Danyang & Woraksan National Park

Today’s edition is a flashback all the way back to March of this year. We visited the beautiful Danyang Lake District in central Korea just as winter was loosening its grasp and spring was on the horizon. Danyang is located in the center of the country, and is between two national parks: Woraksan National Park and Sobaeksan National Park. Known for its beautiful mountains, crystal blue lakes, and numerous caves, Danyang is a wonderful place for adventurers and relaxers alike.

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Chungju lake, which wraps around Danyang like a catcher’s mitt, is the result of a huge damming project. This man-made lake actually covered most of old Danyang, meaning the new Danyang dates only from 1986. Looking more like a river, the lake is the heart of the city and it stretches for miles. The water is crystal blue and is untouched by the pollution of major cities. There are mountains on either side of the lake, with the city nestled into a bend along the lake. The city itself is long, but not more than a few streets wide, as it stretches along the beautiful water.

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The first order of business was to go cave exploring. Gosu Cave is the most popular and easiest to find. Simply walk over the bridge that crosses the lake near the bus terminal and continue walking down that road. The entrance and parking lot are on the left-hand side of the road about a kilometer after crossing the lake. There was a small entrance fee going into the caves, but it was well worth it. Fair warning about the experience: it was crowded and not for people who get claustrophobic. Upon entering the cave, it is just like you would imagine a Korean caving experience to be. Everything was well lit, well marked, and there was a constant stream of people; all you had to do was walk with the flow. The caves themselves were absolutely magnificent, with a variety of different rock formations. I’m no geological expert, so I will just say everything looked quite stunning and will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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The next day was a hiking day. We traveled into Woraksan National Park to climb a peak called Jebibong. The trailhead was a bit far out of the city, but there are buses that run every few hours across the street from the bus terminal, so make sure to check the times before you go. Let me tell you, this was not an easy hike. The trail goes straight up the mountain and never seems to stop. Even more than the typical Korean hike, we found ourselves telling each other a particularly steep section was the “final push” only to find out at the top that there were about a dozen more “final pushes” to go before the peak. The path is quite small, and there are times when the drop-off is quite severe on either side, but the views are unbeatable. The vibrant blue lake snakes through the valley, and the mountain range extends for miles. We had access to a beautiful view the entire hike. Since the trail was small and not crowded, the other hikers were very kind, giving us words of encouragement and food. At 721 meters, the peak is not very high, even by Korea standards, but it does offer a wonderful panoramic view of the area, with the mountain range on one side and the lake on the other.

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Having conquered our first of many national parks, we wandered around the ferry terminal near the trailhead while we waited for a bus back to the city. Although the waters near Danyang were still too icy for boats, ferries were already running from Chungju in early March as the deeper water had begun to thaw. One of the main tourist attractions of Danyang is the area’s “Eight Scenic Views.” These views are comprised of different geological formations around the lakes and mountains that a poet (we think) took note of and popularized sometime in the past (clearly, we did not do our research). Although we didn’t have time to check these out, nor were we there in the right season, we hear that they are beautiful. Another oddity is the city’s garlic market. The market, though small, quiet, and a bit eerie, is apparently important enough to the city to warrant the presence of garlic cloves on many of the city’s lampposts. Immediately next to the bus terminal, you will also find a small fishing museum and an aquarium. We can’t vouch for the quality of either, but both are new and shiny. We’ll be headed back to Danyang in the next few months to check Sobaekson off our list of national parks, so look for updates to follow.

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Getting There:

Getting to Danyang is not difficult, as there is a bus terminal in the downtown area with buses to and from Seoul quite frequently. From Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, the bus ride was about 3 hours and 30 minutes and cost 12,000 won. Faster options are available from Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Buses from Danyang to Woraksan are available on the main street. Get on from the side opposite the garlic market at the stop in front of Kimbap Chungguk. Buses returning to Danyang stop right in front of the trailhead and tickets can be purchased from the store on the opposite side of the street. Taxis will cost between 20,000 and 30,000 depending on your destination.

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