A trip back to the Insadong area allowed us to finish up the souvenir shopping and even some Christmas Shopping. This must be a record for me for starting my Christmas shopping. I suspect the same cannot be said for Darlene.
After finishing our shopping expedition, we tried to find a walking route that is listed in the Lonely Planet guide book. The walk would have taken us past areas where Shaman rituals are performed. The guide book did state that part of the area is under redevelopment. When we got to the area we found many apartment buildings where we felt there should be small alleys to navigate. We walked trying to find the area and the path. We have learned that when you are looking for many tourist things in Korea going uphill is a pretty good bet. We kept going up, asking directions periodically and kept getting told to keep going up. Soon we got to a gate with police / military personnel, we asked for Inwangsa and got told to carry on – “100m on your left”.
After 100m there was a fence and gate to go through. A young Korean man dressed in black active wear was standing beside a sign that asked visitors to be respectful in the area and the sign told us that the practicing of shamanism is prohibited. This was the first sign that we may be in the right area. We started hiking up the trail, which was not terribly well maintained and neither Dar or I felt it was quite right. To our right there was a fence with barbed wired on the top. Along the trail we passed another gate – through this gate several soldiers exited a compound/barracks area. We continued up the trail. After a while we came upon an exercise area and then another more updated exercise area. These are common on many trails.
The trail turned up hill and each step was marked with white paint, which I think was reflective. We passed a small sandbagged bunker. As a clearing opened up, we could see a magnificent view of parts of downtown Seoul and old Royal Palaces. We continued up hill through a gate topped with more barbed wire. As we reached the next opening we could see military observation posts, several soldiers all dressed in black active wear and golf shirts — just as the young man at the bottom of the trail was dressed. One observation post was well developed and was topped with a large piece of artillery. We continued another 300 m to the summit of Mount Iswang and we were treated to a great view of Seoul from all angles. It was a great treat on a sunny and cool fall day. From the hill you could see old parts of the fortress wall that used to protect Seoul. In some areas it has been restored and at points along it you can see new military observation towers.
Korea has mandatory military service and we have seen many Koreans in uniform traveling to and fro on the subway. This hike was the first real ‘military’ presence we have seen in Seoul where you can begin to appreciate that this is a country still officially at war. Even so, the soldiers were not carrying weapons and they were dressed to blend in with hikers in the area.
As we stopped for a break and had a nectarine . Two women at the top shared some of their cookies with us. Just another small example of the friendliness and generosity of the Korean people, and a great way to close the trip.