Yongmun: placid paths or ‘petrolhead’ pleasure

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Yongmun: placid paths or ‘petrolhead’ pleasure

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With summer well upon us, vacationers are visiting Korea’s mountains to escape from extreme heat and to appreciate deep valleys full of weathered rocks and waterfalls. What many mountain lovers do not know is that there is a mountain near Seoul with views comparable to those on Mount Seorak in Gangwon province.
With its deep valleys with cold, clear flowing water and its broadleaf trees reaching to the sky, Mount Yongmun provides a breezy getaway with attractions including stunning views, a cheesy theme park and all-terrain vehicle rides.
Mount Yongmun in Yangpyeong county, just 42 kilometers (26 miles) northeast of Seoul, stands 1,157 meters (3,796 feet) above sea level and stretches 8 kilometers from east to west and 5 kilometers from north to south. The mountain top is flat and its ridgelines are marked with plateaus. The southern side of the mountain has steep slopes, waterfalls and layers of rocks through its deep valleys.
The mountain is home to four old Buddhist temples including Youngmunsa, whose history dates back to 913 A.D., during the Silla dynasty. The temple was burned down by the Japanese in 1907 as it had been used by militias who fought the Japanese attempts to colonize the country. The temple was partially rebuilt by Priest Chiun in 1909. The buildings that now stand were rebuilt in 1982 by Priest Seongeol.
In front of the temple is a huge ginkgo tree. Registered as the 30th most important natural monument in Korea, the tree is about 1,100 years old and is the oldest and grandest ginkgo tree in Korea. It is 60 meters high and has a girth of 12.3 meters. Although the temple has suffered damage many times, the tree has survived it all.
To explore Mount Yongmun’s valleys, visitors can start from the parking lot. After walking past a road lined with restaurants on the right and an outdated theme park on the left, they will reach Yongmun Temple. There are information boards in both Korean and English telling the history of the temple and the ginkgo tree.
The hiking track continues from the temple and gets steeper and rockier. Going further into the valley, it becomes cooler and cooler, as if it was not summer. It is pleasant to feel the cool breeze and look at the crystal clear water flowing down the valley. The water is cold, but children frequently jump into it anyway. The beautiful valley with its many different rock types, stream and dense forest easily impresses visitors.
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There are several routes along the valley. To best appreciate the stream, choose the track to Madang Bawi, or Madang Rock. The distance from the parking lot to the temple is 1 kilometer and from the temple to Madang Rock is a further 1.9 kilometers. A map provided by the information booth near the parking lot indicates that it takes more than 3 hours from the parking lot to the top of Mount Yongmun. For an easier route, select the path to Sangwon Temple along Neungseongil track. This leads to Janggun Peak and the mountain top and takes about 3 hours.
Apart from its natural beauty, the Mount Yongmun area has a wilder side. Just before the parking lot, a road to the right leads to a small hillside area with trails for all-terrain vehicles. The four-wheel motor bikes, commonly called ATVs, are about the size of bumper cars at amusement parks. ATV riding is becoming popular in Korea, and there are many ATV parks opening in resort areas in Gangwon province and on Jeju island.
At first sight, the park seems a little rundown with just a few ATVs,m but visitors will be surprised to see how well the tracks are constructed. Up the hill is a 2-kilometer-long intermediate track, consisting of long winding courses, wooden bridges and sudden declines.
The vehicles can travel as fast as 70 kilometers per hour, but the recommended speed is 40 kilometers per hour.
Drivers start out on a short beginner’s track within sight of the road to learn the different controls, including the accelerator and brakes. Operators who prove their ability are then allowed to drive the intermediate level track on the hill.
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The ATVs are relatively easy to operate. The bike’s front and rear brake levers are located on the handles and the accelerator is a lever on the right handle that is controlled with the right thumb. It takes 10 to 30 minutes or five to 10 rounds of the beginner’s track to adjust to maneuvering the vehicles, although there are a small number of people who never get to the intermediate course.
“There are some people who are just not good at handling machines,” said Kim Jong-ryeol, the operator of the ATV park.
No license is required to drive the vehicles, because they are classified as farm equipment. Some countries do not allow the operating of ATVs without a license because of accidents resulting from the vehicles overturning. In Korea, many people, including senior citizens, commute between villages by ATV.
Drivers need to put on gloves, helmets and knee and elbow pads before driving the vehicles. Children younger than seven years old may not get on the ATVs but those between eight and 13 years of age can ride on the back of a vehicle operated by an adult.
According to Mr. Kim, his vehicles and drivers are insured and if any injuries occur, the drivers will be compensated.
Those who are comfortable driving on the intermediate track can also drive on the mountain. Driving on the mountain needs skill as there are no specially-built tracks. Vehicle hire costs 20,000 won ($21) for 30 minutes, 30,000 won for 1 hour and 40,000 won for 2 hours. On weekends, groups may need prior reservations. To book an ATV, call (011) 359-6956.


by Limb Jae-un

Express buses to Yongmun depart from Dongbu Bus Terminal near Gangbyeon subway station, line No. 2, exit 3 and Sangbong Bus Terminal on line No. 7, exit 2. The bus journey to Yongmun takes about one hour. Buses from Yongmun to Mount Yongmun run every hour from 7:10 a.m. until 7:50 p.m. For more information, call the Mount Yongmun tourism office at (031) 773-0088 or visit http://tour.yp21.net.
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