Posts Tagged ‘Gangwondo’

They say that life is a journey and not a destination, but sometimes when you are travelling it’s nice to have some kind of a destination. This is especially true in Korean cities which are mostly late 20th century places with lots of concrete apartment complexes, outlet malls and out of control commercial signs. Le Corbusier would probably love the Korean metropoles – they are machines for living in. It seems that some new ideas do take off very quickly in Korea.

There has been a trend for out of town complexes like Art Towns, Book towns and conference centres. Many of them probably looked better on paper than in real life. In their enthusiasm, some planners and architects forget that gardeners need to weed between the cracks of concrete, window cleaners need to clean the sheer 100 metre glass windows and retailers actually need to rent out the commercial units. Without those basics the drawing board utopias can quickly end up looking like the sets of poorly conceived sci-fi shows. The concrete and steel rarely sit well in their surroundings if they are not maintained and more importantly – used.

With all this in mind I was very skeptical about going to an out of town coffee ‘factory’ on the outskirts, the very hem of the skirt in this case. The place in question is the Coffee Factory of the Terarosa firm. It is the biggest domestic Coffee company in Korea and has a family owned, kind to farmers kind of feel. I have been to a few branches in Korea and found that it has a strong brand identity and is a welcome change from the other run of the mill places. Run of the mill in this case is the usual concrete urban interior with bookless bookshelves and a really expensive coffee roasting machine – which you can SEE!

After decrypting the bus timetable outside Gangneung Bus Terminal, I decided to take a taxi. It was a great decision which I failed to make on the return journey. The factory is right at the edge of town, the car park is spitting distance from the ring road, if you can spit quite far. The taxi pulled up round the back of the complex and it felt like I was entering another World. To enhance the feeling, a south american looking chap crossed my path decked out in earthy tones and an apron. In contrast to the distopian feel of many new buildings in Korea it felt quite positive. The natural landscape seemed to fit around the impressively big structures. I had to cross a kind of mini Indiana Jones bridge to get to the main edifice(s). The scale of the buildings was impressive but not overwhelming. It felt like there had been an apocalypse but it was a really really long time ago and people had just forgotten about everything apart from coffee and bread. It reminded me of the excellent film version of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Kind of a sixties version of what the future might be like. If I go again I will definitely wear a turtleneck.

Despite fitting in reasonably well with the vegetable gardens and general rural vibe, the Terarosa Factory is something of an oasis in an otherwise typically provincial and unremarkable setting. Even the visiting ajummas (middle aged Korean women) were dressed in more earthy and dare I say tasteful clothes than usual. One of the most impressive things about Korea which I have never adjusted to is the brightly coloured leisurewear of the older citizens. But in this post industrial concrete bunker of hipness, everyone seemed very at home, almost camouflaged. Maybe the architecture and design was playing tricks on me.  Maybe they have a dress code. Anyway, it was quite a contrast to the mornings I’ve spent hiking where the older citizens look pretty tropical.

I won’t go on much more because I’m no coffee expert. However, the coffee tasted like coffee and the bread tasted like bread. Actually, the croissant was the best I’ve had outside France. The staff seemed very kind and professional, not to mention busy. If you do choose to visit this place, try to go on a quiet day because various coach tours come and go, so it’s pretty busy. I hope the pictures capture what is a very special place.

Further Information:

https://www.terarosa.com/

Gangwon-do, Gangneung, Gujeong-myeon, 7 Hyeoncheon-gil

강원도 강릉시 구정면 7 Hyeoncheon-gil

 

Have you heard of Jumunjin? No, neither had I until I went there. I’m always slightly wary of giving away information on less obvious places, but as the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang approaches it’s definitely worth knowing about.

Juminjin is a small beach suburb of the bigger city called Gangneung on Korea’s East Coast. Gangneung is famous for beaches and coffee and is also the venue for the indoor winter sports for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. You can reach Jumunjin  in about 20 mins from down town Gangneung and it’s only a short hop through the mountains to the outdoor alpine events in Pyeongchang County.

The town of Jumunjin is a simple fishing place with a great backdrop of the Seorak mountains. If you are familiar with the East Coast of Korea it’s like a mini Sokcho, which is no bad thing; Sokcho is one of my favourites! The best thing about Jumunjin is that it’s compact which means you can see  interesting places within a 10 minute walk of your hotel. There is the usual mixture of Korean style motels and some bigger resort type places near the beach. However, if you are an international traveller with international standards the best bet seems to be a recently renovated property ‘The Winners Hotel’. This place is set back from the seafront but it’s got a view over the single story fish places in front. it has easy access to the restaurants, coffee shops and some of the places offering boat tours. The hotel feels brand new and it has been finished in a boutique kind of way with tasteful furniture and pieces of contemporary art. Aside from the fixtures and fittings the absolute best thing about staying here is the view over the sea. It’s well worth waking up early to take in the sunrise on a clear day. The balconies are pretty large so you can sit out and enjoy a coffee whilst watching the squid boats come in.

 

Walk along the front if it’s not too windy, but if the wind does come in you can retreat back to the main fish market – parallel to the port area. I’m always happy to look around fish markets because where there is a fish market there are inevitably great restaurants. The main draw of Juminjin is the quality of crabs, there are endless tanks with the imperial crabs grappling over the sides. Having tried the crabs on previous visits to the East Coast I opted for something more economical, and surprisingly, something I hadn’t tried before – Mussels with Rice or ‘Honghapbap’. Not only was this meal amazing, the side dishes were plentiful and pretty tasty. I was astounded that the set menu I ordered also had a full mackerel as well.

 

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The photographs below show the restaurant which is just next to the fish market. You cannot miss the fish market because there is a giant whale guarding the entrance.

Despite waking up with the after effects of soju, the early morning wind freshened me up.  A big surprise for me in this small place was that above the fish market there is a quirky coffee theme park. This includes something for everyone. I actually just wanted to get a coffee but the brunches are really good, and if that wasn’t enough I even want through the trick eye gallery. These are getting commonplace in Korea but they are still fun and they bequeath you a load of novelty photos which lighten the mood for the serious travellers like myself! My favourite was playing pool inside a Van Gogh masterpiece – Dr Gache was looking on to make sure I wasn’t cheating. The coffee was high quality as they have their own roasting machine which you can see up close.

If you are considering getting away from the hoards of tourists either for winter sports or summer beaches then this little place comes recommended. I would also think about stopping here on an East Coast scenic tour. Gangneung is not a large city but it’s quite spread out, with this in mind it was very convenient to have everything on the doorstep of the hotel.

Further information:

Getting to Gangneung and Jumunjin:

At the time of writing the high-speed train has not yet been completed. It is possible by train but it takes a long time and you would have to change in Wonju.

By bus: The easiest terminal is Dong Seoul which has services to both Gangneung and Juminjin. It takes about 2h50 and costs W15,000 to Gangneung

Winners Hotel – Google Maps

The Hotel has recently been converted so it may still be listed as a motel. It’s walkable from the small intercity bus terminal. Head for the seafront and fish market area, the entrance is through a small opposite the boat tours.

Visit Korea Website – Jumunjin Beach

Gangneung Tourism (English Language)

 

 

Sea Train (바다열차)

I had a very pleasant journey from Gangneung to Samcheok on the special tourist train. The seats faced sideways so the passengers could look out of the window to the East Sea. There was of course out of context Muzak on the journey but I have learnt to tune it out and focus on other senses – a useful skill in Korea. When I finally alighted I tried to find a way from the station to the centre of Samcheok. Despite the small size of the town, the train station is a considerable distance from ‘down-town’. As it was the height of summer and I had a backpack, I decided to walk. With hindsight, I believe I was trying to tire myself out so I wouldn’t have to attempt a visit to the famous caves on the same day. I had slept in a jjimjilbang the previous night so I was in need of a decent sleep. I looked in a couple of motels near the bus station but they were triple the usual price, that is literally the price you pay for travelling in peak season. I eventually found a place called the ‘International Motel’, although it was written in Korean which made me giggle. By this point I was sweating more than usual and I probably looked a little pathetic. After checking the prices I was crestfallen again, I asked if there was any discount and the ajumma said she would knock it down from 90,000 to 70,000. I took out 60,000 from my wallet and said this is all I have. She made a brief phone call to the boss and then let me stay. I don’t usually haggle to that extent but I had a strict budget and didn’t want to cut my trip short because of one motel. 

Samcheok River View

 

The evening approached quickly and I noted the bus timetable for the caves then wandered down the river through the long shadows. All the special cave museums watch over the river and face the usual apartment buildings on the other side. The style of architecture in the cultural type buildings of Samcheok is Vegas meets Disneyworld. They don’t seem to be going for the natural wonders angle. I enjoyed walking round Samcheok and I would like to visit on another occasion to stay nearer to the sea and to visit the crazy looking museums which were closed during my stay.

 

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I awoke fresh and well rested, the previous days exertions mixed with some cans of Asahi had rendered me comatose throughout the night. I got to the bus station early and found some other tourists waiting for the same local bus which was cavebound. Luckily the caves are by far the biggest draw in this part of Gangwondo, this makes getting the bus pretty easy because there is always an expectation from those working in the bus station; they know where you are going. The lady in the tourist information booth next to the bus station also spoke pretty good English. After a rickety journey through some spectacular valleys and mountains we finally reached Hwanseon. There were many minbaks and pensions along the way. This was a rustic part of a rustic province and the journey made me feel cut off from the rest of Korea. If I ever return I would like to stay in one of the small pensions in those valleys, a place to escape subways and mobile phone shops.

Hwanseongul is a huge cave. In Korean the word gul (굴) means cave, so you don’t need to say Hwaseongul cave. There are other cave systems around in this part of Gangwondo but this is the most famous and the biggest too. The main reason I wanted to see the cave was not to tick off another Lonely Planet highlight, it was to re live some experiences I had as a schoolboy. I was a pretty keen geography student at school, mainly because I love excursions. I even love the word excursion. Being from the Northern part of Lancashire the impressive limestone features of the Yorkshire Dales were only a short bus ride away. There seemed to be a trip to Malham every year and I always attended. I went on the trips to see limestone caves and features even when I wasn’t studying them. After I had finished studying them I still returned to visit the limestone features. Even on the other side of the world I was able to see some of the same things I studied in class as a child.

 

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On my solo geological excursion I couldn’t find any clints or grykes like in Malham, but the karst scenery was outstanding and has bestowed one of the largest limestone caves in Asia. The cave system was immense with over 6 kilometres of known passages. The problem with these delicate environments is the human contact. Many of the nearby caves are closed to the public and you are restricted from taking photographs or touching anything. Although I managed to get a few phone camera shots. I took a cable car up to the entrance because I was there for caves not for hiking. I expect it would take a minimum of 30 minutes to reach the top by foot but the cable cars or funiculars are a nice way to take in the scenery before you enter the huge natural gateway.  Once inside, the temperature plummeted from the outside summer highs of 33°C  to about  12°C. It was a great relief to be in the cool in what was a pretty vicious heat wave. Some of the rocks drip and spout water from crevasses, this then  joins other little trickles to make  streams, waterfalls and plunge pools. Some of the chambers are  higher than Gothic cathedrals at over 100m tall. In fact I have many theories about church architecture and caves, but that’s another post. Many of the difficult features have been made accessible by metal bridges which gives it the air of an Indiana Jones movie. Unfortunately the majesty of nature has been sabotaged by using glowing lights and exploiting some of the features with bizarre names. The bridge of seven hells, the chamber of coarsely whispered insults, the valley of misshapen croutons, the cascade of venereal diseases…etc. Actually, my fake names may be even better than the ones I saw. I don’t think it’s necessary to adorn such an impressive site with anything other the basic ways of traversing through the features. It was quite funny for a while but in the end I think I felt sorry for the rocks.

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I certainly recommend the effort it takes to get to Hwaseongul. The best place to travel from is Samcheok and given the local scenery it should be worth taking some pack lunch and going hiking. I expect it gets incredibly busy later in the day so to appreciate the place fully I think it’s a good idea to take the early bus.

Timetable

 

 

 

Nami Island 남이섬, or Namiseom is a nice day trip from Seoul. It’s a strange little place in the middle of the damned North Han River. The island is named after a General Nami who was killed for treason in the Joseon dynasty. Apparently they found his burial mound with some rocks. Anyway, it’s not really a historical visit, it’s a kind of fun nature reserve. The island is also famous for one of the first really big dramas in Korea called ‘Winter Sonata’. Many of the romantic scenes were shot in Nami Island and if you are a fan of the show you can have your photo taken with statues of the two main characters.

You can reach the island by the frequent ferries crossing the river or by aerial runway. The aerial runways seem pretty expensive but they are high and look quite thrilling. The island is a beautiful escape from the city and gets extremely busy at weekends with day-trippers from Seoul. You can walk round among the giant sequoia trees, relax by the river, and visit the numerous craft shops and restaurants. There is also a small water park and if you cannot be bothered walking you can hire a bicycle or get on a mini electric car. There are plenty of things to keep you occupied and even after you leave there are several dakgalbi restaurants on the opposite bank of the river.

I was pleasantly surprised by Nami and could have wandered around for a day. I even found a genuine wood fired stone oven in a pizza restaurant. The owner had travelled to Napoli to learn how to make perfect pizzas in the perfect oven. The pizzas are a little expensive but then how often do you get genuine Italian pizzas from a real wood fired oven? The craft places and cafes also kept me entertained.

Getting there:

1h30+
Return ticket+Entrance+ferry 23.000W
Jamsil Station Exit 4 9:30am (Stops 216 and 814)
walk straight to Lotte Mart on the left side; bus stop is in front of Lotte Mart)
45min
4000W
Cheongnyangni to Gapyeong (you could also get on in Yongsan station)
46min
1000W?
Sangbong to Gapyeong (Sangbong is in the east of Seoul but it’s direct from there on the Gyeongchun Line)
***If you travel on the weekend I would recommend taking the train because the traffic is so bad. On a weekday the shuttlebus is very convenient but you will need to book over the phone or online.***
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In the days before things were recorded, when China was in its infancy, various tribes wandered the Korean peninsula. These tribes are related in customs and traditions to Manchuria and the Russian Far East.  There was no Korea or any form of an organised political entity representing such people. As with many tribes found in Siberia, North America and even Northern Finland, they were a shamanistic people who worshipped nature and animals. Two of the most striking and important totemic animals are the tiger and the bear. These two animals (possibly representing two different tribes) prayed to a deity called Hwanung. Hwanung was a kind of prince of the heaven, son of the great Hwanin. The two animals wished to become human but rather than just make them human, Hwanung wanted to test their resolve, so he gave them 20 cloves of garlic and some mugwort. They had to survive off these foods in a cave for 100 days. The lack of sunlight and other foods were too much for the tiger, he gave up after twenty days and left the cave. The bear stayed for the duration and was rewarded by being transformed into a  woman called ‘Ungnyeo’. She became lonely and needed company so Hwanung  married her and  she gave birth to a son, who was named Dangun Wanggeom.

Dangun is the father of the first Korean nation called Gojoseon. ‘Go’ means ancient as there is another dynasty called Joseon which occurred later. Like most mythology there is usually some history hiding somewhere in the mystical tales. The totemic animals may represent tribes who were included or excluded in this federation.  The Chinese Emperor Yao may have been in power at some point during Dangun’s reign, if this is the case then we are looking at  2357 BC-2256 BC. Dangun is certainly important in the history of Korea, even the years were named after him before the 60s. Dangi (단기) began in 2333 BC and Dangun’s foundation of Korea is celebrated, or perhaps remembered on October 3rd on National Foundation Day(개천절) or “Festival of the Opening of Heaven”.

Like rulers the World over, Dangun was probably deified to prevent any challenge to his authority. If any of this sounds like nonsense then I ask you to take a closer look at other mythical figures or creation myths. Intertwining the foundations of nations in myth is common to most cultures and it allows pre historical  peoples to make sense of ‘history’ using narratives they understand. It also doesn’t do any harm to the status of the élite if they come from sacred beginnings . If you consider any of this story primitive and lacking in  facts then here are some more to consider:

Rome: founded by twin babies Romulus and Remus who were saved by a river, suckled by a she-wolf and fed by a woodpecker.

Britain: founded by Brutus of Troy (son of Aeneas) who sailed there after a dream and had to avoid sirens then defeat giants before naming Britain after himself.

Everyone: God got bored and made Adam, then he used Adam’s rib to make a woman…..

Ever since I learnt about this myth I was keen to visit the sacred mountain where Dangun has an altar to his name. The place in question is on Taebaeksan 태백산. Unlike most mountains the top is completely barren and devoid of trees. There is a large alter inside a stone built structure. After a 2 hour hike I was rewarded with one of the calmest and most beautiful places in Korea. People ascend this mountain on New Year’s day to see the sunrise, I can see why. I stopped of at a buddhist temple for some water and then another short hike got me to the top. It was an extremely hot day and I felt like I could see the whole world from this mountain top. I hope to return some day to see the ceremony carried out  by the Shaman priests.

 The best place to start the hike up to the altar is Danggol (당골). Here are the times from the bus station(터미날) in Taebaek and back again from the Dangol carpark. It takes about 25 minutes to get to Danggol carpark and you can get food and drinks there as well as information from the Provincial park office. The hike to the altar and back takes around 4 hours.

Taebaek is best reached from Dong Seoul by bus and takes about 3h30.

Taebaek also has a train station connecting it with Gangneung and Seoul Cheongnyangni 4h15.

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=791747

http://tour.taebaek.go.kr/site/en/sub4/sub4_3_1.jsp