A travel journal
to Jeolla by michaelhudson
Quote: The two Jeolla Provinces are Korea's forgotten lands, underdeveloped hotbeds of political dissent and fractious regionalism.
In North Jeolla, don’t miss the soaring peaks, hot springs, and Indiana Jones-style bridges at Daedunsan Provincial Park, or Muju, Korea’s southernmost ski resort, in the midst of Deogyusan National Park. Jeonju makes the best base, with easy access to Moaksan and Maisan provincial parks.
South Jeolla’s main draw card is its indented coastline. Jindo and Hongdo are the best known islands, though the marine based Dadohae Haesand National Park has to keep you occupied for weeks. The best time to visit Jindo is in March, when a near 3km long walkway opens between the tides. The province also has three provincial parks and the Wolchusan National Park. The best time to visit is during the biennial festival held in Gwangju, next scheduled for mid-2006.
Despite what you might read in certain guidebooks, Namwon makes a far better gateway to Jirisan National Park then Gurye, which I’d only recommend as a stop off if you’re heading further south.
For trips to Boseong and Maisan I’d recommend staying in Gwangju and Jeonju respectively.
The bus stations in Jeonju serve most of the rural destinations in the surrounding province, while Namwon is the best gateway to Jirisan National Park. Head to Mokpo or Yeosu if you’re en route to South Jeolla’s islands, otherwise Gwangju has the best bus links to the national and provincial parks.
A motorway runs down the coast to Mokpo from Incheon, while Gwangju is linked to Daejeon and Daegu. The majority of the two provinces, however, is still criss-crossed with narrow rural roads, making driving a time consuming affair.
The main attraction is the Daehan Dawon Tea Plantation, which harvests and packages over 70% of the country’s green tea. Local buses wind their way out of town through terraced hills first cultivated by the Japanese, stopping at the entrance to the plantation on their way to Yulpo. A track through two straight rows of fir trees leads past a hut selling green tea flavoured products ranging from noodles and rice cakes to ice cream, soap to hot pepper paste. The prices are far cheaper than in department stores so make sure you have enough space in your bags to stock up properly.
Tea bushes ascend the contours of the surrounding hills, rising in regular curves, and interrupted only by the odd tree and a few small tombs sectioned off by bamboo fencing. Each bush looks like a miniature hedgerow, half a metre high and extending across hill faces bordered by huge trees poking out of the mist. Tracks run between each bus, gentle, grassy slopes turning suddenly into steep banks of mud and rock. Wooden teahouses congregate at the foot of the hill, outdoor tables face a stage used for cultural performances and tea ceremonies, and back towards the exit a restaurant serves grilled pork seasoned with green tea leaves (Nok sam-gyeop-sal). Buses back into town stop in front of the restaurant back on the main road, which has an old train outside and views down over valleys of tea bushes to the sea.
The Hot Springs at Yulpo, a twenty-five bus ride from Boseong on the other side of the tea plantations, are small – only four pools and a single sauna – but worth visiting if only for the chance to soak yourself in green tea and sea salt without having to brave the sea, visible through steam clouded windows as you relax in the baths. There’s nothing in Yulpo to merit a longer stay so it’s best to come here straight from Boseong before taking a taxi back to the tea plantations.
Buses depart Gwangju for Boseong roughly every half hour between 6.10am and 9.40pm (4,800 won). The last bus back is at 9pm. There are also two buses a day from Seoul, departing the capital at 8.10am and 3.10pm. The bus stops for local services are adjacent to the bus station. The Hot Springs are by the sea in Yulpo; look for buses going to Nok Cha Bat if you want to visit the tea plantation.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 17, 2004
The park entrance is a leisurely half hour stroll from Wuhwajeong Pavilion, set in the centre of a large pond overhung with maple and willow trees. A cable car glides past jagged rock formations and puffs of cloud-like tree cover en route to an octagonal viewing pavilion that looks out over a stone amphitheatre of forested peaks like Seoraebong, which juts up and above the clustered hermitage buildings at Byeokreounam. The terrace below the pavilion is full of tacky souvenirs and outdoor restaurants offering gimchi and gamja-jon (potato pancakes), and a mixture of soju and mountain berry juice called bok-bun-ju that’ll blow your head off. A kilometer-long trail zigzags down from the pavilion to Naejangsa Temple, a white-knuckle mix of hairpin bends and loose rock at the top, before a stone path ends between the guardian statues at the Gate of Four Devas. Steps lead a two-story building and up into the main courtyard, where a single golden Buddha stands in the Hall of Paradise, hundreds of paper lanterns hang from the ceiling of the main hall, and, in the Hall of Avalokitesvara, the omnipotent mother of suffering mankind’s one thousand eyes and hands offer relief from fire, flood, wind and war.
A near two-kilometre long trail runs from the temple to Geunseon Waterfall. After about twenty-five minutes a steep set of steel stairs veers up to the right for Yonggul cave, once the resting place of dragon’s on their way to heaven and more recently the hiding place of a portrait of King Taejo during one of the frequent Japanese invasions. Though the waterfall itself had completely dried up when I visited, the journey is worth it on its own account, cutting through the midst of Giruembawi rock and bypassing Sinseunmoon, a natural arch thought to be the gateway to heaven.
