Taean: sand beaches, pines, peace and lilies

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Taean: sand beaches, pines, peace and lilies


TAEAN, South Chungcheong province ― It was the morning after Korea had been defeated by Switzerland in the 2006 World Cup. I had woken in the middle of the game, (The match started at 4 a.m., local time) and went on to feel sad that the Korean national team didn’t make the next round. The players did a great job, but I still needed to do something to fill the empty space in my mind.
Right after the game, I packed a bag and left for Taean county in South Chungcheong province. Its coastline is heavily indented and 530.8 kilometers (329.8 miles) long, and contains a great number of beautiful beaches.
Yes, I thought, it’s time to relax and tan at the beach.

It took about two-and-a-half hours to drive to Taean from Seoul. On entering the administrative district of Taean, banners advertising a lily festival caught my eye.
As it was still too early in the morning for the beach, I turned in the direction of the festival the banners indicated. I arrived at the festival site and the strong scent of lilies filled my nostrils. A sea of lilies ― probably about a million pink and yellow plants swaying in a field ― stretched for about 4 hectares.
“Taean started planting lilies eight years ago, after importing small bulbs, mostly from the Netherlands,” said Kang Hang-sic, an official from the Taean County Office of the Korea Florist Association, host group of the festival.
The lilies take a few years to become tall enough to export, mostly to Japan, so the farmers decided to hold a festival to share their beautiful flowers with others, while attracting more travelers to the region, added Mr. Kang.
According to the festival pamphlet, there are about 4,000 kinds of lilies in the world, of which Korea has 123.
“The soil and maritime climate of Taean are good for raising lilies,” said Mr. Kang. “Taean is famous for garlic, and garlic is from the lily family.”
The festival has one greenhouse full of dozens of varieties of lily, including California, Yelloween, Lombardia and Tropic Diamond, and another greenhouse that contains 100 varieties of western orchids.
The festival ends tomorrow.


My next destination was Mongsanpo Beach with its adjacent pine forest which has stood for more than 40 years. The pines are very tall, not like the short, twisted ones you see in Seoul, and protect the village from the sea winds.
Although I got there around 11 a.m., it was still very misty, making for a mysterious atmosphere as shafts of light cut through the pine groves.
The tide was out leaving a huge foreshore area, on which a few scattered families tried to catch clams and tiny crabs, as the shellfish tried even harder to bury themselves and avoid the children digging.
I walked toward the sea for about 15 minutes, but could neither see the water nor hear the sound of waves. Instead, I abruptly found myself lost in the middle of the beach. Through the mist, I could only see vague silhouettes of people, and couldn’t hear anything ― as if I was the only one in the mist.
The tide seemed to be coming in, or so I believed, and I got frightened, thinking that I must leave before the water rushed in. I walked toward the silhouettes rapidly and asked which way was out. They all told me different directions, increasing my concern.
When I finally saw the pine trees, I was relieved to be safe.
So, here’s a tip. Don’t go too far unless you have checked what time the tide will turn, or without a compass.


I was now ready to lie down on a beach and relax, while listening to the sound of waves. I headed northwest for Mallipo Beach, one of the most beautiful foreshores on the west coast, along with Daecheon and Byeonsan.
The beach earned its name because the white sand coastline is about 10,000 ri long (10,000 is man in Korean while ri is a Korean traditional unit to measure distance) ― about 3 kilometers long. (When “r” follows “n” in Korean, the pronunciation changes.) Near Mallipo are two other popular beaches ― Cheollipo (1,000 ri) and Baengnipo (100 ri).
Even though only a few kilometers away from Mongsanpo Beach, the atmosphere here was totally different. The fog had cleared and a great number of visitors were already enjoying the hot summer day: A bunch of young students played soccer; another group of youngsters screamed as they paddled in the sea; a family with very young children fought the waves; a couple with their pant legs rolled up walked barefoot hand in hand, and an extended family set up a parasol and lay down in the warmth, no doubt chatting about the little things happening in their lives.
A dozen seagulls were also enjoying the sunshine on the beach. They didn’t seem afraid of people and were eating whatever snacks they were offered. It was also a scene not to be missed when a flock of seagulls all took off, one by one.
The water was clean and the sun very warm, helping me relax as I lay on the sand, watching the seagulls. It is little wonder that seagulls were chosen as the bird of Taean county.


After a while, I felt in need of shade. About 10 minutes drive north from Mallipo Beach is the Chollipo Arboretum. It’s also adjacent to the seashore, and has wonderful views of a beach and islands near Taean.
The arboretum has more than 10,000 varieties of trees and flowers ― both from Korea and overseas ― on about 67,900 square meters of land with two ponds. It takes one to two hours to see every corner of the garden. Each tree and flower is labeled with its botanical name, and they are tended by 15 staff members.
The arboretum was founded by Carl Ferris Miller (1921-2002) in 1970. Mr. Miller was originally from West Pittston, Pa., but took Korean citizenship in 1979, changing his name to Min Pyong-gal. He had served in the U.S. Navy as an interpreter and translator of Japanese during World War II, and came to Korea in 1945 after the war. He fell in love with the “land of the morning calm” on arrival, and decided to come back to live and die here.
After Mr. Miller returned to Korea in 1947, he worked for the Bank of Korea and securities companies, and poured all the money he earned into building the garden. He also transported and rebuilt a number of hanok (Korean traditional houses) from Seoul to the garden, and they are now used as guest houses.
A guide said that the arboretum doesn’t use any chemicals or fertilizer, because the now-renamed Mr. Min favored a natural way of life.
“So, only the strong [plants] survived, naturally,” he added. The guide then told an anecdote demonstrating how Mr. Min emphasized remaining “natural.” “One of the staff cut down a branch that blocked a trail and after finding it, Mr. Min fired the worker,” the guide said.
The arboretum used to be open for sponsors only but recently opened to the public on weekends for guided tours, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tours cost 10,000 won ($10).

by Park Sung-ha

To get to Taean, take the Seosan Expressway and exit at the Seosan Interchange onto National Road No. 32. Alternatively, you can exit at the Hongseong Interchange onto Provincial Road No. 96.

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