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Walk on the wild side in S. Korea’s mountain valleys

HIKING is a common pastime for many South Koreans, with about 70 per cent of the country’s land covered by mountainous regions.

During summer, they often visit the mountains and spend time in the valleys and riverside to escape the heat and daily grind.

Here are some popular valleys to check out if you are visiting South Korea:


This valley at Mount Bangtaesan in Inje, Gangwon province, is famous for its trekking course.

It got its name because you can plough the fields only in the morning (“achim”). The sunshine lasts for a shorter duration, as the valley is located  deep in the mountains.

Achimgari is well known for its hiking course of about 12km. The course takes five hours to complete. Some of its main charms are the natural paths, rather than man-made roads.

There are also areas near the valley where people can go rafting.


Those looking to escape the summer heat and humidity can find themselves a natural air-conditioner at Eoreumgol.

Located at Mount Cheonwangsan near Miryang, Gyeongsang province, Eoreumgol means “ice valley”, a reference to its freezing temperatures even during summer.

Visitors can feel a cool breeze and even see ice between the rocks.

There is a cable car that visitors can take to see the valley from above.

There are also mountains and valleys that people can visit in Seoul.

Mount Gwanaksan, which stretches across Seoul and parts of Gyeonggi province, has numerous hiking trails.

One of its courses is the Mount Gwanaksan Nadeul road, which begins at the mountain entrance and follows various streams in the mountain valleys, passing by a lake garden and mountain spring in the process.

The trail is 5.58km long and easy for people of all ages to walk on as it has very little in the way of slopes, unlike other hiking courses in Gwanaksan.


Go with the (air) flow in Malaysia

FORGET the ornithopter, and don’t even bother following Icarus’ failed flight plan.

The real way to fly, really fly, is to strap on a paraglider and shoot straight for the skies. Granted, it’s not for the faint-hearted, but sitting in a plane or even a helicopter doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

There are no engines and pollution. Paragliding is a non-motorised form of flight that uses a parachute and air flow to get around, so all that’s involved are man (or woman), fabric, the elements and sheer grit.

It’s a high-stakes form of fun, but so is any adventure sport. By taking the right precautions, flying through the air can be as safe as watering plants.

Husband-and-wife team Ikhwan Azillah and Orkid Jamilah know a thing or two about the thrills and spills of the sport, having indulged in it for the last 15 years.

The couple, who established the Malaysia Paragliding and Hang Gliding Association, got into the adventure sport when Ms Orkid got interested in it while she was in Britain, and introduced her husband to the sport later. When they realised the money-making potential of their hobby, the pair went to New Zealand to earn their international paragliding certification.

So, what stirs someone enough to make them want to take to the skies?

“A lot of people have bucket lists and paragliding tends to be one of the things on the list. Other adventure sports are common, too, like whitewater rafting and bungee jumping,” explained Ms Orkid during a recent interview.

And where this sense of adventure is concerned, women rule. According to Ms Orkid, women make up most of their local clientele. “I don’t know where the men have gone,” admitted Mr Ikhwan sheepishly.

Thrill seekers also include expatriates and tourists from countries near and far, including France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam.

Ms Orkid and Mr Ikhwan have based their service in the historic town of Jugra, off Banting in Selangor. The location, aptly named Paragliding Flightpark, is where paragliding enthusiasts take flight.

The most popular form of paragliding is tandem flight, where thrill seekers merely enjoy the ride while a “pilot” steers the glider. For this kind of ride, no prior knowledge of the sport is required, though a basic understanding of physics is beneficial for working with the pilot to steer the glider comfortably.

Weight is also a consideration – for safety reasons, a tandem flier cannot weigh more than 135kg.

The average flight lasts 10 minutes, costing RM200 (S$72). Students pay RM150.

Those with a greater sense of adventure may opt to fly solo. The fundamental introductory course is a two-day affair. Depending on the level of interest, the training spans four tiers, the lowest for those hoping to fly on their own while the highest for those intending to become licensed instructors.

The introductory course teaches would-be fliers the basics of flying, including packing the chute. It may sound like mundane work, but a wrongly packed chute might not deploy, and that can only spell disaster.

Packing the chute, made of tightly woven nylon fabric, also gives fliers a chance to inspect its condition – safety is imperative.

“The gear we use comes with a five-year guarantee. Small repairs are outsourced to former commandos who were (parachute) riggers,” Mr Ikhwan said.

No purchase of equipment is required for novice fliers, but serious paragliders can look into getting their own gear.

Sure, paragliding isn’t for everyone. And collecting stamps is way safer.

But think of all the times we’ve envied birds and longed to fly freely like them. Well, paragliding takes a similar trajectory – and wax-coated feathers no longer have to be an option.


Fun goes well with food

Jac Woo plays hard and eats even harder on a road trip in New South Wales, Australia