Since moving to Korea, I’ve realized how much I love hiking. Fresh air, epic views, and a good ol’ fashioned sweat: what’s not to like? Many things, actually. I love the peaceful nature of hiking and being alone in the forest. Korea is a big country for hiking, as the entire peninsula as well as Jeju Island is covered with mountains. You meet a lot of friendly people on the trails, too, who love to greet you and smile at the waegooks on the trail. That being said, Korean hiking can also be my worst nightmare. Below, I’ve prepared a list of behaviors to engage in if you want to be the worst, most annoying trekker.
Being a trail hog
Everyone who wants to hike should definitely do so. People go at their own pace and, obviously, some people are faster than others. While there’s nothing wrong with taking it slow, I feel like there needs to be some sense of self-awareness. In Korea, it is all too common to find yourself stuck behind a large group who don’t want to let you pass them. This is a bit rude, in addition to being irritating. Be aware of your surroundings on the trail and let people who are trying to pass do so. It’s just common courtesy.
Stopping for a photo and not moving
Majestic peaks, ascending above the clouds, deep multi-colored valleys: yeah, it’s definitely perfect for a photo opp. However, this one goes along with what I said above. Be conscious of those around you, especially during peak season. Try to move off to the side or, if you’re trying to get that perfect angle, wait until the people behind you have passed. It’s no secret that Koreans love taking selfies, and the invention of the extendable arm for smartphones has only reinforced this phenomenon. Photos are great. Stopping all your momentum for someone else to take 20 selfies with peace signs thrown up is not. Just saying.
Dragging kids along
Kids can be lovely. Kids exercising is even lovelier. But if you’re going to bring your child(ren) to climb a mountain all day, at least try to do it right. Those little legs need to rest sometimes, so take them off to the side at a grassy area or observation deck. Not doing so results in yet another Korean traffic jam that is very unpleasant for your fellow trail mates. Kids also tend to have an underdeveloped sense of self-awareness when it comes to physical space. It’s your job to make sure they stick to one side and don’t cause someone else to trip and tumble down the mountain.
Taking ages to rehydrate
Many hiking venues in Korea place watering holes (essentially) every couple of kilometers so that you can refresh and rehydrate. Some people opt for taking a break at these places. Makes sense, right? This does not mean that the water station is yours and yours alone. The other day I was hiking and a family pretended that my friend and I weren’t there, equally as thirsty but far more sweaty. Share the love (and more importantly, the water), folks.
Being unfriendly to fellow hikers
I feel like hiking is a kind of bonding experience for all those involved. Most people would prefer to be alone on the mountain, but hey, if you can’t, you might as well be friendly. More often than not, I’ve found older Koreans to be enthusiastically chipper on the trails, offering hellos and amazed expressions at seeing some waegooks on their mountains. However, not everyone is like this (and I think they should be). If I’m passing you (especially in tight quarters) and offer a cheerful hello, I kind of expect you to say it back. It makes for a much more pleasant hiking (and intercultural) experience. I don’t think this is unreasonable, do you?
When traveling in Korea, I’d highly recommend making a journey (or many) up one of the thousands of mountains. More than likely, you’ll have a mint time, especially if you go early in the morning and/or during the “off-season”. Just be prepared for the above-mentioned setbacks.