The nearest town of any size is Jongeup. Local buses leave roughly every half hour and cost 950 won, terminating at a lively park village full of restaurants, motels, bars and souvenir shops. Shuttle buses run from the nearby park entrance to the cable car.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 17, 2004
The temple is a fifteen-minute walk from the bus stop at the small park village, a concrete sprawl of shops, restaurants, accommodation, and, somewhat bizarrely, a neon-fronted N.A.S.A. Nightclub. Follow the main road up to the park entrance, where admission to the park and temple costs 3,000 won.
Entering the main compound through the last of three main gates the main hall, Dae-ungjeon, is dwarfed by an adjacent pavilion called Gakgwangjeon, at two stories high and with wooden pillars reaching a height of almost fifty metres one of the temple’s three National Treasures, along with a six metre high stone lantern – thought to be the world’s largest, immediately in front of it and, at the rear, a three-tiered stone pagoda set on lion shaped pedestals.
Although I was only passing through on the way to Yeosu, the rest of the park – with seven major temples and half a dozen peaks of over 1,500 metres - merits a much longer stay if you have time to spare. A trail starting from the corner of the compound at Hwaeomsa continues through the valley up to Nogodan and the Jirisan ridge, culminating 65 kilometres to the east at Daewonsa Temple in South Gyeongsang Province.
Buses link Hwaeomsa to Busan, Gwangju, Jeonju, Namwon, Yeosu and Gurye. The Gurye buses are the most frequent, costing 700 won for the 15-minute ride to the bus terminal, from where you can catch onward services further south.
Jinan is afforded an unusual charm on Saturday mornings by market stalls seemingly taking up every inch of its pavement space, tattered canvas stretching over plastic tubs full of squid, tables piled with mushrooms and endless racks of cheap clothing. The bus station is crowded with elderly women in headscarves sitting on old newspapers laid out across dirty cement; old men hunch in small circles smoking cigarettes, and I’m the only person on the five-minute bus ride under the age of 60. The twin peaks of the park, both under 700 metres high, rise out of the flat plains ahead, a sharp cone to the left while the other hangs a little more limply, its rounded top dropping suddenly on the far side.
Alighting at a small village of souvenir shops and restaurants a steep uphill path leads up to the park entrance, from where it’s just over a kilometre to Tapsa Temple. Two trails branch off at the top of a long flight of steps further on – left for Hwaom Cave or up and right to the peak of Ammaisan. Following the latter, a metal staircase soon turns into a rope-pulled climb up the rock face. The view from the top is not really worth the climb, the panorama is equally good from the metal staircase further down.
Past the tiny Unsoon-sa Temple, the path begins to wind until it reaches Tapsa, named after the eighty or so pagodas, all built over a thirty year period by one man, that surround its three small buildings. Paths run between the pagodas, most of which rise to around four metres high, painstakingly built of small pieces of rubble and individual rocks brought from famous mountains around the country. Dotted about haphazardly, the pagodas nonetheless maintain a remarkable sense of balance, tapering to single stones that continue an almost magical ascent below the shelter of a honeycombed cliff face. Imagine a delicate Japanese garden made of nothing but ballast and you’re halfway there.
The final part of the trail skirts a small lake full of swan boats before ending at a tourist information booth and car park. The buses from here back to Jinan are very irregular, so it’s far better to continue on to the main road, where you can pick up buses and taxis.
Regular buses connect Jinan to Jeonju’s Inter-City Bus Terminal. Services from Jinan on to Maisan depart every 30-40 minutes between 7.30am and 6pm, and there are also direct services to Tapsa at 9.40am, 1.10pm and 4.50pm. The last bus back to Jeonju leaves at 8.50pm.
Buses from Daejeon’s Seobu or Jeonju’s Inter City bus terminals terminate at the small tourist village around the Daedunsan Tourist Hotel, which is connected to the cable car station by a steep road that starts at the park entrance before cutting sharply past souvenir stands and one of Korea’s ubiquitous Viking Boat rides. The views from the cable car are magnificent as it slides up the forested mountainside, passing dramatic outcrops of rock, criss-crossing valleys and a horizon of folded peaks stretching into the distance, all to the bizarre piped soundtrack of the theme from Tales of the Unexpected.
The real fun begins at the end station, where a steep set of metal stairs begins the ten minute hike up to the dizzying Geumgang Bridge, a metal structure fifty metres long and one metre wide which is suspended seventy metres above a chasm, strung between two craggy rock faces. And that’s only the warm up for the truly frightening stairway. Rising diagonally from the ground up to the top of a sheer rock face, the metal steps and handrail bounce up and down at the slightest movement. Once you’ve started the ascent, there’s nothing else to do but keep moving and try to look anywhere but down – a lot trickier than you’d imagine given the angle of the stairs. Alternatively, take the more physically challenging but far safer path to the right of the sign warning those about to climb the stairway not to "trifle or pass the drunken".
The boulder strewn paths running the remainder of the distance to the very top of the mountain can be tricky to navigate, the loose rocks and slanting stone steps requiring a sensible choice of footwear. At the summit, a modernistic stone marker is surrounded by picnicking families and hiking parties shouting into the void below, while souvenir stands sell overpriced pieces of plastic and leather faced old women hawk bottles of water and bars of chocolate, all carried up the mountain in the morning and taken back down again at night. Although you can branch off to explore the nearby temple buildings and scattered remnants of ancient mountain fortresses, most people just hike back down the valley to the bus station – a one hour walk that thankfully avoids the stairway and suspension bridge, both of which are one way only.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 3, 2004
Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom