Seoraksan National Park II

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December 19th 2015
Published: January 6th 2016
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19th Dec: We left Seoul around 8 am and headed east to Gangwon-do. I was happy to be getting out of the city and spending the weekend before Christmas somewhere beautiful. We had a couple of stops on the way and we arrived to the area, where we were meant to be hiking. However, luck was not on our side, the trail had been closed as rockfall in the area had made it too dangerous to hike. Time for plan B, we would head to the main part of the national park and do the hike that we were going to do tomorrow instead. We arrived at the main entrance around 11-11:30 am.

We headed along the new trail to the waterfall. The trail was only 2.5 kilometres and the slope was very gentle. It was like a nice walk in the park. This trail has only been open for a month or two. Before that the area had been closed for twenty or forty years for conservation. This winter has been really mild and that was evident as we hiked along. There was no snow on the lower ground and only one or two small patches of ice. We came to Biryong Waterfall, that area was really busy, so we continued on to Towangseong Waterfall Observatory. The trail was only 400 metres, going up stairs, but there were so many people, we were going at a snail's pace. We constantly had to stop. Nightmare! Not that it got any better when we got to the observatory deck. It was just a clusterfuck of people. I managed to push my way to the front and get some photos. However because we were there around midday, the sun was high in the sky and you couldn't really see the waterfall very clearly. To be honest, it was a total disappointment. This is one of those moment when I really wished I could travel during the week when the area would be quieter.

It was still early in the afternoon and we had lots of time left, so we headed to the cafe that serves free tea. The tea was really delicious, the woman informed us that it is made with bamboo, mulberry and pine leaves. From there we took a look at the Big Buddha as it was right next to the teahouse. I have seen may Buddhas in my time, but this one is really impressive. We followed the path round and headed over the bridge to the right as this trail would lead us up to Ulsanbawi. The trail is just over three kilometres and the first two are along a very easy slope.

However, the trail soon starts to get steep after Gyejoam. I battled on for a couple of hundred metres and came to a rest point. Here there was a nice flat area on the rocks where you could stretch out and take a rest, which we did. The views here across the valley were gorgeous, too. Then it was the final push up to Ulsanbawi, I think it was about six or seven hundred metres, doesn't sound too bad, but it was tough. The path was very steep and soon it gave way to stairs, lots and lots of stairs! I now know what everyone means when they curse all the wretched stairs. Luckily, the views were absolutely gorgeous, and this kept my spirits up! I loved the random trees growing out of the rock face. I kept going, trying not to stop too many times, but I must have stopped to catch my breathe about a million times. Finally, finally, I emerged at the top. The views were stunning, now I understand why so many people rave about Seoraksan. Last time I visited the weather was crappy, so the views weren't very good, and I felt that I had been to better national parks, but now Seoraksan has won a place in my heart. You could see the mountain ranges and you could also see down to Sokcho and the ocean, truly beautiful. Luckily going back down didn't take too long and we got to the bottom of the trail, just as it started to get dark.

We left around 6 pm and headed to Sokcho to visit the big food market there. Normally, I'm not very impressed with Korean markets, but this one was pretty good. There was one street that sold loads of street food. Fried chicken is famous here, I didn't buy any, but I got to try some free sample, it was really yummy. I also bought some squid sundae to try later and a little crabby mac and cheese, which was served in a crab shell, pretty tasty. From the market we wandered down to a small river. We then took this strange, but cool boat across. The boat is attached to a rope and the passengers use a metal stick to pull the rope to propel the boat across the river. On the other side of the river there was a small village, we headed into a store to buy booze and snacks for later. Then we walked down to the beach. It was too cold and too dark, so we got on to our bus as it was parked up waiting for us. We headed to our hotel. It was freezing! They obviously didn't put the ondol on to warm up the rooms before we arrived. We ate the squid sundae, I really enjoyed it, although you had to stuff a piece in your mouth all at once and it was rather big, so I probably looked like a right tramp eating it. We headed down to the dining room for dinner and a few beers.

