Koreans love the great outdoors. Across the country there are 20 national parks (including Hallasan on Jeju Island), and in and around Seoul there are a number of mountains streaked with paths and well maintained walkways. In short, Korea is a outdoor lover’s haven.
During autumn especially, people head to the countryside in their millions to get fresh air and exercise. Autumn in Korea is particularly beautiful, the late-October-early November period brings a blaze of colour and beauty to the whole nation. Much of Korea is covered by forest, and the Korean peninsula is very mountainous.
One of the curiosities of Korea is that you are likely to see more retirees getting their exercise in the gym, and outside than you are to see younger generations. All Korean men are required to complete a 2-3 year stint in the military, which of course comes with the necessity to exercise. Koreans in general seem to be healthy, in both diet and recreation.
Korea’s urban areas are rather disappointing in terms of open spaces. Urban planning rarely takes into account the need for parks and open recreational spaces, so to escape the city, one really must leave it, unlike a city such as London which has plenty of parks. However there are a number of small outdoor exercise areas (again something that would probably be vandalised in the West). Normally a few rudimentary metal machines that promote flexibility and healthy joints, the exercise areas are often frequented by the elderly.
Old people in East Asia really strike me as a wonderfully optimistic demographic. I love seeing groups of excited retirees excitedly amble their way up a mountain with the energy of a group of teenagers. It adds to the joy of the outdoors for me. If you come to Korea, aim to travel to the country away from national holidays and the autumn/spring high seasons, as this is the time when many people head to the country. It is hard to get tickets on public transportation or find low priced accommodation at this time.