Seoraksan Mountains

November 15, 2008 at 10:42 am (Uncategorized)

On October 18th I went out to the East coast on a trip with Sarah, the other English teacher at our school, her two friends Ryan and Carolyn, and our favourite Korean teacher, Wendy.  We’d been talking with Wendy since we arrived about going out to see the Seoraksan mountains, which is known as the most beautiful mountain range in Korea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seoraksan).  Wendy had been out to Seoraksan before, so she acted as our tour guide and we tagged along as dutiful foreigners.

Our original plan was to meet at the crack of dawn at the South end of Seoul to catch a bus heading out to Sokcho, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokcho), the closest major city to the mountain range.  Wendy called on Friday night to let me know that the only available bus on Saturday morning that would take us out to Seoraksan was actually leaving earlier than the crack of dawn, and we’d have to meet her at 5:30 otherwise we wouldn’t get out there until sometime in the afternoon.  As the furthest thing from a “morning person”, that was tough news to swallow.  So when my alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 4, I lept out of bed – bright eyed and bushy tailed – eager to start the day.  Ha!  Luckily I’ve learned the fine art of sleeping in moving vehicles, and as soon as the bus left the terminal in Seoul I fell fast asleep.

I awoke about three hours later to the sun blazing in my face to find that we were somewhere close to the East coast.  We stopped at a small convenience store in the middle of nowhere, and about 1/3 of the passengers made their way off the bus, so Wendy asked an older Korean lady if this was where we should get off to go to Seoraksan.  Oh yes, absolutely, she replied, so we grabbed our bags and hopped off.  Wendy walked over to the closest group of hikers and asked what was the best route to get to the mountain; the answer made her jaw drop and she started speaking very rapid Korean.  Not a good sign.  Apparently the lovely lady from the bus was not correct in guiding us to get off at that particular location, and we were now out in the middle of Nowhere, South Korea.  We checked inside the convenience store, and the next bus that would continue to Sokcho was still a few hours away.  At that point I began to hope that I was still sleeping on the bus, but sadly, it was not so. 

The Korean hikers offered to take us with them as they traveled to a near-by Buddhist temple, so we hiked along a deserted road for about half an hour until we came to a shuttle station.  The sign advertised that the temple was a 20 minute walk from the station, or a 10 minute shuttle ride.  We were still half-asleep at this point, and unanimously voted for the shuttle bus.  It’s worth noting that the Korean concept of time is loose at best – the “10 minute shuttle ride” to the temple was closer to 25 minutes, and there’s no way in the entire world that a person could have hiked all the way up the treacherous, winding road in 20 minutes.  Once we arrived at the temple a couple of Korean men asked to take pictures with us Westerners for posterity, which made me feel a little like a circus freak.  We’re at a centuries-old Buddhist temple at the foot of a magnificent mountain range, and they wanted a picture of the white people!?  Oh, Korea, you can be so strange sometimes. 

The temple, called Baekdamsa, (http://www.baekdamsa.org/) was another beautiful example of Buddhist artistry.  This time I was actually able to take a short video of a monk doing his ritual chanting, and will try and post it.  Baekdamsa also had a very interesting feature – at the entrance to the site there was a very rocky riverbed, and visitors to the temple had made hundreds upon hundreds of small mounds out of these stones to form shapes similar to the Canadian inuksuk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inukshuk).  Wendy explained that these creations are called wish mounds, and that the creator effuses his or her hopes, wishes and dreams into each stone as the tower is created.  It was also extremely important that no one knock over another person’s wish mound, which would bring terribly bad luck, and also made navigating through the riverbed to take pictures very treacherous.  So after a quick tour of the temple we hopped on the shuttle bus, and headed back down to the main road to try and flag down a bus.  Well, Wendy tried to flag down a bus.  There was no way any of us Westerners had the guts to try that one out. 

We arrived in Sokcho, after our slight detour, right around lunch time.  We wandered around the vicinity of the bus station, but didn’t really see too many food options that looked appealing, so we decided to grab a taxi and head up to the mountains.  The driver dropped us off at the foot of the main entrance to Seoraksan, and we were disappointed to discover that there were even fewer restaurants or even food stands up there.  We trekked up the hill towards the entrance, joining throngs of Koreans eager for yet another weekend of hiking in the mountains.  It truly is a national obsession here.  Every weekend we see subway cars packed with older Korean men and women decked out in full hiking gear complete with the large camping backpack, stainless steel walking poles and of course, the ubiquitous Korean visor.  Just before the entrance we found a food stand that had what appeared to be at least semi-decent food, so Wendy placed an order and we sat down at a table.  We were brough skewers of what I can only assume was chicken (?) and a large pajeon, a yummy Korean savory pancake made with eggs, green onions, and seafood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pajeon).

We arrived at the park, payed the nominal $1.60 entrance fee, and set out towards the Biryeong, or “flying dragon”, waterfall that Wendy had visited before.  We crossed a massive stone bridge, complete with dragon heads at each end, and were given really spectacular views of the mountains all around us.  I can’t do them justice, so take a look at the attached pictures for a better perspective.  The sides of the mountains were on fire from the colours of the leaves – it was breathtaking.  We walked along a dirt trail, then began ascending a steep stone path into the mountains.  We worked up quite a sweat as we climbed higher and higher.  When we arrived at the foot of the waterfall we joined the dozens of other hikers assembled there for a much-needed rest and enjoyed the amazing view. 

It was about mid-afternoon at this point, so we retraced our steps and headed back down to the park entrance.  We hopped in another taxi to get back to Sokcho, and were treated to a blast from the Western past courtesy of our Korean driver who was stuck in time somewhere circa 1988-1992.  He had the classic late eighties, early nineties mushroom cut, several gold chains, and a shiny purple shirt.  He obviously wanted to talk to the ladies in particular using his less-than-stellar English skills, and serenaded us with classics like Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”.  It was priceless.   

Before heading back into Seoul we had about half an hour to kill, so we headed down to the beach and I got to touch the Pacific ocean – kind of cool for someone like me who hasn’t seen much of the world yet.  Sarah and Wendy picked up the Korean version of the corndog from a street vendor, which includes the delectable addition of whole french fries in the batter surrounding the hot dog, giving it a little extra “oomph” (a.k.a. cholesterol and saturated fat).  Our bus ride was fantastic – our seats reclined, had foot-rests and neck supports, which made them about a billion times more comfortable than those we endured on our Korean Air flight that lasted about twenty times longer.  It was a great day, but the sight of my bed at the end of another crazy Korean adventure was a welcome one, to say the least.

baekdamsa-temple-8

baekdamsa-temple-9

wishing-stones-12

wishing-stones-7

mountain-view

seoraksan-mountains-4

bridge-to-mountain-path

carolyn-watching-the-stream

forest-stream

waterfall-2

Advertisements

1 Comment

  1. Freaky Deaky Lesley said,

    Beautiful shots Lisa and Dave, wish I was there…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: