Delightful Daegu

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
1
8
50
Trip End Dec 02, 2012


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What I did
Donghwasa Temple
Mt. Palgongsan
Daegu Traditional Medicine Market
Seomun Market

Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Saturday, March 24, 2012

My friend and I got up early this morning to do some hiking at Palgong-san (팔공산). About 20km from Daegu, Palgong-san was a mountain designated as a provincial park with trails, temples, and a few other spots of historic interest. The Visit Korea website stated that a city bus ran to Donghwa-sa Temple on Palgong-san from exit 3 of the Daegu train station, so we went to the station a bit before 9am to grab a bus.

When we arrived at station exit 3, we found no bus stop. Because it was just now 9am, the station's tourist info center wasn't yet open to help us. We tried asking a few people on the street and going inside a hotel for information, but had no luck. This was mainly because our Korean was pretty terrible. We actually never even managed to find the marker for exit 3, but the train station map showed it as being right next to exit 4, which we did see a sign for, so we must have been in the right place...

Anyway, after a bit of confused and frustrated wandering, my friend suggested we just take a taxi. I was kind of thinking this in the back of my mind and was grateful she made the suggestion. The cab ride turned out to be under 20000 won, which was a great deal. Taxis are a great bargain in Korea, and it was definitely the right decision.

Because we only had a few of hours to hike before we had to be back in town to meet our friends who couldn't make it to Daegu last night, I chose a short hike that sounded interesting around the Donghwa-sa Temple (동화사) area. As our cab approached the mountain, I was surprised to see a layer of snow on the top. While not too warm yet, it has definitely been spring in Korea for the past couple of weeks. The cab driver seemed surprised too when he pointed to the snow. I was thankful I had most of my winter layers and my hiking boots with me.

After exiting the taxi, we paused to pay a small fee at the temple gate. While we were doing this, I noticed that no one else was stopping. The "guards" didn't say anything to the many Koreans entering without a ticket. I'm not entirely sure what we bought the ticket for, or why they didn't need one, but it was only a couple thousand won so no big deal. Although, it was one of those things that made us feel like maybe we were paying a stupid foreigner fee... (Not to imply that the ticket wasn't totally up-front and official, just maybe not required for what we wanted to see.)

We went down a long driveway from the gate to a parking lot, and I stared at the cartoon map of the temple to try to figure out where to go. Donghwa-sa had a modern, but impressively tall 33-meter high Buddha, so I thought we'd try to find that first. At the edge of the parking lot, we could choose to go left or right. The path to the right was blocked by a traffic gate. We could have walked around it, but I figured it was there to tell us we should be heading left. So left it was.

The hike was thoroughly enjoyable. We didn't have to ascend too high to see the first traces of snow, but it was never so cold that we felt uncomfortable, especially with the body heat we generated from the climb. While I never managed to figure out where we were on the map, and we never saw any towering statues, we did pass several small temples, monastery/nunneries and hermitages, giving me my first in-person views of Korean temples. They were similar in architecture to those in Japan, but brightly decorated with colorful patterns and paintings, in contrast to the generally bland (but classy) exteriors of Japanese temples.

We also passed quite a few friendly Koreans, although there weren't many other hikers around. The first group we said "hi" (or rather "anyanghaseyo") to, about halfway up the trail, offered us some cookies. My friend hadn't done a lot of hiking, and I was concerned she might think that it was standard procedure to be offered cookies by other hikers you greeted. Now she'll be angry at every hiker she meets who doesn't give her cookies.

As we approached an altitude I would define as snow covered, it was definitely past the time we should have been heading back down the mountain to meet our friends at Dongdaegu station. But we kept going because we were so close to the "top", or at least what we had decided to declare the top: Yeombul-am, whatever that was. I mean, it was so close, and surely their train would be late. Hopefully those friends will never read this blog...

Apologies to my friends, but making it to Yeombul-am was definitely worth it. The trail became icy and the snow was much more than a dusting, but the scene at the "top" was just amazing. Beside the temple was a rock where legend states a monk heard Buddha chanting. Because of this, the temple was built and an image of Buddha was carved into the rock. Today the image was beautifully highlighted where traces of snow had caught in the grooves of the carving. It was one of those really cool moments that pictures and blog entries don't ever do justice.

