This article is for the hiking enthusiasts out there. As a recent hiking enthusiast/convert, and having had hiked a few mountains myself, I feel like I have gathered enough information to make a comparison between the hiking scene in Singapore and South Korea.
The hiking scene
First off, there are more hiking enthusiasts in South Korea than in Singapore. This is expectedly so, considering that South Korea has such a large mountainous landscape. Just in Seoul alone, there are more than forty mountains to hike. Singapore, however, is an island city-state with no mountains. So when hiking in Singapore, it’s perhaps better to say you’re hiking ‘highlands’ instead of mountains; the highest natural point in Singapore is 163 meters. It is also more common to see more married/marriage-age women (ahjummas/아줌마s) and married/marriage-age men (ahjussis/아저씨s) saturating the hiking scene in South Korea. In the few hikes that I’ve done, I was usually the youngest, or part of the minority group of youths. This makes sense, given that hikes in South Korea take a significant time period of about 3-5 hours, depending on the trail and mountain. It is safe to say that hikers prefer hiking during the daytime as opposed to night time, because daytime hikes, taking into account the entire hiking duration, would ensure you would be done before the midday sun. Daytime hikes are almost impossible for the majority of youths to engage in frequently as most of them are at school. This leaves them with only weekends to engage in hiking but not surprisingly, majority of youths would have already made other plans over the weekends, since it is their only ‘free time’, virtually leaving them no time to hike. In Singapore, there is no specific age group dominating the hiking scene. Hikes here take at most, a period of 3 hours to complete (not surprising, since the highest peak is 163m), allowing people from various age groups and differing occupations, to engage in hiking at different times of the day.
Places to hike
In Singapore, the highest ‘mountain’ is Bukit Timah Hill, standing at a grand height of about 163 metres.
So while I have never hiked at Bukit Timah Hill, I have heard many positive reviews from friends and family, so much so that I am planning to attempt hiking there during my next visit to Singapore. I have however, hiked at the Macritchie TreeTop Walk, another well-known hiking site among hiking enthusiasts in Singapore. The distance to the entrance of the TreeTop Walk is approximately an hour and a half walk from Macritchie Reservoir Park and a round trip takes about 3 hours, depending on your walking pace.
In my opinion, hiking to reach the Macritchie TreeTop Walk is rather achievable (sans for the occasional steep flight of stairs or slopes), and can be completed with just the basic pair of trainers. When you’re done with ‘hiking’, you’ll probably be famished at this point. But do not worry, there is a bevy of food offerings that can be found near Macritchie Reservoir. Some of my personal favorites are ‘The Roti Prata House’, ‘Fat Boys’ (a burger bar) and ‘Old School Delights’ which sell traditional food and desserts.
Hiking in South Korea on the other hand, can be more physically demanding and might just require more hiking equipment, such as hiking staffs/trekking poles and a proper pair of hiking shoes. I have mostly hiked in Seoul and so far the more challenging mountains I have hiked at are Bukhansan and Dobongsan. For these two mountains, I took about 5 hours to hike to-and-from, including rest time. I strongly recommend getting a pair of hiking shoes before attempting to hike at these two mountains. The hiking trail is not as smooth and evenly paved as you would expect and most of the trail comprises of uneven, jagged paths lined with gravel and sand. At times, you are required to ‘climb’ boulders that can be steep enough to make you go down on all-fours in order to get the best possible grip. Aside from the difficult climb otherwise, the view at the peak is simply breathtaking. This is why I enjoy hikes; Not because I’m a masochist who particularly enjoys subjecting myself to strenuous hikes, but because of the views I get at the end. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired from the views.
For those who are new to the hiking scene, I suggest taking relatively easier mountains in Korea like Namsan and Inwangsan. It’s always good to pack some food and bring a water bottle along with you when you attempting to hike in Korea, especially since hikes here will usually take a minimum of 3 hours. Some suggestions for packed food would be a trail mix of nuts and dried fruits, and kimbap. If you forget to pack your food for hiking, don’t worry as you’re most likely able to find some food stalls selling kimbap before you start your hike.
Last but not least, proper hiking shoes. I can’t emphasize this enough. Especially so if you hike at more challenging trails like Dobongsan and Bukhansan, where you’re likely to face more rocky obstacles; literally and figuratively speaking. Climbing up is the easy part; you could easily reach the peak with just the normal pair of trainers. It’s coming down that’s the problem. By the time you’re done scaling the peak and making your way down, your knees will feel like jelly, threatening to buckle with each step. A good pair of hiking shoes is a must to prevent you from ‘sliding down’ the sandy, gravelly route down the mountain.
With that, I’ll end my post. I hope that through this article, more of you will warm up to the idea of hiking~ Happy hiking everyone!!!
By Sarah Chua, ASEAN Correspondent from Singapore