Juwangsan National Park
Way back in April, Craig and I were on a mission to check off all of the national parks in Korea before his contract ended. Juwangsan was the last on the list, mainly because it’s in Gyeongbuk and one of the few places in Korea that is a pain to get to from Seoul. The best thing I can say about the transportation is that I didn’t accidentally act like a jerk in someone’s car.
After a long bus ride made even longer with numerous stops in one-horse towns and towns which wished they had a horse, we arrived at the gates of Juwangsan National Park. Okay, I guess it could have been worse– you can take a single bus from Dong Seoul to the gates of the park. Anyway, we started by checking out departure times, hoping to sort our tickets in advance. No dice– the tickets are sold by machine, but they are the old style “admit one” kind which are only good on the the day and are strictly first come, first served.
We were able to pick up the thinnest, most over-priced poncho available outside of a sporting event. Craig had packed his wet weather gear, but I had not, and the weather was looking a bit iffy. As we left the bus terminal, we passed a pile of at least one hundred discarded ponchos, so I could have saved myself a few thousand won, if I hadn’t been so proactive.
It was already mid-afternoon, so it was too late for any real hiking, anyway. We decided to just stretch our legs a bit before getting a room. We found the entrance easily enough– a coffee vendor had cannily put up a sign.
We walked for about two hours, taking in the waterfalls, and planning the “real” hike the next day. It was nice enough, but we had been on a bus for five hours– I wanted to see something a bit more impressive.
After the somewhat disappointing tour of waterfalls, we left the park in search of a yogwan. Point of note: there are no yogwans in front of the park. We walked for about 30 minutes, asking each of the very eager women standing in front of their minbaks if they had beds, only to be knocked back at every turn. Finally, one took pity on us and drove us to a nearby competitor with A BED (yes, that’s singular).
That room was already taken, but we gave up and took what she had left. A few minutes later, she knocked on the door, and instructed me to give a sour-looking man 10,000 won. She then moved all of our stuff into the room with the bed, at which point his sour expression became understandable. Sometimes, it’s good to be a foreigner. Sorry, Charlie!
Finally unpacked, we did a bit more searching to find an open restaurant and had one of our final giant hiking meals. I’m not sure why Koreans seem to think you need four days’ worth of food in one meal when you go to a mountain, but they do. So, we ate until we were ready to burst. All the while, the ajjuma interrogated us and cheerfully reminded us half a dozen times that she served breakfast.
In the morning, we walked past her place at a brisk pace, wondering if she would come running after us. She had at least explained why everything was closed: we were there a month early. Koreans like to do everything together and at the same time every other group is doing them, and May is month to visit Juwangsan. There is an azalea festival and everyone comes out to see the flowers.
I’m from Louisiana, I’ve seen azaleas. So, I’m happy to miss them if it means avoiding the crowds. Fifteen years in Korea couldn’t make me assimilate.
So, over five hundred words in, and I haven’t mentioned the hike. That’s because it was pretty underwhelming. The lack of crowds meant the restaurants along the trail were being manned by desperate ajjumas. Nobody likes an aggressive ajjuma. I did appreciate the one who stood out by offering hikers a cup of hot tea on their way up as her way of advertising. More flies with honey, and all that.
There was a requisite temple, Daejeonsa. It looked like all the rest, but with a rock formation in the background. We took one or two photos on our way to our planned hike. Our plans were quickly scuppered by glorified police tape blocking the path. We thought maybe it was just that one bit, and headed to the other path leading to that peak, but it was the peak that was closed off.
By this point, the tour busses had started arriving, so we quickly headed up the open trail, trying to get ahead of the strolling masses. For the most part, we were able to avoid the crowds. I suspect that is largely because the crowds were pretty thin by Korean hiking standards. At any rate, I was thankful we hadn’t waited a couple of weeks to make that trip.