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We ❤️ Seoul: Twilight Biking by the Han River

This post is part of a series about all the things, big and small, that we love about living in Seoul. Check the Category archive, We ❤️ Seoul, for more articles.

My first memory of the Han River is one of a huge, dark and murky waterway. It slithered through the centre of Seoul like some kind of giant snake, dragging dirt, contamination and refuse in it’s wake. My parent’s genuinely distressed warnings not to touch the polluted water, did little to assuage my already out of control teenage imagination.

That was 1987 – before Seoul hosted the Summer Olympics and the World Cup, and long before Samsung phones and Gangnam Style dance moves became global exports.

No, the Seoul of that time was grittier, grimier and more desperate. It was a river you couldn’t touch, brusque men squatting on the streets chain-smoking, pit toilets, and the smoke from a thousand garbage-top fires filling the night. And all of it was utterly shocking to my North American suburban sensibilities.

Less than 1 year later, that filthy river had been cleaned up for the world’s cameras, and Seoul successfully hosted the 1988 Olympic Games. The Miracle on the Han, which had seen Korea grow from a country with a per capita income of less than $80 per person in 1961, to the world’s 15th largest economy in less than 40 years, continued unabated.

Fast-forward 25 odd years, and here I am again. Only this time, the Hangang isn’t so scary. Now, it’s one of my very favourite places to be in Seoul.

Since 2007, the 30 year Hangang Renaissance Project has transformed the river even more. It’s now an eco-friendly space of culture, leisure and design. There are over 257 sporting facilities, including soccer fields, skateboarding parks, tennis and basketball courts, swimming pools, workout stations, an outdoor climbing wall and biking/hiking trails.

Cafes built atop the Han River bridges provide lovely views, your caffeine fix, and a place to unwind. There’s the world’s longest rainbow bridge fountain and the country’s first-ever artificial floating islands, Vista and Viva (imagined as flowers in full bloom and as a bud) at Banpo Park, as well as riverside concerts and huge festivals.

There are 24 years remaining on the Han River Renaissance Project, and while I can’t possibly envision what else is in store for this important symbol of Seoul, I know I can’t wait to see…

Do you ❤️ Seoul? Are you interested in writing a guest post for this blog, about what you love? Send me a message through the Connect form, and start writing!

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13 Comments Post a comment
  1. I always loved the moment the subway went over the Hangang and I could look out the window and take it all in. It’s a beautiful river nowadays, I can’t believe it was so dirty before!

    June 12, 2014
    • I love that feeling too – the expansiveness from inside a little subway car. 🙂 The whole country has changed so quickly in so many ways. I get tripped out when I see pictures of Gangnam from the 70s. There was literally nothing but pasture and dirty streams. My dad remembers the city being so polluted that his shirts were black by the end of the day…when he visits now, he’s shocked by how clean the air is!

      June 13, 2014
  2. Sha #

    Oohh…I love the Han river…I had an awesome long walk in winter to the rainbow bridge with the sun setting and picnicked near the river in summer…it was awesome!! The funniest is seeing fried chicken deliveries even at the riverside….haha…^_^

    June 13, 2014
    • Haha, Korea is the king of delivery culture. You can get anything delivered anywhere!! But I always wonder how those fried chicken guys find the right people at the river? There’s always so many people and it’s such a huge space!

      June 13, 2014
      • Sha #

        I know right! That was what I was wondering too! I suppose they do anything for the sake of delivery cos there are lots of chicken restaurants all over…I love korea’s fried chicken…haha…:)

        June 13, 2014
        • It’s a problem actually. The K-FC is toooo good, and so many options. I’m on a quest to try each one of them and make a ranking, but so far it’s been difficult. There are just too many. 😉

          June 16, 2014
          • Sha #

            Haha…I agree that their fried chicken are good..I think it’s hard to really check out all though…like you said..there’s too many haha…the best ones are the spicy ones cos they are really really spicy..absolutely jjang!! 🙂

            June 16, 2014
  3. Amazing! We’d love to visit Korea, especially as my son is practicing taekwondo. We are actually considering a possible visit next year!

    June 13, 2014
    • Fantastic!!! Please let me know if you decide. I’d love to help you with planning out a trip here. 🙂 What season were you thinking? Because if you can make it in the fall, it’s the absolute best time weather-wise…

      June 13, 2014
  4. I’ve really never spent enough time in Seoul to visit the Han River and after seeing the posts about biking it, makes me question myself as to why I’ve missed it.

    What I love about Seoul is the subway system and its ease of use. There’s also the busy markets and tourist attractions that make it a truly International City. Hongdae is my favorite area but again, this is based on limited experience there. Your posts really make we want to go back for a visit from my small-town post here in Jeolla.

    June 17, 2014
    • We’ve lived in Seoul for 5 years, and we’re still discovering new things all the time. It’s such a huge city, I think it can take a bit of time to really find the things you enjoy. One thing I’ve learned is that if you can do things on “off-hours,” the city becomes a massive playground. Biking by the Han on a weekday morning can be like owning your own huge river, it’s so empty. 🙂

      June 23, 2014
  5. It’s so wonderful to hear about a river SUCCESS story for once! Usually it goes in the opposite direction – “this river used to be so beautiful, but now it’s too polluted to even swim in.” I love cities where rivers are a key element. I know Chicago has the Chicago River, but honestly, it’s too cold most of the time and plus it’s surrounded by buildings, so there’s not much in the way of exercise facilities. Austin, Texas, on the other hand, has a beautiful river with biking and walking trails, plus the famous bat bridge!

    June 19, 2014
    • I’m so happy that they’ve put all this work into the river.. it’s really become a destination for so many people to relax and unwind in the middle of the huge city. Seoulites always say it’s one of their favourite parts of the whole city, and I totally understand why. 🙂

      June 23, 2014

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