The Nuances of Camping in Korea

Article by Jungki Kim

The Nuances of Camping in Korea

Exploring the world and traveling to new places are two things that brings me the greatest joy in life, but like everyone else, my travel the past few years has been restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic — with international travel impossible until just recently.

Here in the United States, we saw an increase in people camping as a result of the pandemic, and the same trend was seen in Korea, where I lived until moving to the U.S. in 2009.

Due to restrictions on overseas travel, many people in Korea headed to nearby Jeju, South Korea's largest island. Jeju Island offers both warm weather and exotic scenery, and a lot of my friends have opted to camp there. One even lives there now!

The island has been on my own travel list for a long time, but I hadn't had the chance to visit myself — until this year's GO FAR.

With international travel restrictions lifted, I thought it would be great to visit Korea, see family and friends, and finally go camping on Jeju Island. So I packed all my NEMO gear and flew from Boston to Seoul, a very long 15-hour flight.

Just before my flight to Seoul, I heard a strong typhoon was predicted to hit Jeju Island, but fortunately it passed the day before my camping trip and I was able to board the flight to the island as scheduled.

 

My NEMO tote bag, made from a recycled Tensor sleeping pad, was the perfect travel buddy.

 

I traveled with my friend, Hae Lin, and we met up with Ka Yeon, who lives on the island now. We all went to school together and they're fans of camping, so we've chatted about gear and experiences even more since I started working at NEMO. I knew they would be great companions for my first GO FAR trip.

After landing at the Jeju Airport, we headed to our first destination, Hamdeok Beach.

The campground itself isn’t right next to the beach, but I was able to set up my tent overlooking the shore and chilled out there during the day. I brought my Moonlite™ chair and enjoyed the cool breeze on the sand.

 

Relaxing on the beach in Moonlite camp chairChilling out after setting up camp.

 

Our campsite was within walking distance to a lot of shops, cafes, and convenience stores. (These are easy to access from pretty much anywhere on the beach.) On the first day, I hiked up the nearby mountain and enjoyed a beautiful view of the beaches and towns.

 

The view from the hike near Hamdeok BeachThe view from my quick hike.

 

On the second day, we moved to the more mountainous area. Jeju Island is a volcanic island, so there are many volcanic cones (called Oreum in Korea) that you can hike.

Our next campsite was in the Bul Gen Oreum Natural Recreation Forest. Since Jeju is a small island, it was only about 30 minutes from Hamdeok Beach, and the area is easily accessible by bus or taxi.

Camping culture in Korea is quite unique, and when we got to the second campsite, I was reminded of the differences between there and the U.S. In Korea, camping isn't about going deep into the mountains or staying in areas with no phone signal, water, or lights. People in Korea want to relax in nature, but they don't camp in remote places where they can't easily get everything they need.

Facilities like flush toilets and public kitchen sinks were readily available at the site in Bul Gen Oreum. It was well-lit even at 10 p.m. and had shower rooms with hot water. My phone could get a signal, of course — and even Wi-Fi!

 

Campground in Bel Geun Oreum National Recreation ForestThe campground at Bul Geun Oreum. 

 

One of the key elements for camping in Korea is barbecue. Outdoor barbecuing has always been popular there, and when camping became a more common past-time, it was no surprise that the dinner of choice was barbecue.

For Korean people, camping in not only about exploring nature, but also cooking and sharing a meal with friends and family. (No one really opts for cold or dry food when camping in Korea.) On our way to the campsite, we purchased fresh meat and vegetables so we, too, could enjoy a delicious barbecue dinner.

 

Delicious looking meal of barbecue meat, mushrooms, and other vegetables laid out on a Moonlander table.No doubt about it: Barbecue is the meal of choice when Koreans go camping.

 

Before sunrise on the third day, I hiked to the top of Bul Geun Oreum, the namesake volcanic cone, and on my way back to the campsite I was enthralled by the beautiful sunrise light on the trail. I couldn’t stop taking photos of this fantastic view!

 

Walking back through the campground with light streaming through the treesThe sun streaming through the forest after my sunrise hike.

 

Jeju Island has a lot of unknown and hidden spots that can't be found on maps. We hiked around another mountain just 5 miles from the campsite and found beautiful ponds and small waterfalls to explore.

 

Standing by the pond we found while exploringThis unnamed, unmarked pond was a pleasant surprise that we discovered while walking around.

 

After two nights in the mountains, we moved to our last destination: Hyeopjae Beach.

Hyeopjae is famous for camping right next to the beach, among palm trees. It’s a first-come, first-served campsite, but we were able to grab a great spot.

 

Camping among the palm treesOur highly coveted spot among the palm trees.

 

This was my very first time camping at both the beach and mountains on the same trip, and it was the best trip I’ve ever done.

(The five beautiful sunny days made it even better.)

 

Inside the Dagger OSMO tent with the Disco sleeping bag

 

NEMO Gear List:

Dagger OSMO™ 2P Backpacking Tent: Lightweight, very spacious, and easy to set up. The OMSO fabric is quick drying and durable.

Tensor™ Ultralight Sleeping Pad: A super-light and packable sleeping pad, plus the Vortex™ pump sack really helps it inflate easily. I slept well on this pad for four nights straight!

Disco Men’s 30 Sleeping Bag: The ideal sleeping bag for the end of summer. The Thermo Gill™ vents really did their job and dumped out heat when it got too toasty.

Chipper™ Foam Seat Pad: I used this lightweight seat pad on the wood deck at our campsite and on the ground or rocks when hiking.

Moonlite™ Reclining Camp Chair: I love its reclining function and packability!

Moonlander™ Dual-Height Camp Table: A small carry size and useful flat surface to have. I thought it would be small for our group, but 3 people can sit around it, no problem. We used it for every meal at the campsite.

 

Jungki Kim is a Design Manger at NEMO. When he isn’t designing products that provide better sleep experiences for campers and backpackers, he loves traveling the world — exploring nature, wandering the cities, and experiencing new food and culture along the way.