Chuseok at Seorak-san

Trip Start Aug 26, 2008
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Saturday, September 13, 2008

After 2 weeks at work I had my first holiday, you have to love Korea! It was Chuseok (Korean thanks giving). Taking advantage of the long weekend we decided to go to Seorak-san mountain in the north east of Korea. So we rented a car, and were due to leave at 6pm on Friday night. Warned that everything would close over the weekend we stocked up on food (when I say food I mean whiskey, beer and wine!), and sat at Homeplus waiting for Jan to turn up with the car! By 8.30 we were on the road. The roads were so busy and we were anticipating our journey to take hours. It didn't start well, we took a wrong turn and set off on the ring road around Daegu, in the wrong direction! It turned out to be our saving grace. As we looked across the river all we could see was a sold wall of red rear lights, which looked like they were not moving. As we approached them our hearts sank, that was the road we were meant to be on. We managed to come off the ring road and onto the road we were originally meant to be on. As we came over the flyover we could see why there was such a wall of lights. There had been a horrific accident and all the traffic was stopped behind it, because we'd taken a wrong turn we entered the highway literally 200m after the accident, and practically had the road to ourselves! Someone was on our side!

We stopped at a petrol station and met up with Toby, Emily and Frank in the other car. he beer had already started to flow, so there was a bit of a dash to the toilet! When I got out the boys were all perusing the tat on the obligatory stands that you find at every service station here in Korea! After a few purchases we were on our way. We headed towardsPohang, then up along the coast road all the way to Seorak-san. We made good time, and covered a fair distance, but by midnight the drivers were tired and wanted to stop. With no camp site around we pulled up on the beach and just pitched our tents!  A mad scramble with a few tent poles in the dark later and we were all cosy in our tents! All except Emily, Frank and Toby who opted out and stayed in a love motel!

I woke up the next morning to Marthan singing us an early wake up song! We got up and watched the sun rise, while a local Ajuma and Ajashee hung their squid out to dry in the sun! By 7 we'd packed up our tents and were ready for off! No sign of the Love motel co-outs! So we left without them! We stopped at a local service station to use the facilities and have breakfast - microwave Mandu! We set off by 9, hoping to arrive in Seorak-san before midday. We'd been warned that it was going to be so busy on the roads, so we thought an early start would be a good idea. I dont know where all this traffic was, but the roads were dead. Korea had become a ghost country. All the shops, motels, petrol stations were shut! It did not bode well for me and a toilet situation!

We finally made it up to Seorak-san by lunch time, pitched our tents and had some food then headed off to the mountain for a hike. The mountain range at Seorak-san is beautiful. The mountains are so high, and unlike the rest of Korea not the entire mountain is tree covered. The peaks are so high here that the top few hundred metres are bare rock. It makes the whole area very dramatic. The granite and gneiss rock formations are amazing, so huge and dominant. There are numerous peaks in the mountain range, but there are designated paths for tourists to walk on. Although at the time it feels quite restrictive and makes a higher density of people in a smaller area, it means that the areas away from the path are so remote and almost true wilderness. There used to be a vast range of mammals in this area, most of which have been hunted to extinction, but they are trying to rehabilitate Moon bears in the area, so we kept our eyes open for the 7 or so that have been released! It is only of the richest areas for flora and fauna in the whole of Korea and was the first designated national park for the country. It has now been recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site due to its diversity of flora and fauna. It was quite spectacular and there were so many different species of trees and plants! It was heaven for me!

So on Friday we went down to the national park and went on a short hike to see a temple and the swaying rock! The is a rock balanced on the top of a cliff, which rocks if you push it in the right place. All our boys had a go...nothing! Then an old Ajishee came along and had it rocking back and forth in no time! It was hilarious! The view from the top was beautiful! It was very warm, but quite cloudy. The days started very sunny but by mid morning the clouds rolled in and hung over the mountains creating an eerie atmosphere! Even with the cloud cover we were hot, so we set off to find a spot to have a dip in the river. We went on about a 3.5km hike up the hill to a place Tristan had seen a good dipping pool! Aware that there were a lot of tourists we wanted to find a secluded spot to have a swim. We disregarded a lot of places as they seemed to overlooked. Finally we settled on a pool and the boys stripped off and jumped in. Having not taken my swimming stuff I photographed them as they realised just how cold it was! They swam for a while, then we were told by a 7 year old boy 'NO SWIMMING'! It turned out it was drinking water and we were not allowed to swim in the river! Too little too late! The next day we hiked further up this valley, and realised that we Had picked the most public area of the whole national park to swim - hilarious!

