This is the 31st in a series of articles highlighting tourism spots in Seoul. The guide for planning weekend trips in the capital city will help readers rediscover Seoul. - Ed.
By Heo Shi-myung/Travel writer
Hiking Bukhansan and walking by the Han River are two ways to explore Seoul. What is characteristic about the Han riverside is its broad streets and high-rise apartment buildings. If you come closer to the riverside, however, you will see different scenery, with many people taking a walk or picnicking. It is not unusual to see people jogging and biking on the paths.
One of the best ways to tour the Han River is by bike. The bike path on the south side of the river starts upstream around Gwangnaru and runs all the way to Gwangseo Wetland Park, totaling 41.4 kilometers. On the other hand, the bike path on the north is only 39.3 km, starting at Gwangjin Bridge to Nanji Han River Park.
If you have your own bike that is ideal, but you can rent one at various places along the riverside. Songpa-gu operates a free bike rental service near Jamsil subway station (exit No 1). The service runs from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. everyday, except on rainy days. Rental is available on the Jamsil dock, 10 minutes from Exit 7 of Sincheon station on Line 2.
Bike rental is popular among foreigners. When I arrived at the rental place, five Germans entered the booth with flushed faces after hours of biking. "OK" and "Thank you" are the only words needed when renting and returning bikes.
They offer several rates; regular bike rental for 3,000 won per hour, full-day rental for 15,000 won, and tandems for 6,000 won per hour. Tandems are popular with couples and parents with young children.
I rented a bike and went out to the riverside. Departing at Jamsil dock; I planned to ride upstream passing Jamsil Bridge, Olympic Bridge, toward Gwangjin Bridge. The course was uphill, but it was not hard to ride because the slope was gentle. On the riding course between Jamsil Bridge toward Olympic Bridge were a lot of tall thick marsh plants. It was so refreshing to ride against the breeze, passing fresh green plants and blue river water.
Coming near Olympic Bridge, special attention is required. According to the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, bicycles are classified as vehicles, so if bike collides with person, the rider takes the responsibility as in automobile accidents. Riders should be aware of the regulations - notably that bicycles must keep to the right. On non-bicycle paths, you should get off and walk. When turning right, hold out your right hand, while left hand for the left turn. Bicycle insurance covers only accidents caused by the breaking of the bike, not accidents caused by careless driving by you or others, so you need a special care when driving bikes.
Under Cheonho Bridge is a rest stop where you can fill your appetite with some ramen or ice cream. From Jamsil dock to Gwangjin Bridge (next to Cheonho Bridge), which is about 4.5 km, it takes only 20 minutes by bike. So one hour of rental is enough to go to Gwangjin Bridge and go further to visit the primitive relics in Amsa-dong at the end of this path.
Gwangjin Bridge has a gentle slope. On top of the bridge are a promenade surrounded by flowers and paved bike lanes. If you pass a short crossroad at the north end of Gwangjin Bridge, you can easily access Gangbuk riverside (north side of the Han River). Seoul Forest is located 8.2 km away, and Seongsan Bridge is 24 km away from Gwangjin Bridge.
The riverside at Gangbuk accessed from Gwangjin Bridge is quite different to that in Gangnam. The ground is higher in Gangbuk than in Gangnam. Jamsil in Gangnam has a wide sandy plain, while in Gangbuk, across from Jamsil, there are steep river walls. Due to these different conditions, the Gangnam riverside is close enough to the river to dip your feet in the water, while the Gangbuk riverside path overlooks the water from above. For these reasons, more people exercise on the north side of the river, and more families and couples go on picnics on the south side.
If you pass under Jamsil Bridge, you will find Ttukseom Park where you can go windsurfing or catch a cruise. Ttukseom has wide sandy plains - unusual for the north side of the river. So there are outdoor playing facilities including a swimming pool and artificial rock-climbing walls. Ttukseom is worth stopping to enjoy the variety of attractions around the area.
Recently the government has invested in creating more bike paths. The total distance of bike paths in Seoul reaches 259.8 km, including the path along the Saetgang, a tributary of the Han River. Seoul announced a plan to build an additional 207 km of bike paths by 2012.
When strolling along the river at sunset you can see some beautiful sights. While passing Ttukseom toward Seoul Forest, I saw the sunset glow reflected on the surface of the river. Jungnangcheon merges into Han River just past Seoul Forest. Above the confluence is Yongbi Bridge. Under Yongbi Bridge is a smaller bridge for pedestrians and bicycles.
The average length of Han River bridges is more than 1 km, and the longest one is more than 2 km long.
Once you cross Jamsu Bridge to the southern side of the River and go down along the riverside, you will meet Dongjak Bridge and Hangang Bridge. The riverside area here is narrow, so there are only thin lines of bike track and walking path available. The bike track becomes wider only after it reaches Yeouido, where an open lawn spreads out. But the park area at Yeouido is under construction at the moment.
I departed at Jamsil dock where I rented the bike, passed Gwangjin Bridge, and reached the final destination, the Yanghwa district bike rental located under Seongsan Bridge at the downstream area of the Han River. It took total of 4 hours, which was longer than usual as I stopped to take pictures and watch people fishing. The journey could easily be done in 2 hours.
After 4 hours of bike riding along the Han River, seeing Seoulites walking, biking, and playing out on the riverside, I feel I finally found where the real life in Seoul is.
Han River bike rentals (paid): Seven rental locations in Jamsil, Jamwon, Banpo, Yanghwa, Gangseo, Ichon, and Mangwon open from 9:00 a.m. until sunset (until 8 p.m. during summer). Leave your ID or car keys as a deposit. One hour rental for regular bikes costs 3,000 won, tandems cost 6,000 won. You can return the bike at any rental location during weekdays. For more information call 02-761-7568 or 019-313-0062.
Han River bike rentals (free): Operated by town offices, limited numbers of bikes are provided and in some stations the rental is restricted to 2 hours. On weekends, you may have to wait in line. Free bike rental locations; Jamsil Station (02-3431-3480); Pungnap-dong (02-475-4380); Eungbong Station (02-2293-8111); Oksu Station (02-2293-8003); Gangbyeon Station (02-475-4380).