Rivers are natural storytellers. The brightest and grimmest tales take turns in settling around its banks. The rest of it go unnoticed, carried downstream, and into the sea.
Han is no exception. This river has seen tribes, kings, dynasties, conflicts, periods of peace, a united Korea, and two Koreas. At one point, it was dying like the city around it, barely breathing from the ashes of the Korean war.
These days it just bisects the capital, Seoul. But now, more than ever, however mundane everyday life is, Hangang teems with life – Gangbuk (north of the river) or Gangnam (south of the river) style, whichever way you want it.
Biking Along The Hangang
Seoulites seem to like their bicycles. Some go alone, while most ride in a pack. There’s the occasional couple on a tandem bike or a parent with a toddler strapped in a child seat at the back – which I find rather scary. Even scarier is a man riding with his cat, the cat climbing on top of the man’s head as he whizzes past other bikers. But that’s probably a one-off thing.
There are several bike trails around Seoul and quite a number of bicycle rental kiosks scattered along the Hangang. Me on a bike is pretty much like a horse on a race track. This is why the Olympic Road trail, which simply follows the southern banks of the river, suits me best – no sharp turns, and not much elevation. Steady ride for this noob biker.
Under The Bridge
Passed under 11 bridges. I learned that during the time of the Korean War, there were only two. They had to blow up both to delay the advance of the North Korean soldiers. Today, there are 27 within the city limits. And a song humming in my head every time I passed one.
Tales On The Riverbank
In times of peace, the river contents itself eavesdropping on the lives of its people. It hears over a million conversations a day, and most probably have served as a confidant to a number of souls.
I was biking for almost two hours already, covering a distance of about 19kms, when I reached Yangjaechon stream – a tributary of the Hangang. I haven’t had a proper meal yet so I figured I should rest here a bit. It’s a nice spot ‘coz there were a few people line fishing.
I wasn’t there to fish, but surprisingly, I did manage to catch something. The Han gifted me with a friend, however brief the encounter was. And a tale of my own to remember this trip by.
I had 6 bridges and 6 kilometers left to reach the end of the trail, but I decided to head back. I was starting to feel my legs, and I was getting hungry. Plus, I already got my story – a really pleasant surprise. What more could I ask for?
The ride back felt a lot shorter. Thank God! There were more people on the road as it was already mid-day. When I got back to Yeouido Hangang Park, it was so lively. After I returned my bike to the kiosk, I sat on the side of this cascade fountain. Children were swimming in it! So I, being a child too, took off my shoes and joined in on the fun.
No, silly, I didn’t swim. The water was just up to my calves.