After snapping a few pictures anyway, we hustled back down to the park entrance, which was much easier than attempting to hustle up the mountain. At the Donghwa-sa parking lot, my friend looked around for a restroom. She went down the path behind the traffic barrier I had seen in the morning. After waiting for what seemed like a longer time than it should have been, I went around the barrier in search of her, and instead found the main complex of Donghwa-sa temple. Among other things, this explained why I'd had such trouble figuring out where we were on the cartoon map, apart from the fact it was a cartoon map. At this point, we had well overstayed our allotted time, so we had no choice but to leave that part unexplored, but it gives me a nice excuse to go back to Palgong-san sometime.

When we'd exited our taxi at the temple gate, we hadn't given any thought to getting back to town. Not surprisingly, there weren't any taxis waiting for fares when we returned to the temple entrance. There was a bus stop for an express bus for Dongdaegu station. We waited there for a bit before I decided I had read the timetable backwards and we'd missed the bus. Without the express bus, there was no chance of being on time to meet our friends, and we wandered down the road from the temple and found the stop for the city bus heading to the Daegu train stations.

Back in town, we met our friends, who were very gracious about waiting, checked them into the hotel, and headed over to Yangnyeongsi (약령시), Daegu's market for Traditional Chinese Medicine. In all of our guidebooks the market was marked as the one must-see thing in Daegu, so we were all very excited about it. Unfortunately, it was nothing like we pictured. Each of us had independently envisioned something like the city market in Onyang, but instead of cramped alleys crowded with old women peddling cures and their customers, the Daegu medicine market was a wide open boulevard with the wares safely ensconced in actual stores. Maybe it would be cool on days ending in 1 or  6 when my guidebook said the wholesale market ran, but we were all disappointed in it today. We even skipped the museum because we were hungry.

We ate a late lunch at a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant nearby that was also disappointing. Vietnamese food was much better back home than in Korea. But at the restaurant we met-up with a friend of a friend who lived in Daegu and was able to show us some of the interesting spots.

Wasting time while we waited for Dongseong-no (동성로), Daegu's main shopping and nightlife street, to get going on a Saturday night, he took us to Seomun Market. This was much more like a larger version of the Onyang market we had been expecting to see at the herbal medicine market. It had Korean food, Korean clothes, a dried fish wholesale market, and even a small section with live food animals stuffed into cages. There were chickens, ducks, rabbits, and puppies. I'd say the puppies weren't for eating, they were way too small, but it certainly wasn't a pet store either. I suspect they were intended to raise, then eat. An older Korean co-worker at one point told me that traditionally dogs were raised out front of the house to guard it then eaten when they were older. Not terribly grateful...

For some reason, thought, it was the ducks that bothered me the most. While I wouldn't say the puppies had sufficient space, they did have some ability to move around, even if that generally required crawling over each other. I'd seen similar puppy displays at mall pet stores when I was a kid, before pet owners started to become concerned about how the puppies were treated before they were purchased. The ducks, however, were jammed into their cage in all three dimensions. Their faces and wings were mushed up against the sides, top, and bottom of their cage. I think probably the fact that I usually consider ducks to be wild animals also contributed to my feelings of seeing them stuck in a cage.

I didn't take any pictures of the animals. I don't think any of us did. For my part, I was concerned the old ladies selling the them would get mad and start yelling. There are enough foreigners in Daegu that I suspect at least one has had the guts to start a pointless debate with the women over animal welfare. (I just had a silly vision of buying all the ducks and setting them free in the streets of Daegu...)

Well anyway, we continued our shopping and things picked up after that. Saturday night on Dongseong-no was a stark contrast to Friday. Everything was open and the area was packed. We went to a used, English bookstore where I paid way more than I should have for a package of chocolate dipped peeps (about 1000 a peep). There must be a big English population in Daegu because there were many stores and restaurants that were clearly targeting us.

There were plenty of places for Korean food and drinks, too. My friends stayed out well past 10pm as Daegu apparently made up for an early bedtime on Friday by staying open 'til the wee hours on Saturday, or should I say Sunday morning. Unfortunately I had to go to bed to get rested for my disc golf tournament, but my friends had a fantastic time soaking up the Daegu nightlife.

So I would definitely not call Daegu a major tourist destination, however, I would love to go back. There was a lot of Palgong-san left to hike and Donghwa-sa to see for one thing. For another, it was a great place just to hang-out on a Saturday night. Although I was basically only there for a day, it seemed like a fun city to live in. It had a variety of interesting places to eat, drink, and just relax, but wasn't a hulking, over-priced metropolis like Seoul.

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