While you may think it's a hassle to have to navigate through all the stores and street stalls before you hit the mountain trail, I like the atmosphere and the chance to pick up anything extra I might need for a long hike. But then, I love shopping as much as I love hiking, and for many Korean hikers it's important to 'look the part' when hiking, whether you're scrambling over rocks or just taking a stroll.
Of course, the more popular the trail, the more businesses will be selling things at its entrance. Bukhansan Fortress Entrance (북한산성 입구), in particular, has a long row of large outdoor clothing outlets leading up to the mountain. All kinds of clothing and gear can be bought here, including backpacks, hiking poles, hats, gloves and brightly coloured bandanas printed with maps of the hiking trails.
The area around Dobongsan station towards Donbongsan mountain (도봉산) is perhaps my favourite. Food takes over here, from tinfoil-wrapped kimbap for the journey, to seafood grills for a post-hike meal. There's a lot to see. And check out the photo above: All your essential mountain drinks, including water, soju and makkeoli. If you don't know it already, drinking makkeoli (rice wine) on the mountain is very popular in Korea. I prefer to have a little after a hike, rather than stumble on the rocks at a 700m altitude ...
So don't think of mountains as nothing but trees and rocks. At least, not if you're still in Seoul. A trip to one of Seoul's mountains offers not only great natural scenery, but almost as much shopping, dining and people-watching as the rest of the bustling city.