Chungju via Danyang

We had great plans for the weekend: go to Danyang, see the caves, and take the ferry to Chungju to watch Chungju Hummel v Changwon City, taxi back to Danyang where we would stay the night before going hiking in Sobaeksan National Park on Sunday. Such good plans. There was only one problem. Craig (the event planner in the family) had measured the distances as the crow flies, but we were in the mountains, beside a sizable body of water.

We got the first hint that all would not go to plan when we walked around for about 30 minutes looking for the tourist information center which had seemed just around the corner from the bus terminal on the map. I don’t know why we even bother with the maps the tourist organizations give away– they are never in any way to scale.

It was hot. Damn hot. Craig needed a hat, so we detoured through an outdoor market. The one place selling hats was also a barbershop. That seems like a pretty big hint, but Craig needed a haircut… There was no one inside, but we were spotted while he was returning the hat to the rack. The woman told someone to hurry up, because there was a customer, but then she came over and cut his hair. With no guard on the razor, even though I asked for a #3 several times. I’m not at all convinced it was her shop. At least Craig’s hair grows fast. We finally found a tourist information center (not the first one) just before Craig melted into a puddle of electrolytes on the sidewalk.

Is it a barbershop? Is it a restaurant? Judging by the haircut, I’d say the latter.

I asked the woman working there how far it was to the caves. She helpfully pointed in all directions (except any direction the visible roads followed) and assured me there were three caves within a short walk. We started back out on the main road, assuming there would be signs. There were– pointing to a cave 4km away. By this time, Craig thought he was going to burst into flames at any second, so a 4km walk in direct sun was not an option. It was time for Plan B: head directly to the ferry and just spend a little extra time in Chungju.

Well, the Danyang ferry terminal (장회나루) was over a 20,000 won cab ride away. That was our first hint that maybe we should have researched the distances a little better beforehand. As we were pulling into the ferry parking lot, I saw a street sign announcing 50km to Chungju. Hmmm… We got our tickets (17,000 each for the one-way journey)  wondering if we would end up having two hotel rooms that night: one in Danyang with our stuff and one in Chungju, because we couldn’t get a driver to take us roughly 70-80km.

We had at least timed our arrival well and were the last people on the boat before it sailed. We usually prefer to sit outside on boats, but the inside was about 100 degrees cooler and the windows were large, so we gratefully sat in air-conditioned comfort and took in the amazing views. I really cannot overstate how beautiful that area is. The photos I’m posting certainly don’t do it justice. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to go back in fall, because I imagine that it is  absolutely breathtaking when the leaves are changing.

The view from the Danyang- Chungju ferry.

Imagine this view on all sides with the changing leaves.

The trip was about two hours and, as luck would have it, there was a cab waiting when we arrived. Craig staked it out while I made a quick pit stop, and by the time I got back, another couple had arranged to share it to the bus terminal with us. Again, we were much farther out of town than we had realized. It was almost 20,000 won, and the bus terminal was pretty much on the edge of town. (I’ll digress for a moment and mention that the cab driver charged both parties nearly the full fare, even though a) cab sharing is illegal and b) usually drivers split the fare when they ignore the fact that cab sharing is illegal, but whatever, we were able to get to town.)

We checked the bus timetables to confirm that we would not be able to get a bus back to Danyang and headed to the stadium after a visit to a coffee shop to refuel and get out of the sun for a bit. We were very early, so we just checked that the game was indeed happening at the time and location the website had advertised. In the brief time it took to do that, a local girl struck up a conversation with me. I don’t think there are many foreigners there, or else she just talks to any strange adults she comes across. In contrast to most awkward conversations with kids in this country, she didn’t try to use any English with me at all. After a couple of minutes, Craig and I went to the park next door to chill until game time, so I thought that was the end of our “friendship”.

About 30 minutes before game time as listed on the banner outside (30 minutes earlier than the website), we strolled back over to get situated out of the sun. It was immediately clear that, for once, the website had correct information. So, we were early, but at least we were in the shade. And we got to listen to K-pop blaring from the speakers, which is always a treat.

Chungju Hummel v Changwon City

At about halftime, I went out to get us some fried chicken, the official meal of any sporting event in Korea. This was a lower division game, so there were no vendors on site. The chicken hofs outside the stadium weren’t even open. It is Korea, though, so I was eventually successful in finding a hof that did skewers and got a grab bag of shrimp, chicken, bacon-wrapped tater tots and the like to take back to the stadium.

On my way back to our seats, I passed my new friend and her friends/ brothers/ cousins. Like a pack of hungry dogs, they followed me and ended up eating about 3/4 of our food. As soon as they had cleaned us out, they were off again, but her older brother/ cousin joined us for the rest of the game. He seemed nervous aobut speaking to us in Korean though, so he would just say random English words and Craig would praise him a bit. And so went the rest of the game. The final score was nil:nil, so I guess it is just as well we had a bit of entertainment from the local vagabonds children.

Feral village children. They stopped grabbing our food long enough to take a photo.

We flagged a taxi down as soon as we stepped out of the stadium, and he didn’t bat an eyelash when I asked to go to Danyang. As we drove through town and didn’t see a single person out and about, I realized we were probably going to be his only fare for the evening, so it was no wonder he didn’t balk at all. As it turns out, Chungju to Danyang is an 80,000 won cab ride, when there is absolutely no traffic. I don’t care to think what it would have been earlier in the day, when traffic was bumper to bumper.

Danyang must be a much more popular destination that either of us had realized. The traffic was bumper to bumper when we arrived at lunchtime and it was already picking up when we went to the caves the next morning. It was bumper to bumper again by mid-morning. Not to mention our not-quite-fleabag motel was 60,000 won per night.

We arrived at Gosu Cave at 9:30. It was indeed about a ten minutes walk from the information center, but we took a cab, because it was already hot. We paid our 5,000 won and walked in baby steps the entire way through, because it was already that jam-packed with people. We had been to the lava tubes in Jeju, where there are wide open spaces and you can walk (or stop for photos) at your own pace. Gosu has a narrow passageway throughout and there is no passing. Anytime someone stopped for a photo (or twelve), everyone behind them had to wait.

You can see how relaxing I found Gosu Cave. I think I was looking for a ledge to jump off.

The crowds stressed me out enough that I didn’t even think about stopping to take any photos, even though the formations there were different than any I’d ever seen before. I’m sure I can steal some photos from around the internets, though. That pretty much was enough for us. I couldn’t imagine any of the other caves being so magnificent that it would be worth dealing with more crowds like that.

The weather was far too hot for hiking. So, after a quick cup of coffee, we packed our bags and headed to the bus terminal.

Truer words were never spoken.

We had bought our tickets before going to the caves, but they only sell open tickets there, so we just hopped the next bus. Or, next next, since the driver wouldn’t let us on the next one. There are two kinds of buses to Dong Seoul from Danyang: slow and slower, and he told us to wait 20 minutes for the less slow bus.

Three hours later, we were back in Seoul, eating a lamb curry and planning an afternoon nap. Not a bad way to spend a weekend, even if it wasn’t what we had planned.

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