Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Juwang-San National Park

This past weekend, Scott and I went to one of the most beautiful places in Korea, Juwang-San National Park. Since our two year anniversary was last Thursday, Scott surprised me with the journey- and no where could have been more perfect.

We hopped a bus on Saturday to Cheong-song, a small town south of Andong, and wandered around until we found the Hill Motel- a brand new 5 story hotel that only cost us 40,000 won (about $35). It's one of the nicest places we've seen so far, and it was conveniently located right next to the most fabulous pizza place, a bakery for breakfast, and across the street from the bus stop for Juwang-san so we could get an early start on Sunday.

It also had a fascinating Fire escape system- in case of fire, jump out the window and repel down the side of the building. Sweet.

When we woke up on Sunday, the clouds were heavy and dark, but we had armed ourselves with umbrellas and bunkered down at the bus stop early enough, so we were optimistic that the bad weather would pass. After arriving at the park, we found ourselves in the middle of a sea of bold North Face outfits and hiking equipment. In our jeans and T-Shirts, we maybe stuck out a little extra.

After passing by a long line of small shops and restaurants and paying the 2,000 won to get in (about $1.50), the first thing inside of the park was a temple, resting under the watchful eye of the mountain peak. This is also an active temple, with monks going about their daily business despite the crowds of people passing through. The buildings were fairly spread out, with a large central courtyard.

Large basins full of water were arranged in circles and rows, with wide lily pads and stunning lotuses in varying shades of pink and white.

Juwang-San is named for King Ju of China, who hid in the mountains and caves from revolutionaries (who unfortunately did catch up with him eventually). The first glimpses of the park were of dense valleys, with the footpath winding beside and over small creeks. Our first English informational sign inside the park was to watch out for famous purple flowers known to the area, that make "visitors feel mysterious." Alas, I think they were past their bloom and I felt rather plain. All of the thick green was a good consolation, so every season is stunning. I'd love to come back again in autumn.

Once the main path led us sufficiently far into the park, it branched, and branched again. We discovered that the whole place is a labyrinth of paths leading to various peaks, waterfalls, and caves (with signs marked in both Korean and English). Although it's not necessary to follow the main pathways through the park, many areas are fenced or blocked off. To maintain perfect preservation of the park, sections of it are restricted for 20 year periods so it can be unaffected by humans. Once the period is up, they are opened to visitors and different areas are blocked. I think this a perfect way to balance our human desire to explore everything, yet still leave nature alone.

We decided to prioritize our time to first visit the caves and the waterfalls. The caves were tucked away deep in the woods or through streams and up cliff faces. They were both blocked by large rocks from venturing too far in, because they weren't lit and the tunnels got narrow pretty early in. In each one there was also a shrine with candles.

At some points, the paths intersect rest areas that are non-intrusive to the environment. The restrooms are updated, and are the only buildings in the park other than the occasional gazebo. And, of course, if you wanted to take a break and lift some weights between the restroom and the river...

(The brand name on the pad reads "Family")

The gazebos were a nice touch for the option of resting away from the rain, which despite our former hopes kept coming down at random. It really wasn't a bother though, because it enhanced all of the colors and sounds, and added a misty glow around the mountains above us.

We preferred to hang out next to the large rock walls as it rained, or just walk on through it.

(Leaves through my umbrella)

The park features three main waterfalls. Although there are countess other smaller ones scattered throughout. They can all be accessed from one main route, which we finally caught up with after a couple hours of wandering about on our own.

This far in, large rock formations became more frequent and rose straight up instead of gradual and hilly.

With so many towering rocks, the park mascot (Smokey?) was more focused on protecting children from rock slides than preventing fires.
Because of all the cliffs, sometimes the only pathway between was for a waterway, so walking bridges were fixed above the water- hugging the side of the cliff.

The first waterfall also wrapped around the rock wall, a spiral staircase of watery ledges that was impossible to take in all at once.

The route to the second waterfall also required following the trail of water, though it detoured away a bit to where the rocks met the deeper forest.
A clearing opened up into a shallow pond, which was fed by the two-tiered waterfall. The location of this one was more calming. Like the stream we followed up to it, the water in the pond was only a few inches deep and made a large circle, like a rippling reflecting pool.

The third waterfall was more of a hike to get to, further up the mountain. It proved to be a blend of the first two waterfalls, only much larger. Surrounded by towering rocks, but also feeding into a shallow pool that dropped off again further downstream.

Next to the waterfall, we were stopped by a small group of picnicking Koreans who offered us something akin to a pancake with flour, green onion stalks, leaves (sometimes with squid or various other veggies). They also gave us glasses of Soju and Dong Dong Ju, a delicious rice wine. After hours of walking, we couldn't have been more hungry and grateful. You can't top Koreans for random hospitality. Although maybe it was because I looked like an unfortunate heathen in my mud soaked jeans.

On our way out of park, passing through the row of restaurants, I was waved over by an elderly woman bent over a large bowl of water. We couldn't speak a word to each other, but she immediately started scooping water from and pouring it on my legs to wash the mud out of my jeans. After thanking her many times in Korean, she rolled up my pant legs and we both had a good laugh at how they flopped around as I started walking away.

To explore the whole park in one visit would be close to impossible. The day was fading before we could get a chance to climb up to the mountain peaks.

The park is only about an hour bus ride from Andong (and although we had to take a second bus from Cheong-song to get there, there was a direct bus from the park to Andong going back), so I plan on going back again to explore the rest of it. And even if I explored it all, I could still come back in 20 years and find there was more to see.


  1. What a wonderful post. It makes me want to go back right now! I think these are some of your best pictures to date in Korea. I guess it helps that you had one of the best subjects yet. :)

  2. What wonderful tour guides you and Scott are. I can't wait to reap the benefits of your Korean cultural knowledge on site.

  3. WoW! Each pic was better than the next. I'm so glad that you can enjoy the country and what riches it seems to bring.

  4. What a great weekend! You get your nature photography skill from your mother!



  5. You said, "To maintain perfect preservation of the park, sections of it are restricted for 20 year periods so it can be unaffected by humans."

    What a wonderful thing to do!! Not only does it respect nature, but leaves something to look forward to. I think it's so sweet how kind the people you meet along the way are!! I loved everything, and am planning to visit this place!!

    Now I'm off to Scott's blog... Tim said he had a video posted. Yay. If anyone is reading this and wants to check it out, it's:

    I like how your blogs compliment each other :-)


  6. Thanks for the plug, Linda! :)

  7. so much to say! thing in the world is that parts of the park are closed off so it can regrow and reduce the negative impact people have on the environment. *applaudes*
    Smokey is an asiatic bear. I'm sure I spelled it wrong but I know what I'm saying. you can tell by the white "v" on its chest. Super cute but they are WAAAY Different from our local bears. So cute.
    Thank you for the pretty pictures. I loved the one with the leaves through the umbrella. Also the branches. Loving the trees.

    Sorry there are no funny little things in this. <3 Miss ya :)

  8. I laughed at the fire exit where you repel down the mountain side. Maybe you could have used it for practice for your hiking experience.

    The pictures are so wonderful and will look great on the walls of your house someday.
    (We did that for Justin when he was in Ghana, Africa)

    Lots of Love,