So yesterday I wrote about getting ready for Chuseok. By 9:30am on Chuseok morning we had prepared all the ceremonial dishes, carried out the morning service to the ancestors, eaten a lot of the food for our breakfast, and washed up all the dishes. And the day was still young. So we decided to go for a day out. As we were already staying in Gangwon Province, Sokcho was the obvious choice – it’s only an hour away and we can go to the famous national park there with the rocky terrain of Seoraksan the third highest mountain in Korea.
Obviously we were not up for any serious hiking. Not today. (I’d only brought my Birkenstocks for a start ) But there’s a cable car that takes hikers / visitors up to the top of the mountain and there are lots of beautiful views. And there’s a large Buddha and an important temple.
As we set off, I did wonder how crowded it would be there during Chuseok. We wouldn’t be the only ones planning a day trip and autumn is the best season to visit the area – although it’s still a little too early for the changing leaves. The roads were empty until we got 5 minutes away from the entrance to the park. Then things became hectic. 😕
There are several car parks outside the park but they are quite a walk away from the entrance. Since we wanted to park as close as possible (because, well, let’s just say nobody in our vehicle could pass as a spring chicken) so we had to wait in line for other visitors to leave. It wasn’t as long a wait as I expected though and we only waited for about 20 minutes. We arrived around noon so the early birds – the serious hikers – appeared to be leaving now for lunch.
Once through the entrance to the park (3,500 won per person) there’s a huge (almost 20 metres high including the base) statue of Tongil Daebul – The Great Unification Buddha. Tongil Daebul represents the wish for north and south Korea to be unified. (Apparently Sokcho has the highest number of separated families because it used to be part of North Korea until the border was adjusted after the Korean War)
It’s quite the atmosphere here nuzzled in so close to the mountains. No wonder it was ‘selfie stick central’! Next to the statue, believers wash their hands before bowing before the Buddha.
The giwa tile reception desk next to the statue was a popular place to buy a giwa tile and write a wish or prayer on it. The tiles will be used for reconstruction work at the temple.
Although the car parks were very full the area is so vast that it didn’t feel too busy after all. So with a naive hope we went to buy tickets for the cable car…. We were out of luck. It was noon and the next available tickets for the cable car were at 3pm.
Still there is lots to see without breaking into a sweat up the mountain. Past the Buddha a sign points us to different locations around the park. One path leads here to the Sinhungsa (temple)…
There are several recommended courses around Seorak mountain. Ulsan Bawi (Ulsan Rock) is one of the hardest hiking course in the area. We won’t be going there today then ….
Another arrow points towards Heundeul Rock, (the ‘swinging rock’ which will rock slightly from side to side but refuses to move from its position – see a bunch of blokes trying to push the heundeul rock over on Arirang TV) Another place of interest is the Geumganggul, (cave). But we head for the temple…
The Sinhungsa is possibly the oldest Zen temple in the world – anyway, it’s very old, built during the Shilla period)
This temple belongs to the Jogye Order of Buddhism (Zen). There are 24 head temples around the country – but with many more smaller ones – and Sinhungsa is the head temple of eastern Gangwon Province. (Jogyesa is the head temple in Seoul where we go to see the lanterns on Buddha’s Birthday)
I like the fact that much of the painting and colour on the temple walls is fading – it hasn’t all been repainted yet, so it feels like there is history here. We just strolled around and then sat and soaked up the atmosphere. Read more about Sinhungsa here.
It was a brief but surprisingly relaxing trip out considering it was Chuseok. I left positive that I will be back. And soon. But when I come I will have to be more prepared – I’ll need to be wearing proper hiking gear for starters. Well at least some decent footwear.
After a stroll around the temple grounds, we headed by car back into the seaside town of Sokcho. We stopped off at the fish market and picked up some sashimi and headed home for an early supper.