Tongdosa/Gyeongju/Yangdong Folk Village/Sokcho/Seoraksan NP
It's been a week since landing in Korea. Time flies when you have lots of things to cover in little time. I decided to leave my backpack in Busan and head up north the regional route 7, which is supposed to be a scenic route. I read about this route in the in-flight magazine of Korea Airlines which tickled my interest.
My first stop was Tongdosa, where I met up with a group of people who are members of the Busan meetup.com group. We were only four, which was fine with me as I am not a fan of group hiking. Our goal was to hike up the mountain, take in the great view and upon return to Tongdosa have dinner. The hike was not difficult for me and I could have done it in about 3 hours, but the point was to relax, take it easy and have lots of breaks in between
. Close to the mountain top was a little rest point where one could buy food and drinks. There, we met a bunch of Koreans who just returned from the top or from one of the many trails leading to the top. They invited us for some Korean Rice Wine (which I became addicted to) and tofu and kimchi. Oh how delicious… We ate, drank and chatted a bit and then we headed to the top, or at least two of us did. From the top there are a numerous trails heading in different directions; there is good hiking to be done in the future for Jeff and the meetup group to. After the hike, we had dinner in a Korean restaurant where I had my first bibimbap which is rice and vegetables in a hot stone bowl. We had another bottle of rice wine, makgeolli, and then I headed for the jjimjilbang. Jjimjilbangs are large, gender-segregated public bathhouses, complete with hot tubs, showers, Finnish-style saunas, and massage tables, similar to what you may find in a Korean sauna or mogyoktang. However, in other areas of the building or on other floors there are unisex areas, usually with a snack bar, ondol-heated floor for lounging and sleeping, wide-screen TVs, PC bang, and sleeping quarters with either bunk beds or sleeping mats. Most jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours and are a popular weekend getaway for Korean families to relax and spend time soaking in tubs or lounging and sleeping, while the kids play away on the PCs. In addition, jjimjilbangs are great alternatives for hostels as the cost is only between 7000 and 10000 won
. And one does not have to worry about sleeping clothes and towels to carry. As it turned out, during this 5-6 days of travels, I slept 5 nights in a jjimjilbangs.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makgeollihttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibimbap
The next day I headed to Gyeongju, a place of major historical significance to the Koreans. Gyeongju is the former capital of the kingdom of Silla
, which ruled most of Korea in the 7th to the 9th century. Due to a history of more than 1,000 years as the residence of Korean rulers it holds a rich heritage of sights and remains of that period. The city undertakes a lot of effort to preserve that heritage. Gyeongju has a number of World Heritage sites, including temples and tombs of former kings and generals. As the city is rather spread out, I took the bus to Bulgaksa temple from where I started my walk. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulguksahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seokguram
From the temple there is a trail to Seokguram Grotto from which there is a trail to the top of Tohamsan Mountain (745 m)
. From there, I headed down another trail into a village from where I took a bus to my next location, the area around Anaji Pond. There are several tumuli
, or burial mounds located here with one being open to the public. Then I walked over to the tomb of General Kim Yu-sin but only took a look from afar as I didn’t want to pay for just looking at a green mound. Walking along the Hyeongsangang River was bliss. There is walk/bike way all along the river where one could spend hours running, biking, walking or just sitting by the river. Having walked around the entire day, I decided its time for dinner and headed to a small restaurant. Upon entering, the two ladies got all excited and after requesting bibimbap and rice wine there tried to engage me into a conversation; them talking in Korean and me in English. The little appetizers came and I stared chomping down the food with the ladies’ watchful eyes over me. She could not believe that I would enjoy all eh kimchi and asking for a second helping of it. Ahhh, it was sooooo delicious. Good food, good wine, friendly company. One of the ladies, who seemed to be the owner’s friend invited me to stay at her home for 'very cheap’ but she was unable to understand my question as to where her home is located. As I was planning on heading out early the next morning I wasn’t about to go somewhere outside of town. I would have loved to stay at her home which would have been my first Korean home stay but there was no way of communicating with each other
. So, off I went to the jjimjilbang with a very helpful lady showing me the way from the bus station.
