The Korean peninsula has been divided between north and south for over 60 years. In land size North Korea is slightly larger but has only half the 50m population of the South, which also has the lions's share of infrastructure and development. This means that cycle touring is really only in the South, although it is now possible to tour in North Korea
South Korea, while densely populated, is highly urbanised with many large cities. The big advantage of this is that the countryside is relatively quiet and peaceful - at least away from the many busy highway corridors. Fortunately most of the time on your bike tour you're not even aware of these.
Over the past decade or so, a tremendous amountof money has been invested in cycling infrastructure around the country - particularly outside the cities. That is not very well known by the rest of the world but this is changing, and future years are likely to see a big increase in cycle tourism. The vast majority of this was in the Four Rivers Project completed in 2011.
This project was primarily to secure and protect the water supply and provide flood mitigation. However a by-product of this was building a first-rate bike path network alongside the rivers and across the dams - no roads or traffic in sight most of the way! Many are also on old converted rail lines and incllude several bike-only tunnels.
The Han River (Hangang) flows through Seoul and this network includes the Bukhangang (North Han) and Namhangang (South Han). The other rivers are the Nakdonggang to Busan and the south, the Geumgang in the west and Yeongsangang in the southwest. Together with another path joining two of these river systems (Saejae Path) you can now easily ride the 633km from Seoul to Busan.
In all this riverside network covers 1757km of countryside - side trips to hotels and restaurants will give you a taste of town-life.
Although over 70% of the country is mountainous - much of it is inaccessible to all but the most adventurous mountain bikers. Road riders may also enjoy the steep climbs and switchbacks, particularly in the north where the roads are relatively quiet.
A number of popular mountain bike trails have been developed or built around the country - particularly concentrated around Seoul in the northwest.
The Seoul metropolitan area has over 10m people, and although most live in high-rise apartments the footprint of the city is large. Like most big cities cycling infrastructure is not particularly good although there are excellent paths along and around the mighty Han River, which itself seems surprisingly underutilised. You will also see outdoor gyms everywhere and these are very well used.
During the week the bike paths are very quiet but on the weekend Seoulites of all ages and sizes get on their bikes and cycle the city or paths nearby. City parkland areas that are ideal for cycling include Yeouido and Sangam-dong, site of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. As mentioned above many will also go to the surrounding mountain bike trails and areas.
Sometimes called the Hawaii of Korea, almost 100km off the south coast is Jejudo, a sub-tropical volcanic island. Tourism is now the main industry with the vast majority of visitors being from China, although it is also popular with Koreans and Japanese.
The island is dominated by Mt. Halla (Hallasan), a dormant volcanic peak. However around the island is a fantastic network of trails and coastal roads making it ideal for cycling. Being not especially big a few days cycling here is perfect.
A popular scheme where you can obtain a special bicycle passport and get it stamped at numerous certification 'telephone' booths along the riverside trails. There is an awards system for when you complete a section or the whole network. This is also available to overseas cyclists and a passport will cost around $5. I have previously written about it in more detail in this article
Earlier this year a new bike path from Goseong to Samcheok was opened. This is along the northeast coast and is planned to extend To Busan with a final length of 720km. There is also a strategy to upgrade the cycling infrastructure in Seoul. If you're aware of anything else new or upcoming then I'd love to know - pop it in the comments below.
Off the bike
Koreans love their food, quite rightly, and there's a lot of variety and tastes even if you're not into hot or spicy food. This excellent cuisine is one of the most unique things about Korean culture.
Hundreds of Buddhist temples are found throughout the country, some bigger and more significant than others. Some of these run temple stay programs - or stay in a tradional hanok with wonderful underfloor heating.
The royal palaces are also very impressive. There are some very old buildings but one of the unfortunate legacies of the Korean War is that bombing destroyed so much history and culture – although reconstructions have gone some way to correct this.
Korean people are very polite but friendly - a few phrases in Korean will make a big difference (hello - annyong haseyo; thank you - kamsahamnida). Tipping is not required or expected.
Weather varies a lot with cold winters, particularly in the mountains- the 2018 Winter Olympics are at Pyongchang in the northeast. Summers are hot and humid with spring and autumn being ideal for cycling – especially during cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.
So what are you waiting for? Go Cycle Tour Korea before it is discovered by the world.
Check out below some of the awesome tours available from the best operators.
For more information I recommend the cycling page of the Visit Korea
website. There is also a great blog at worldbiking.info