Winter Scenic Trips Will DelightImagine a winter scene in a quiet suburban area of a small country town. The first snow of the year covers the landscape while wafting smoke from the chimneys of little cottages add a sense of coziness. Visiting such a place is like walking into the "snow land" so often portrayed in traditional Korean paintings. For those lucky enough to have the time to throw some warm clothes into a backpack and head off in search of this mythical scene, the Korea National Tourism Organization recommends a number of tours for a winter jaunt.
Kangwon Province offers a number of attractions including Mt. Taebaek and the surrounding area, the famous wharf called Jumunjin and a mineral spring named Osaek Medicinal Spring. Mt. Taebaek has a trek path dotted with religious and historical sites. It takes five or six hours for the whole trip, starting at the Buddhist temple Yuilsa and finishing at the base on the other side of the 1,567-meter high mountain in an area called Sododangkol. At the top of the mountain is a stone altar said to have been the place of worship for Dangun, the myth-shrouded ancient founder of Korea. From the altar, there is a magnificent view of the area.
Surrounding the mountain are other natural wonders. There are two ponds, Hwangji and Geomryongso, which are the sources of the Nakdong and Han rivers respectively. Geomryongso is famous for some marks around its edge that resemble the footprints of a dragon. It takes about 40 minutes to travel by bus between the two sites. Also of interest in the area is Samsuryeong which has a gazebo and provides a rest spot. At 920 meters, it offers a spectacular view of the forks of the Osipcheon, Nakdong and Han Rivers.
National road No. 7 along the East Coast leads to Jumujin. Winter is squid season and you'll find the wharf packed with tourists looking to buy the best quality squid. It is not unusual to see hundreds of squid hanging out to dry in the surrounding settlements.
Osaek, a mineral spring, is one of the most popular tourist sites of the province. Sparkling water from the spring is believed to be good for health. A glass of cold spring water or a bath at a nearby spa is refreshing.
In the central part of Korea, there is the 1,051-meter-high Mt. Songni and the Suanbo spa, one of the best-known hot springs in the nation. Situated in North Chungchong province, Songnisan is on the boundary between North Chungchong province and Kyongsang province. Even though the mountain is known for its red and yellow scenery in autumn, it looks wonderful in winter as well. Suanbo spa is the best place to enjoy a bath after a long walk on a winter day.
On Mt. Songni, there is a Mahayana Buddhist temple called Beopjusa. This was a popular religion in Korea at one time but its following has now dwindled. At the entrance of the temple, there is an 600-year-old pine tree that inspired a myth from the Chosun Dynasty. It tells of a time when King Sejo was passing through the area and the tree lifted up its branches as a sign of respect for him. The King was so impressed that he rewarded the tree with knighthood. Also of interest near the temple is a bronze statue of Maitreya who brought Mahayana Buddhism.
Although the roads are rather steep, it is worthwhile to make an excursion to Munjangdae, one of the nine peaks of Mt. Songni. Local folklore says that those who climb to the peak three times will go to heaven and it is an idea hard to resist when one surveys the countryside from the peak. Vast cliffs partially hidden by clouds greet the eye. King Sejo from the Chosun Dynasty is said to have recited poems to his court on the peak.
Hwayang Valley in North Chungchong province boasts of magnificent rocks and cliffs that attract many tourists. The five-kilometer long valley looks like a beautiful folding screen made of natural wonders.
In South Chungchong province, there are many ruins from the Paekche dynasty. Most of these are scattered around Buyeo, the dynasty's capital. There is a well-known cliff called Nakhwaam from which many court ladies jumped into the Baengma River and died to avoid capture when Shilla defeated Paekche in 660. North of Buyeo is Janggoksa, a temple built during the Paekche dynasty on Mt. Chilkap. It is over 1,000 years old and has many relics from the Baekje dynasty.
Visitors to South Chungchong can enjoy bird watching at Cheonsu Bay where many migratory birds reside during the winter, or walk on the beaches of the west coast. The Seohae Bridge, a new, high-tech bridge on the Asan Bay, which opened in November, attracts tourists to the province as well.
In Gangjin county, South Cholla province, there is a Buddhist temple called Baengnyeonsa and the birthplace of Kim Yeong-rang, the poet famous for his work "Until Peonies Blossom." The temple is well-known for the camellia woods nearby. Not far from the temple is Mt. Mandeok where Jeong Yak-yong, a respected scholar of the Chosun era, stayed during his exile in the 1800s. He was accused of practicing Catholicism, which was banned at the time, and was banished to the south.
Also in Gangjin county is Gyeongpo beach to the south of Wolchulsan National Park. This is not to be confused with the more popular beach of the same name in Kangwon Province. The nearby town Hwansun is also a worthy cultural spot and has a hot spring. The temple Unjusa, which has a statue of a reclining Buddha, is one of the most popular attractions. Other activities in the area are a visit to a stone cliff called Hwasunjeokbyeok and a tour around Mt. Baeka.
For more information in English, visit the Korea National Tourism Organization's web site (www.visitkorea.or.kr) or call 02-757-0086 or 02-1330.
by Lee Chul-jae