20th Dec: I didn't sleep very well last night. Even though the ondol was on and I was lying on the floor, it wasn't very strong, as although my back was warm, the front of my body was still cold. I had a yummy breakfast of bread, cheese and scrambled eggs, and made a peanut butter and jam sandwich to take on my hike. We left the pension before nine and were deposited at the entrance to Seoraksan National Park not long after. Today we had to pay our own entrance fee. It was 3,500 won, which is a steal in my book, it must cost a fortune to maintain the park. You have to pay the entrance fee in cash, and there is an ATM right next to the ticket off in case you are caught short.

Since I had hiked Ulsanbawi yesterday, I decided to hike to Biseondae Rock today. I walked through the entrance of the park, past the big Buddha statue. Yesterday we took the bridge to the right, but today I took the one to the left. There is a sign telling you the different hiking routes, but to be honest, it is a bot confusing. The trail to Biseondae Rock is only three kilometres from the entrance of the park and the trail is extremely easy. After passing the temple, the road continues into the woods. It then passes along by a stream, the water in the pools of the stream were the most beautiful shades of turquoise blue. It didn't take long to reach the rock, definitely less than an hour.

Biseondae rock is where the wide rock between the precipices forms a pool.The name Biseondae means fairy flying platform. The name comes from the legend about a fairy that ascended to heaven while lying on a rock admiring the scenery. The area was really pretty, but there must have been a shelter or cafe there, which was in the process of being demolished or renovated. the noise ruined it a bit. I was also sad to see that a lot of rubbish had made its way into the water. There was even a fridge in there. I hope that it will be properly cleaned up once the construction work is finished.

From Biseondae, we had two options: to go to the waterfalls that were a couple of kilometres away or up to the Geumgang Cave. The cave was only 600 metres away but the trail was graded at expert level. My legs were a bit sore from yesterday, so I moved very slowly up the trail. It was bloody tough and it took me ages to get there, with many stops. I could see the entrance to the cave on the cliff face. There was a steep set of stairs heading up to the cave and I couldn't believe I was heading so far up. There is a lovely viewpoint, where you can see across and down to Biseondae. It was really beautiful. However the construction noise at Biseondae, kind of ruined the tranquility. Then it was time to tackle the last hurdle, the steps up to the cave.

The staircase was a bit scary, especially the closer you to the cave. The views were stunning, but looking down was a bit scary. I wish that they would build staircases that were solid, and didn't have massive gaps, so you can see the ground far, far below. The stairs looked like a fairly new addition. You could see the old stairs which had been cut into the rock, they also seemed to just stop, so I don't know if you had to scramble up the rock face, or that there had been another set of stairs there. I made it up these last step of stairs without too many breaks. Geumgang Cave was pretty unique. There was a small hermitage and a monk was praying and chanting inside. I took my shoes off and went in to pay my respects. I hadn't expected the cave to be like this and thought it was magical. I think the monk must live there as there were clothes hanging up in the outer room and big bags of rice. I think some of the others with eagle eyes said that they had spotted a kind of hidden door, so maybe that lead to a room where the monk lived.

I still had a bit of time before the bus would pick us up, the cafe near the temple looked full, so I decided that the best way to keep warm would be to keep moving. I decided to head towards Gyejoam, which is about the half way point on the hike up to Ulsanbawi, just before the trail starts to get difficult. I was in no hurry, so just walked slowly and enjoyed my time outside. This time, I went for a look in the shrine. It was just like a normal temple, with a big statue of Buddha inside. Outside on the rocks, there were some great Buddha statues, I think they looked so good because the rock was quite dark and the statues were a light grey, making a pretty contrast. The grotto was built by Vinaya Master Jajang in 652, during the Silla Dynasty. Jajang, Dongsan and Bongjeong, who were the forefathers of Buddhism in Korea, practiced their religion. The grotto was built in the cave under Moktakbawi rock, which was the most rounded of places there.

I headed back down and I stopped into the teahouse, which we visited yesterday, that offers free tea. The lady brought me a pot of tea over. The cafe was very quite today. I enjoyed the tea and bought a box of teabags to take home. It's perfect to drink on cold winter nights, as it contains no caffeine. The bus came to collect us at 3 pm, we drove to Sokcho to pick up the people, who had sent the day there. I really need to visit Sokcho properly. It has a beach and also a view of the gorgeous mountains. We drove past Seoraksan on the way back to Seoul, truly beautiful.

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