One of the most liberating ways to escape the grips of the pandemic has been to spend time cycling the rivers of Korea. The Geumgang Path makes its way east from the port city of Gunsan to the northern edge of Daejeon. The river winds through ancient Baekje territory and the modern administrative capital of Sejong. This was my wife’s first long-distance ride, so we decided to take it slow and enjoy the scenery.
Day 1 – Gunsan-Buyeo
After taking a morning bus to Gunsan from Seoul, we dropped into a local hotspot for lunch to fill up on spicy chicken soup before hitting the paths. The official path begins a few kilometres outside of the city centre at the final weir on the river. The mudflats at this time of year are littered with a few leftover nets and dotted with birds pecking for food. The post-storm skies were moody and the wind that came with them was quite strong, but we made our way out of the city and the river opened up before us.
As we made our way towards Iksan, rows of cherry blossoms and the crowds they draw meant a slow going journey with plenty to look at. While the blossoms were pretty, I feel like this section of the ride would be a lot nicer with the fresh greens of May or the post-summer lush grasses. The mountains and woods of this section of the path are spectacular and would be at their best with a little more regrowth.
Nonetheless, the edge of the storm provided a gorgeous sunset background for the last 20km of the path into Buyeo. The higher water levels from the storm brought the fishermen out in droves and the elk skitting across the path to drink from the river. We even spotted a few eagles circling overhead. It was a wonderful change from Seoul, where the only animals are pigeons and mosquitoes!
Day 2 – Buyeo-Daejeon
We had initially intended to keep this day almost free of riding and only make our way from Buyeo to Gongju. In truth, these are the most interesting stops along the way, so we wanted to take in some of the historical sights before moving on. In the end, it didn’t work out that way. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I started the morning with a quick ride over to watch the sunrise in Buyeo’s Gungnamji Park. This gorgeous manmade pond is surrounded by dozens of smaller ponds with paths that wind between them. All are filled with lillies, ducks, or reflections of the trees above. This park alone would have been worth the journey. With the cold night caused by the storm, I was hoping for fog on the pond but that was not to be. Still, I managed a few nice images of the scene before breakfast.
After a cup of coffee, we visited the UNESCO listed site of the Baekje era temple Jeongnimsa. The museum was under renovation, but we were still able to visit the grounds and see the Baekje style of painting on the building that houses the remains of the Buddha statue. Once the Silla dynasty took over, the much more complex and busy style of painting we see on Seoul’s palaces was in vogue. It was nice to see the simpler decoration of the Baekje kingdom.
After that, it was back on the road with gimbab in the bag to make our way to Gongju. Without the previous day’s wind, we made good time and had the whole afternoon to explore the Gongsan Fortress. This made for a great break from cycling and a chance to stretch a different set of muscles. I highly recommend it, if only just for that!
We decided we’d do the extra few kilometres after this and stay the night in Sejong. When we arrived, however, we discovered that the river just touched the southern end of the city and the distance to any of the hotels in Sejong would have been the same as finishing the ride to Daejeon. So, we opted for the latter. This ended up being quite a good decision as the section of river after Gongju isn’t particularly interesting. Sejeong is just a cluster of apartment buildings and the north side of Daejeon is dotted with factories and not much else. At one point, the path even takes you through the grounds of a cement factory! This was a far cry from the beauty of Buyeo and Gongju, so we’re glad we made the extra effort.
Day 3 – Daecheong Dam
The previous day’s ride left us with just 7km until the end of the path at Daecheong Dam. On the way back we dropped down into the Lohas Family Park and sipped coffee while watching kindergarten children chase the falling cherry blossoms. The perfect way to finish off the ride.
Overall, the Geumgang Path is a nice ride. The Sejong and Daejeon areas detract a bit from the historical and natural scenery of the rest of the ride, but knuckling down and getting through those opens up to some of the nicest areas of Korea. If I were to do the ride again, I’d start in Daejeon, skip straight to Gongju and stay the night there. Then on day 2, I’d ride all the way through to Gunsan with a lunch stop in Buyeo. Just my take on the more interesting parts of the ride. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey with me.