Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall Colors, Caves and a Whole Lot More

After a few failed attempts at hanging out Caitlin and I were finally able to coordinate a weekend with no plans.  Unlike the last few weekends there were no notable festivals happening this weekend so we had an open slate of destinations to chose from.  Wanting to take advantage of the fall colors and having never been there, I suggested traveling up to Gangwon-do, the northeastern province in Korea.  Caitlin had been a few times before but said that it was pretty and worth the drive (yes drive, Caitlin's fiance has a car so there was no bus necessary this weekend, thank god!) 
Quick side story - not sure if I ever explained how I came to know Caitlin and her fiance, 존우 (Joonwoo):  About two years before I came to Korea my friend Tami (from UW-La Crosse) was teaching at Samsung electronics in Gumi. When she left in June of 2011 she was replaced by Caitlin, who just happened to be another UW-La Crosse graduate (small world).  Fast forward 8 months and there I am getting the news that I would be teaching at Buksam HS, just outside of Gumi.   I later contacted Tami to let her know I was in her town at which time she told me about Caitlin and forward me her contact information. So, within a 2.5 year time span there were three UW-La Crosse graduates placed in Gumi South Korea, none of whom knew each other before coming here, small world indeed.  Then to make the story even more exciting, after living here for shortly over a year Caitlin got engaged to one of the sweetest, nicest guys I've ever met - and even luckier for her, he's willing to move back to Wisconsin with her! 
So back to the weekend, Saturday morning we met in Gumi and packed up the car to start our adventure to Gangwon-do. While waiting for Joonwoos cousin 세운, to join us, we began brainstorming a plan for our trip.  Finally around 1 o'clock 세운 arrived and we were on our way.  We drove for a few hours, stopping at the Gunwi reststop for lunch and eventually found ourselves at Guinsa temple in North Chungcheong province.  The temple is uniquely located among a narrow valley with mountains surrounding it on all sides, making for a spectacular view. 

Caitlin and 존우
We had paparazzi for the day
Great Teacher Hall in the background
Gangnam Style - it's everywhere

Dusk in the mountains 

After the temple, which took a while considering how many buildings there were. Seriously it was like the temple that never ends, but all of it impressive.  We continued to drive and eventually found ourselves in Yeongwol which we decided would be our home for the night.  The first order of business was food, all of us were hungry and it was a good thing because the dakgalbi we ordered came in mammoth portions.  After dinner we had a bit of a mission as we tried to find a motel for the night, it seems there was a big event in town because the first few we tried were booked. Once we drove outside of town a bit we found a place with traditional Korean (floor) sleeping for only 60,000 so we took it.

Yummm, but terrible having to stare at it waiting to eat
The next morning we were up early and back on the road, this time with two destinations on our agenda, and eventually having to get back to Gumi.  We were graced with a beautiful day, sun shining and cool breeze, making the drive that much more enjoyable.  This trip really made me want to take that American road trip I've had in the back of my mind for ages, who wants to join? The first place we planned to visit was Hwanseon cave located on the west side of Samcheok city.  One of my friends that lived in Seoul last year (oddly enough another UW-La Crosse graduate) had traveled here last spring and highly recommended it.  I figured I couldn't make the trek up to Gangwon-do without dropping by.

To get up to the cave you could either take the monorail for 5,000 won (round trip) or hike up to the cave.  This experience provided me with another "don't believe everything you read" moment as we tried to decide between the two options.  Wikitravel noted that the monorail was not worth it and could take longer than walking, if busy; while various blogs noted the hike to be "a steep 45 minutes uphill...with hikers at the top looking miserable and covered in sweat".  Well, there was a 30 minute wait for the monorail and we were ready to see the cave so we decided to walk.  Whoever wrote that blog needs to get his facts checked because the walk took approximately 10 minutes, and although steep with lots of stairs it was not that hard (and I was in a skirt), plus it was gorgeous. 

Apparently the cave is one of the largest limestone caves in Asia, and the biggest in Korea (I didn't know this before we toured it) and is filled with lots to see.  It was interesting to see how they nicknamed many of the cracks, formations and pools with nicknames such as "valley of hell", "the wishing stone", "bridge of confessions", "popcorn rock" and "demons claw".  Unfortunately I don't remember which pictures were which so you'll just have to do your best at guessing on your own, or plan your own visit to the cave! ;) 

Black and white = changes of the minerals over the years 
Lovers bridge
Upside down Korea

Pedestal of Royal Throne (Fancy Rimstone)

After the cave, which took nearly an hour to walk through we were all starving.  Besides the banana bread that Caitlin had brought along we hadn't eaten anything all day, and it was now approaching 3 o'clock.  There were many restaurants lining the walk up to the cave so we picked one featuring (some dish I forgot the name of) with potato dumplings and grabbed a seat.  I went with 비빔밮, kind of boring but I know I like it and I was tired/not feeling all that adventurous, but we also ordered some 전 and 동동주. The food was delicious (including all the banchan [side dishes], which doesn't always happen), or maybe we were just really hungry.  Either way it was a great, and fairly inexpensive lunch, giving us the energy to continue on to the east coast of Samcheok, planning to visit Haesingdang park.

Welcome to the park...
So, if you were not aware and the above pictures did not give it away this park is very appropriately nicknamed penis park.  I'm still a bit amazed that such a park exists in Korea seeing as their culture is generally more conservative, especially with things of a sexual nature.  But also of note is that this isn't the only park like this in Korea, there is also love land  on Jeju-do and love castle in Gyeongju. I'm not sure about the other two but there is indeed a story behind this park and the multiple phallic statues.
Apparently years ago a young couple was madly in love and soon to be wed when a high tide overtook the woman while viewing her fiance from the shore.  For the following days the number of fish caught from the sea diminished and eventually stopped, the townspeople believed they were cursed and didn't know what to do, until a few days later a local fisherman relieved himself in the sea.  The fish soon returned and the men took note, further to appease the women of the town the statues were erected and place din view of the shore.  To this day there are worldwide competitions to create new statues to be placed on display here. 

Various sculptures from Japan, Venezuela, etc. 

Fisherman peeing into the sea - where it all began 
The park was definitely one of the more interesting and unique places I've been in Korea, but added a fun ending to the weekend.  As the sun set we started our departure back to Gumi (another 4 hour drive), a long drive but sooo much better than the bus.  I wish I would've hung out with Caitlin and Joonwoo more in my first 8 months here but I guess with busy schedules and conflicting travel plans time flies, that just means I'll have to make sure to see more of them before I leave. However, the good news is that they'll be returning to Wisconsin next year so i'll be able to see them there, maybe they want to join me on a road trip in the US?  


  1. I love it, love it, love it! The scenery in these pictures were absolutely marvelous. It shows what a great time the four of you had. Also, gotta say, I LOVE Gangman style. It is VERY popular here as well.
    The penis park was QUITE unusual and I too am amazed to see something like that in Korea. Thanks once again for such beautiful pictures.

  2. How do you personally search info for your new entries, which search engines or techniques do you mostly use?

  3. So a co-worker walked by and she glanced at the penis park statues and then took a double take. MINIMIZE SCREEN!!!