more quickly than we expected. It was clear skies for our hike and rather hot. Next to the 매점 were other hikers who brought up much more ornate picnics compared to our 김밥, which is like luxury food coming from the U.S. where we usually eat PB&Js at the top of mountains. But the other hikers brought ramen and fruit and sweet potatoes and even little pots to boil the ramen in. They also brought 막걸리 and were sharing it among all the hikers. That is one thing that I noticed with Korean hikers, compared to the U.S.; they share the food they bring up the mountain with even strangers. When I was hiking in Seoul Koreans would often offer me and my friends some of their 참외 or 사과 (melon or apple).

Peter thought this looked like a Star Wars scene. Of course Korea has intense cell towers on top of their highest mountain.
Perhaps the most Korean thing we saw on the hike. An 아줌마 and 아저씨 both on their phones while in front of a gorgeous view. I bet the wifi speed was superb too.

We then hiked up a little farther in the mountain to get these incredible views. We were there in perfect timing because about 20 minutes later the fog started to come in and the visibility drastically dropped.

Really cool to see how “rolly” the Korean mountains are. Looks like velvet.


Also super cool to be eye level with the clouds.


As you can see the fog came in very quickly.
We are in the clouds!

To continue the tradition, Peter and I got ice cream at the end our hike. I got 뿡어빵 ice cream and he got the milkshake ice cream. The lady who sold us the ice cream kept saying that we looked very similar, like siblings (닮았어! 닮았어!), and that we should 결혼하세요 (get married).

Also before we left 구례 we toured around 화엄사 temple which is easily the prettiest temple I have ever seen in Korea. Because it is rather isolated there was like no one there. Usually when you visit a temple it is flooded with tourists. It was also memorable because it was nestled right in the mountains.


Peter’s camera got so foggy because of the humidity. Here’s the before shot.
Here’s the after shot once he wiped his camera lens.


This dog was so adorable as was trying to catch the water skimmers in the pool of water in front of me.

Soon the time to head home came and we walked back towards the base of the temple’s mountain to call for a taxi. On the way down we saw some couples swimming in the stream there and I would have joined if we did not have an hour and a half bus ride in front of us. At the stream we saw an interracial couple, which was very 신기해 (interesting) to see in such a rural area of Korea. The boyfriend was white and the girlfriend was Korean. We actually met them by the 매점 and at the 산정상 (peak of the mountain), so seeing them for a third time we now waved at each other.

Also on the way down we saw a giant beetle, yet again continuing the adventure of seeing giant animals on our hikes. First a killer asian hornet, then a snake, and not a beetle the size of my two thumbs combined. I wonder what is next!


That’s about it for that day… I really enjoyed the hike and talking with Peter. We honestly just kept talking for almost 11 hours, which I really can only do with a handful of really close friends. We talked about our friends back home (and how we somehow have all these weird friend connections), school, the government, our time in Korea, host families, bees (lol), and just a tooooon of other random little things which we would always ask each other how and why we started talking about that topic.


Hopefully before the next three weeks are over we can hike 월출산 which has this amazing bridge at the top between two peaks.


2 thoughts on “지리산

  1. Alexi…great writing and pictures. Almost gave me a heart attack to see you sitting on the railing overlooking the mountain. So much want to travel in Korea with you – although I don’t know if I could keep up. Proud Dad.


  2. Alexi – great pictures of a gorgeous country. I’d love to hike with you but I’d need the mountain to be flatter (LOL). Love, Nannie


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