I recently heard about a lesser-known spring flower destination: the Goryeo Mountain Azalea Festival (고려산진달래축제). A little tired of the crowds at the Yeoido Cherry Blossom Festival, I decided to check out this alternative flower fix, which is located on Ganghwa Island near to Incheon. Another plus point is that the azaleas bloom a week or two after the cherry blossoms, so you can still visit them in mid or late April, when the weather is slightly warmer (say 15 degrees in the afternoon?).
To get to Goryeo Mountain from Seoul, take subway line 2 to Hongdae and get out at Exit 2. Catch the big red bus 3000 from the traffic island in the middle of the road, heading southwest. You’ll want to get a seat as the ride can be more than an hour. The bus brings you across the Han River and past Seonyudo Park before hitting Gimpo Airport and finally, Ganghwa Terminal.
Ganghwa Island is a fairly large place to the west of Seoul, and a great day trip nature getaway. It is sparsely populated, perhaps because it borders North Korea, and is a habitat for endangered species like the black-faced spoonbill. However, the marshes where they feed have been polluted by the reclamation and construction of Incheon Airport to the south.
At Ganghwa Terminal, you can pick up brochures and maps on the Azalea Festival and ask for directions from the info counter. They’ll probably tell you to catch one of the yellow buses, 38 or 49, to Goryeo Mountain itself. There should also be a fair number of middle-aged Koreans dressed in hiking gear who are heading there.
The first part of the hike has nothing much to see, just a steep climb through dense forest that will leave you panting and sweating. It’s only when you reach the top of the ridge that you see the beautiful pink azaleas spread across several hillsides. You then have the option of walking along the various ridges to take photos.
Besides azaleas, Goryeo Mountain will also feature many other colourful blooms in April, including cherry blossoms. Look out for the cow farm and also see if you can spot locals foraging along the roadside for medicinal and edible herbs.
Although the travel time is pretty long – more than 2 hours one way – the azaleas are definitely worth seeing and I’d love to come back here sometime.
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