Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Great Outings in Seoul with a Dog: Yongma Waterfall Park and Namsan

After a long hiatus, I am going to attempt to finish all the remaining posts I have backed up before my big move to LA next month. First, I have some great photos to share from a couple of outings we had last May with Kongi the wonder dog - Namsan and Yongmasan!

Yongmasan is one of several popular hiking destinations within the Seoul city limits. It is a short, relatively easy climb to the 348 meter summit, and the trail continues on to another easy nearby peak, Achasan. Best of all, at the base of the mountain some clever engineers have constructed a giant artificial waterfall. The lush green backdrop and three sets of falls cascading into a large aquamarine pool create a Maui-like scene right here in Seoul.

Knowing that the falls are only turned on at certain times, I had done my research ahead of time to determine the exact time we should arrive in order to catch the action. According to the information given at the official Seoul tourism website VisitKorea.or.kr, the falls were scheduled to turn on every day at noon, 2 pm, and 4 pm:

I arranged for us to arrive just before 2 pm. It was a national holiday (Buddha's birthday), and the park was filled with Christians having some sort of rally.

We wended our way through a sea of cars and picnic mats to the base of the falls, where we sat and patiently waited for the water to turn on. After 2 pm came and went with no action, Unni observed a discreet sign hidden in the shrubbery off to one side:

VisitKorea.or.kr, you big fat liar! Turned out we'd have to wait another hour for our waterfall, while listening to the  harsh tones of Christians shouting out raffle numbers over loudspeakers.

We decided to kill time by taking the hiking trail up the mountain. After about 15 minutes the sounds of the Christian rally finally faded to nothing behind us, but then we rounded a ridgeline and heard the loudspeakers from an equally obnoxious Buddhist rally floating up from the next valley. Eventually we climbed high enough to escape the noise.

The trail wound through some nice shady woods before climbing up a seriously intense series of stairs, then opened out onto a rocky incline leading up to a pagoda; the whole trail seemed designed to offer a variety of excellent photo opportunities.

Mindful of the time, we turned back at the pagoda. When we returned the Christians were still carrying on, playing some sort of game that involved lining up and shouting out commands on the loudspeakers, and the waterfalls had finally turned on.

The pool was weakly cordoned off by a shoulder-high fence with gaps at either end wide enough for a child to easily slip through. There were about a dozen kids splashing around the falls, while the adults sat and watched from the other side of the fence. I was tempted to hop the fence myself, but I didn't see anyone over age 12 in there, and I didn't want to be the Ugly American.

So we sat around watching for a while as Kongi patiently endured the caresses of one little girl who was absolutely smitten with her. Eventually I gave in to the temptation, slipped off my shoes and clambered awkwardly over the fence for a quick splash under the nearest waterfalls.

The falls cut of sharply at the end of the hour, and we headed home, leaving the Christians to carry on with their noisy rally in peace.


A few weeks after our Yongma adventure, my friend Tracy was visiting from the US, and we decided to have an outing to Namsan, a small green mountain in the heart of the city that is a mecca for dating couples and a must-see stop first-time visitors to Seoul.

Namsan is often compared to New York's Central Park. The description in accurate in the sense that it is a fairly large swath of green planted right in the middle of the urban jungle, and there are a variety of trails and attractions sprinkled throughout. And it is dog-friendly.

First we walked through the "wild-flower garden," which was disappointingly barren of fresh blooms at the moment, and discovered the mythical short stretch of "wilderness trail" in the park.

The "wilderness trail" dumped out after about 200 meters in an obligatory excercise equipment-and-pagoda rest area. Tracy and I waited there for a while as Unni moved her car, and Kongi charmed the pants off of a few elderly people resting in the shade.

Kongi and Tracy!

After that we headed back across the flower garden to the "foot massage path," a stretch of embedded stones upon which visitors are encouraged to tread bare-foot for a therapeutic foot massage. Tracy and Unni tried it and reported that it was quite painful in places.

After the foot massage path, we located the "Shilgae-cheon," a pleasantly manicured bubbling brook running beside the path offering more good opportunities to show off our photogenic doggie.

Our original plan was to follow the trail up to the summit, which I have visited many times before by less circuitous routes. However, by the time we reached the first freshwater spring the sun was beginning to feel oppressive, so the gang took a vote and decided to head back to the car. Kongi, of course, would have been happy to go on all day, but she graciously appeased the wishes of her two-legged companions.