So we headed back down the mountain, it was dusk and the sun had sunk behind the mountains sending a very peaceful light out over everything. We got back to the entrance, where there is a large Buddha statue, and incense had been lit either side of it. It smelt amazing and was so tranquil. A perfect end to the day! We headed back to the campsite and cracked open a bottle of wine. 5 bottles later I woke up outside! It seems I'd fallen asleep mid conversation and had been snoring for the last hour through everyone Else's conversation! Amazing! Best nap of my life! Seems the combination of a hike, great company and a wee tipple of wine had totally relaxed me! The campsite had great facilities, making it a whole lot easier to stay there! After a lot of wine and whiskey we all felt shattered and headed to bed by 1am! How hard core we all are!

On the Saturday morning I awakened to the sound of Marthan singing again! It seems our African Lion does not sleep past 6.30! It was a gorgeous day so we all got up slowly, as some of us were a little delicate! I took a shower (yes the camp site has showers!), I swear the water was just taken from the local river, so it was bloody freezing! We eventually managed to rally the troops and decided to go back to the mountains and take the cable car to the 'tourist' peak, then hike to the real peak (about 10km further on!). So we got to the cable car, and it was of course typical Korean madness. People everywhere, not existent queuing, small children screaming! It really didn't fit the location! We were then herded onto the cable car - again not a sniff of personal space!

The view from the cable car was spectacular. There is a huge Buddha statue in the mountains and as we ascended we had the most amazing view of this Buddha and the temple. We got to the top and went to the peak. It was rammed! It was Chuseok, so we'd been told that it would be empty. That was a lie. It was rammed with crazy Korean everywhere! Scrambling over rocks, shouting and screaming at each other! It really was a beautiful spot with views to the sea in one direction and up into the mountains in the other, but the tranquility was somewhat spoiled by the mob of Koreans! Thats what makes an experience there though! The randomness! So we searched for this hiking path, we looked everywhere, but nothing! We took another look at the map (which was more of a characature!) and discovered that the path was infact at the bottom of the mountain! So we trundled off back down the cable car and set off on our hike!

We hiked for about 3km, then we reached a fork in the path, one way to the caves one to the waterfalls. Deciding we wanted a slightly longer hike we set off for the waterfalls 3.5km away. We walked, and walked, up and down, in an out, up a lot more, down a little, we rested, we laughed, we walked some more. Soon we were tired, and it felt like we'd walked a lot further than 3.5km. Still no waterfalls. We carried on, determined not to give up. We walked, and walked! Soon we got tired. So we asked some people where the waterfalls were, they laughed and said that because of the season there were no waterfalls! A wild goose chase! Exhausted we scrambled down the cliff to the river and swam in a secluded spot. I decided to go in today, as I was so hot. My god it was cold. I think my heart stopped when I submerged myself in the water! It was so beautiful though. Surrounded by mountains washing ourselves under a small waterfall. Very refreshing!

We got out and dried off and sat for a while soaking up the amazing atmosphere. We then realised it was getting late and we have about 7km to hike back! So we set off. The return walk was much easier as it was downhill! We stopped for some food by the spot where we'd been swimming the day before and realised that it was not secluded at all! What plonkers we were! We made it back down the mountain as the Chuseok full moon rose into the sky illuminating the mountains and casting a gorgeous light over everything.

That night we decided to go into Sokcho for some sashimi. We wandered along the harbour looking at all the sashimi restaurants. Sashimi (raw fish) is expensive even here, so we were trying to find a good deal. In the end we went to a tiny little place that a random ajuma ran. I watched her kill our fish and before we knew it it had arrived at our table, you cannot get fresher than that! It was amazing, and we washed it down with the traditional soju! The harbour looked amazing with its ramble of small fishing boats. It was a perfect Chuseok meal. We headed home for a few more drinks, then off to bed!

The next morning arrived and it was time to go home! After a slow start we packed up and headed to some hot springs. They were separated into male and female areas, and as the only girl I didn't want to go in on my own! So I wandered off and waited for the boys, who returned fresh and ready to go! After some food we set off to the beach for our last few hours of holiday! We met Emily, Toby and frank there and watched the Korean surfing on waves so tiny it really was amazing that they even managed to stand up! Finally, as the sun started to set, we decided to head home! We thought that the traffic would be terrible, but for some reason we were really lucky and made it back to Daegu by 9.30!

It was an amazing weekend. So relaxing and lovely. Its amazing to get away and to explore some more of this country. The mountains up there are so beautiful, I'd recommend it to anyone! The games with the boys were great fun too, its great hanging out with boys! name three songs by Stevie Wonder! I chimed in with 'name three countries that start with A bout dont end in A', we have 2, still searching for a third, answers on a postcard please!

China, its China!
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