For a trip away from Seoul, Onyang hot spring town is only a couple of hours away. It’s possible to get there by subway (line number 1 to Onyang Oncheon Station) making it a popular day trip for Seoul’s pensioners who can travel on the subway for free! Onyang is in Chuncheongnamdo province and is the oldest hot spring town in Korea. It’s where the Joseon kings went to relax and get away from the stress of the capital and restore their health. It’s other claim to fame is that the famous Admiral Yi Sun Sin grew up in nearby Asan so there is a large shrine dedicated to him that’s worth visiting too.
After we checked in to our hotel we pottered around the nearby local market hoping to sit outside and have some makgeolli and enjoy the sunny afternoon. But there were no outdoor stalls in the market selling alcoholic drinks. In places famous for mountain hiking, the local markets are often bustling from early morning with groups of jolly nature lovers enjoying makgeolli for breakfast in the open air. But the atmosphere wasn’t like that here. But after much searching we eventually found a small shikdang in the market place!
Apart from going to the hot springs there isn’t much else to do in the town. We stayed at the Cheil Hotel which has its own hot spring. It costs about 7,000 won to go into these baths but if you stay at the hotel you get one free entrance ticket. These were large fairly new baths with steam saunas and dry saunas. But there are small baths all around the town, some quite old, which are cheaper (around 3,000 won) but they don’t have all the modcons like jaccuzzi style baths or outdoor pools.
I think it would be quite intimidating to go to the hot spring alone for anyone who hasn’t been to one before. (men and women have separate baths obviously) But it’s definitely an interesting experience and it can be relaxing when the baths aren’t too busy! (I’ll write more about what to do in a hot spring in my next post).
I went into the hotel baths at 5pm and it was HEAVING! You are given a couple of towels at reception but you have to bring all your own shampoo and soap etc. (or buy sachets at the vending machines) The hot springs at the Cheil Hotel (below left) and Tourist Hotel just over the road were similar but I think the Tourist Hotel was slightly better for me as they also had an outdoor pool.
After spending an hour in the baths we were ready for food. There are lots of places around Korea that have their own signature dishes. Jeonju has bibimbap and kongnamul gukbap soybean sprout soup with rice, Chuncheon has dakgalbi spicy stir fried chicken, Andong has jjimdak chicken in soy sauce, and the list goes on… But this area doesn’t seem to have any must-eat dishes, so we didn’t really know where to start.
A quick search on Naver came up with a few suggestions including this Japanese style izakaya, (below) a new and popular restaurant with young people. They serve lots of different gochi- chicken on sticks. It was pretty good.
Strolling back towards the hotel we stumbled over this chicken and potato stew restaurant. The place was packed when we walked by so decided to give it a try. It was 19,000 won for the stew which is a reasonable price – cheaper than Seoul! The cute starter of fried egg and sausage served in a frying pan reminded me of a mini English breakfast!
The one must-see historical site in the area is the shrine dedicated to Admiral Yi Sun Sin (1545-1598), Korea’s most famous naval hero who defeated Japanese invaders in the 16th century. He grew up here in Asan and practised martial arts and archery at his home until he passed the military exam aged 32. So this was our destination on day 2.
The shrine is about a 10 minute drive from Onyang Oncheon station and is set in impressive grounds. There are lots of old magnificent trees around the grounds and a mountain covered with pine trees behind the shrine too. The shrine was surrounded by a forest of bamboo – bamboo and pine trees are symbolic because they are hard and unbending and so traditionally they represent the firm and unwavering will of the Joseon scholar.
Visitors can also take a look around the house where Yi Sun Sin grew up. (below) When we arrived the blossoming pink plum tree in front of the house was getting a lot of attention from visitors wanting to have their pictures taken next to it.
Near the house you can see where Yi Sun Sin practiced archery and at certain times of the day there are archery classes here too. Admiral Yi’s grave is not here but graves for various family members are here near the house. The graves and the archery can be seen from a viewing platform with seats and (not very Joseon-style) vending machines!
Onyang and Asan could be done in a day trip from Seoul. Or they could be done more leisurely on an overnight trip if hot springs and historical sites are something that you enjoy.