I left the next morning around 7ish to pay a short visit to Yangdong Folk village before continuing on to Sokcho. Yangdong Folk Village is Korea’s largest traditional village, showcasing the traditional culture of the Joseon Dynasty and the beautiful natural surroundings. Thanks to its many cultural heritages, including treasures, national treasures, and folklore materials, the entire village has been designated as a cultural heritage site. Many people have visited this village to see its wealth of cultural heritages and scenic surroundings. Charles, Prince of Wales, visited this village in 1993.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yangdong_Village_of_Gyeongju
After about an hour traipsing around the village and peering into people’s lives, or backyards, I felt a bit like a voyeur. I am not sure how I would feel about people walking about my town/village, entering my home, taking photos of my house and me, etc. So, it was time to leave and head to Pohang from where I transferred into a bus to Sokcho. I noticed that Korea has lots of buses running between cities and many of them run with only a handful of people on board
. All but one of the passengers, me, debarked at Samcheok; from then I was the only passenger. The driver must have taking pity on me as he started to feed me ice cream, tomatoes, Pepsi and other goodies. So, the famous route 7; well, the bus switched between the old route 7 and the new one so we weren’t entirely enjoying the ocean view. There were lots of cyclists on the road, or better, highway which I didn’t understand as there was the old route 7 with almost no traffic running along the coast. It looked like suicide to me to ride a bike on the highway with cars speeding by past the allowed speed limit. I arrived in Sokcho around 4pm and figured I had about 4 hours before its getting dark. I came here to see the Goseong Unification Observatory about 70km from Sokcho. Heading straight to the tourist info for a map and advice, the friendly chap there told me that the shuttle from Daejin Education center to the observatory has stopped running and that I would need to get a taxi for the roundtrip. This would have cost me about 30000 won and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend this money after already paying a good amount of money for transportation. So, I decided to leave it and instead head to the Sokcho lighthouse and walk around to the beach but not without first inquiring about a jjimjilbang. The evening was spent walking around the town/beach, going food shopping for my 2-day Searaksan NP hike and having dinner and rice wine at the beach. The jjimjilbang was conveniently located 5 minutes from the beach, so I went there for a bath, sauna and a good-night sleep (more or less)
. The next day I headed out early to Seoraksan NP where I planned a two-day hike with an overnight stay at a mountain shelter. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seoraksan
I got my trail map from the visitor center and had a couple of options, but decided on heading to Daecheongbong (1708m) first and the next day to Baekdamsa which would take me through the Suryeopdong valley. The hike went up and up and up, mostly stairs either made of rocks or man made wood stairs. I do not like this kind of trails as it is not natural. I started at 9am and got to the shelter at about 2:30pm where I left my bag and then headed to the windy peak of Mt. Daecheongbong. This park is considered one of the most beautiful NPs in Korea and one has a wonderful view of the mountain range and the ocean. The shelter was basic with drinking water available and food to buy. One slept on the floor, there were no mats and if you needed a blanket it costs 2000 won extra (7000 won per person). My sleeping bag liner worked fine albeit it was hard on my back.
The next day I left at 6am after taking in the sun rise colors of the mountains. From the shelter, it was 12 km to Baekdamsa temple which I reached about 10am after stopping at another temple prior to reaching Baekdamsa
. At that temple, I met young Susan whose English was excellent due to having lived in the Philippines. She was visiting the temple with her mom and told me a little bit about the temple. I was offered some rice cakes, potatoes sand tea and then bid farewell to Susan and the temple. Further down at Baekdamsa temple I took a coffee break and walked around the temple grounds. This temple also offers temple stays and at that time there were quiet a few people participating in the program. The temple setting is beautiful amid trees, flowers and next to the river. It exudes a very peaceful atmosphere. I had lots of time on my hands as I didn’t want to return to crowded, noisy and hot Sokcho so I took lots of break, had lunch and a nap by the river and then walked out of the park to the bus station. http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264231
By 4.30pm I was back in Sokcho and decided to head down to Naksana temple and Naksan beach. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naksansa
How glad I was I did this; Naksana temple is one of the most beautiful temple complexes I have visited, and I have seen lots and lots of temples. It may not compare with the glorious temples in Thailand but this one comes close
. Apparently most of the temple complex burned down in a 2005 fire (there was no English caption, just photos and Korean captions and remains of the burned down building and bell). But they have done an almighty job restoring and rebuilding the complex which stretches over a handsome site on the top of a hill with a 360 degree view over sea and mountains. It was especially nice walking around the grounds in the late evening hours with the sunset coloring the clouds in different colors. I got back to Sokcho around 9pm and got myself a bottle of rice wine and some rice cakes and headed for the beach where I watched people setting off fireworks. A lovely last night here before heading back to the jjimjilbang to spend the night.
The next day, I caught the 8.50am bus to Busan arriving at about 4pm. I headed to Indy Hostel to find out if they have a bed, which they didn’t. So, another night at the jjimjilbang. Though there was one 5 minutes from Indy Guesthouse, I opted for one with a view and walked down to Gwang alli beach which offers a great view of Gwangan Bridge lit up with colorful lights at night. I stayed at the Aqua Palace Resort jjimjilbang, which, having an exceptional view of the beach and the Diamond Bridge, was crowded and noisy with some annoying children’s music playing on and off throughout the night.
Next stop is Gwangju and hiking in Jirisan NP before heading to Incheon harbor from where I will take a ferry back to China.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jirisanhttp://www.weidong.com/