A breakdown of where to sleep after a long day of biking in Korea.
It’s well past sundown. North of 100 km, you conquered hills and filled your memory card to the brim. Exhaustion clouds your thoughts. You ask, ‘Where am I going to lay your head?’ Here’s a guide to finding accommodations while cycling in Korea.
Thankfully, Korea is dense. You’re never too far away from a good place to crash. From the bubbling Jacuzzis in love motels to Christmas light-festooned glamping tents.
Just outside the apartment complexes stacked like dominos, the wild still calls in Korea. Wake up to sunbathed hillsides. Listen to the four rivers flowing all night long.
Hiking and camping is a favorite past time for Korean’s of all ages. You’ll often see families set up tents in city parks. Twenty-somethings plop base camp on the beaches. And, riding along the Nakdong River, you’ll spot the glow of Christmas lights of glamping sites.
If you cycle across Korea, camping is great option to keep your trip wild. You can easily reserve a plot in a national park or commercial campsite. Or, you can go guerrilla and pitch your tent in the many riverside parks.
Always keep in mind the familiar camping mantra: Leave No Trace.
Where to Camp
During the spring and summer months, you’ll see plenty of tents set-up in parks. Mostly, these are families or friend groups setting up base camp for a few hours. It’s a good place to keep snacks and lounge out of the sun when not going on a hike or bike ride. Most don’t stay overnight.
The Korean National Park Service operates thirty-four campsites throughout Korea. They are near national parks or other natural attractions.
The park service offers a variety of plots for all types of campers.
- 일반 캠프장 (normal) — bring your equipment
- 자동차 캠프장 (auto) — bring your car or RV
- 카라반 캠프장 (caravan) — rent a caravan
- 풀옵션 캠프장 (full-option) — rent tents and everything else you need
If you rent a site in a public park during peak season (July and August), expect to pay ₩100,000 for a large caravan, ₩50,000 for a glamping tent, ₩7,000 for a normal plot.
Each campsite receives a rating. With a special campsite, you can buy the full-on glamping experience. Rent whatever you need to escape the city in style. Basic campsites will provide you with a patch of ground and a toilet.
There are also many privately owned campsites. These campsites on private land, run by a local ajumma (old women; 아줌마) or ajeoshi (old men; 아저씨) in a house nearby.
If the campsite is empty and you can’t find a place check-in, go ahead and set-up your campsite. The next morning, you might get a friendly knock on your tent door. Just ask eol-ma-ae-yo (How much is it?/얼마예요?). Expect to pay something similar to the public parks (₩7,000 – ₩15,000) for a night.
Private campsites might also offer tents and glamping supplies and caravans for rent. But, expect sites near famous hiking spots to be booked full when the weather is warm.
If you want to live free and claim a small riverside patch for the night, go for it. But, be discrete.
Look for a spot out of the way. Don’t camp on private property or a conspicuous spot in a national park.
Great places for guerrilla camping the green parks along the four rivers or an empty beach on the coasts.
Korea has tons of public toilets littered throughout its parks and beaches. They come in handy if you don’t want to go completely wild.
Remember, the Leave No Trace mantra. Guerrilla camping is okay only because most campers are respectful. The before and after pictures of your campsite should be identical.
Rules on camping are evolving with Korea. Big cities like Seoul are now restricting the day tenting. Camping tents are being relegated to designated parks along the Han River.
To keep that new earth smell in Korea, it’s important to practice good camping behaviors. Here are some basic rules for camping in Korea and beyond:
- Clean up after yourself.
- Keep your gear organized.
- Don’t create open fires.
These are common sense rules. Plastic wrappers and beer cans are ugly and dangerous for other campers and wildlife. Don’t do it.
Additionally, campsites can get cramped. If you’re in a national park during peak season, you might only be a meter from your neighbor. If your gear takes up one-and-a-half plots but you only paid for one, you may receive a few complaints.
Open fires are illegal. You can cook food in your campsite. However, use designated fire rings or portable grills. Korea has sixty million people. The waves of embers catching wind from a few thousand bonfires would look apocalyptic.
If you guerrilla camp, it’s not a good idea to create any flame. You are a guest wherever you set your stakes. Drawing attention to yourself is a bad idea.
Korea Travel: What To Bring
Remember, you need to have the capacity and endurance to carry whatever you bring. Here is a simple list to help you prepare.
Panniers are very useful for transporting camping gear. If you decide to haul everything in a hiking backpack, the weight will settle on your shoulders and waist. Panniers keep the weight on your wheels.
For sleeping, you can opt for a tent or a hammock. A tent is best for colder months. You can pitch on any patch of flat land and keep the bugs out. However, tents easily turn into steam rooms in the hot and humid months.
Hammocks are lighter than tents. They help you catch that summer breeze in the summer months. But, you need to find two correctly spaced trees. A bug net will keep the mosquitos off. A tarp wards off the morning dew.
Remember, it’s dark at night. If you go with the guerilla camping option, there’s not enough ambient once the sun goes down. Wearing a headlamp on your forehead gives you two free hands to rummage through your bags.
Don’t pack food like it’s the end of days. No matter where you are, there will be a grocery store, mart, or a convenience store along your route. If you plan to cook dinner on your campsite, you can pick up groceries in the afternoon.