Mountains, rocks, garlic, river fish, and adventure sports. That’s Danyang in North Chungcheong province. And if I had to choose one word to describe it, that word be GREEN as it has to be the greenest place I have ever visited in Korea. It’s a mountain town where trees not only cover the nearby mountains but also line the streets. There are flowers planted everywhere too. Often towns in the countryside of Korea are not the most picturesque. But Danyang is adorable. And the riverside is lit up in the evening with different coloured lights and artwork.
There’s plenty to do if you are into hiking, cycling, or even bungee jumping or paragliding. Our itinerary on this overnight trip included taking in a few of the ‘8 Scenic Views of Danyang’ which involved a river cruise to look at rock formations, and a bit of a hike up a mountain. And of course no trip is complete without FOOD. I had some raw trout (for the first time) and a set garlic course, and a bowl of marsh snail stew for breakfast! Delicious.
THE 8 SCENIC VIEWS OF DANYANG
So there are 8 scenic views of Danyang which include various rock formations, cliffs and peaks all to be found along the Namhan River. Various famous scholars from the Joseon dynasty lived or came here to contemplate and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the area including Jeong Do Jeon, the First Prime Minister at the start of the Joseon Dynasty, who built a resting place on the river. (below) We only saw a few of the 8 sights but we got the general idea and we had to find time to eat as well!
dodamsambong rocks of danyang (above) is probably the most famous of the sights and has been painted and written about many times by artists of the Joseon dynasty. It’s a group of 3 granite rocks in the Namhan river. Jeong Do Jeon liked the beauty of this area so much that he called the rock ‘sambong’ (after his own his pen name – meaning 3 peaks)
The rocks are said to resemble a seated woman with her back turned away from her husband in protest after he took a concubine and had a baby. Legend has it that the gods became displeased with the women’s bickering and turned them and the husband into stone. The middle rock is the ‘husband peak’ the north rock the ‘wife peak’ and the south rock the ‘concubine peak’. (I don’t really like this story! I mean, who is looking after the baby?)
There are some steps ( a lot of steps) you have to walk up from here if you want to see the Stone Gate at Danyang – another of the sites of Danyang. It’s a natural stone formation in the shape of an arched gate. (below left) According to a signboard it’s the largest of its kind in Asia, possibly the remnant of a limestone cave that collapsed and disappeared long ago.
A word of warning though – Tour groups arrive at intervals here so timing is everything. The viewing station for this ‘stone gate’ is small and if you end up walking up with a large party it might not be worth the effort. Mr. Kim marched ahead of me repeatedly turning and shouting back – hurry up bali bali – with this crazed look in his eye desperate to get up the steps before the adjumma party hot on our tail caught up with us. I’m still wheezing now….
To see a couple of the other sights we went to another part of the river and took a 90 minute cruise. All the explanation is in Korean but it is great if you like river cruises or like looking at mountains and rocks and nature in general. Or just need a sit down after all those steps.
Okssunbong Peak (below right) means Jade shoot peak. It was given this name because the mossy rocks stand straight like bamboo shoots. And if you’ve had enough of nature you could gatecrash the tour group doing karaoke inside the 1st floor of the boat. We went inside as the sun was getting hot but the party all dressed in mountain gear were enjoying themselves with cans of beer, dancing and a singsong!
Danyang nestles in the mountains so seafood is not famous here but river fish such as mandarin fish, catfish, trout, and marsh snails are local delicacies. The must-eat dish is Ssogari-meungtang, spicy mandarin fish stew. And there are PLENTY of places around town that serve this dish. megi-maeuntang (spicy catfish stew) is another one.
The smallest portion of ssogari-meungtang comes in at around 60,000 won so it’s not cheap. And Mr Kim is not a fan of spicy stew made with river fish. He doesn’t like ‘the smell’. And since I forced him to endure chuotang (another fish stew that he’s not keen on) last month when we went to Namwon, this time we compromised and had trout (송어) sashimi mixed with vegetable and spicy chilli sauce.
There was far too much food for two people though. 1.5 kg of fish (!) and a huge plate of sliced raw greens including cabbage, sesame leaves, lettuce, cucumber, and carrot. The way to eat this is to put a few slices of fish and some vegetables in your bowl and then mix with raw garlic, bean powder, and spicy sauce. I like to eat the fish separately though, just with soy sauce, as I think the chilli sauce hides the taste of the fish. But that’s just me.
Danyang is also famous for garlic. And there is garlic on sale everywhere. We got a HUGE serving of raw minced garlic with our trout and there are other dishes to try here including fried chicken with garlic or barbecue meat with garlic. Or you can have a set meal where garlic is the star of the show. So we did that.
We went to a place called toljip sikdang as this restaurant had some good reviews on Naver. We chose a set meal for 17,000 won per person which includes rice in a stone pot with soybean stew, a couple of meat dishes, and lots of side dishes with garlic.
Unfortunately we were not impressed. It was over-priced and I think the sikdang is focused on quantity of side dishes not the quality of flavour. It looks great and it’s an unusual experience for anyone visiting for the first time, but I thought the garlic dishes were just OK.
For example there was a set of 4 garlic cloves, one flavoured with yellow mustard, another with some sort of pink jelly (tasted sweet like jam) the third with white creamy mayonnaise, and finally one with red chilli paste. So each dish was a different colour. (below middle picture). But it all looked better than it tasted. I love garlic mayonnaise but this just tasted like a whole raw garlic clove covered in a thin layer of mayonnaise. My other issue was that garlic can be cooked in lots of different ways to give different flavours and textures but most of the side dishes were just whole cloves (raw or baked) mixed with some kind of dressing or paste and it was a bit monotonous.
Olgaengi-Haejangguk MARSH SNAIL STEW
The surprise winner for me on the trip was our breakfast of olgaengi-haejangguk. marsh snail stew which is also famous in the area. When I think of haejangguk (aka hangover soup) I usually think of something involving soy beans. This soup includes soybean paste but the vegetables involved here are chives and spinach and the star of the show is the modest and unassuming marsh snail. You can find these curly whirly teeny-weeny shellfish at festivals in Korea where they are sold still in their shells and you have to pick out the meat with a cocktail stick.
The colour of this soup is enough to cure a hangover. It’s as green as the mountains and the village itself. So healthy and really good. This restaurant does a variety of dishes including a steamed marsh snail and vegetable dish which I will definitely try when we come here again.
We stayed at Daemyung Resort a chain which has AquaWorld, a variety of public baths and jimjilbangs and a large fun pool. It’s a huge complex with nice views over the river facing the mountains. We even got a fruit hamper thrown in with the price which was cute. There’s a public bath in the basement which was quiet when I went there. I guess all the families had gone to the fun pool. (good!) The rooms come with basic kitchen facilities and a rice cooker. And there was a supermarket in the basement too, so it was all pretty convenient and relaxing. We’ll definitely be back. Might try paragliding next time …