Travel Stories

A travel blog for a long-term expat, backpacker, traveler, ESL teacher, and photographer. 

Ulsanbawi and Seoraksan

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Buddha's birthday miraculously happens every year in the spring, leaving those who work hard all year with a long weekend to look forward to. THANKS BUDDHA. I drove along the eastern coast of South Korea to try and discover a new, foreign part of Korea - Gangwon-do. We decided to stay in a Korean style hotel where they lay mats on top of a heated floor (ondol).

Early the next morning, we started the hike. First we came across a giant Buddha that was decorated for the birthday celebration that was to take place the following day. We wanted to take a cable car up to see the views but if it is too windy, the cars shut down so off we went for a hike.

The hike wasn't terrible. In fact, in our minds, we were thinking that the hike was a joke as it was such a gradual incline. We were surrounded by Koreans wearing their typical hiking gear and looking their normal amount of ridiculousness. (Especially for such a not so hikey hike). Things began picking up after about two hours and eventually, we arrived at a giant rock that is considered magical as it never falls regardless of looking as if it is about to fall. A long line of brightly hiking gear-colored Koreans extended in front of the rock to take selfies and pictures of family's trying to push the rock. This was pretty much where the majority of the Korean hiking traffic stopped. After this point, it was very steep hike up. I think the sign said something about 1 KM and with every twenty to thirty minutes of torture, there would be a sign reminding me that I had only hiked 200 meters. It was torture. Eventually, steep steel stairs replaced the path and the height became much more prevalent. At the very top of UlsanBawi, there was a few older Korean men running a cafe and offering coffee and hot chocolate. People lined up, took a picture, and then hiked back down.

Indeed, here's the hard truth  - the point of the hike is to take ridiculous photos and hike back down. However, the views were amazing.

The following day we went to Yangyang where a friend of mine lived. Yangyang is famous for its beaches and its main temple along the coast (almost for mushrooms I believe?). For Buddha's birthday, we visited Yangyang's temple Naksansa and watched a service of elderly Koreans (who are probably among the generation of the only Buddhists left in Korea) do a little jig. Afterwards, the temple offered free food in celebration of the holiday.

Here are the photos.