South Korea - Getting to know Songnisan National Park
The word ‘Songnisan’ roughly translates as ‘remote from the ordinary world’, and there is indeed something otherworldly about the mountain-scapes here. Situated in the very centre of South Korea, the rolling slopes of Songnisan National Park feed rivers that run north to Seoul and south to Busan, and forested craggy mountains reach a heady 1,000 metres high.
Trails can take you from its gingko-lined lower roads to its forested summits, and always provide views to inspire and admire. Summer clouds catch in the valleys creating an atmospheric layered effect; the leafy pyrotechnics of autumn are akin to a natural, firework display; and spring brings displays of beautiful, brilliantly pink azaleas.
One of the most popular Parks in South Korea, Songnisan also boasts an unusual centrepiece in the form of a 33 metre-high bronze Buddha that serenely faces east in a spot that has been used for worship since 653 AD.
What to do in Songnisan National Park
- It’s all about hiking! Although sometimes referred to as the Chungbuk Alps, the mountains here only reach around 1,000 metres and none should be too taxing for anyone with a fair level of fitness. The summit of Munjangdae, for example, is a relaxed three hour hike from the Buddha at Beopjusa.
- Entirely surrounded by copious pines and glorious peaks, the temple of Beopjusa has been an active place of worship since the 7th century. The stunning, large bronze statue of Buddha sits atop a hall housing hundreds of figurines, serenely gazing over the blossom-covered hills.
- If you’re looking for sustenance after your exertions in the Park, sample some of the local dishes. Regional specialities include corn jelly and grilled bellflower root, or go the whole hog and try the unique bellflower-root set meal comprising of more than twenty dishes featuring mushrooms and herbs from the nearby mountains.
The huge bronze Buddha at Beopjusa is understandably eye-catching, but take time to explore the unconventional five-storey building that faces it. This temple hall is the tallest wooden structure in South Korea, and the oldest in the country. The delightful painted murals that cover the inside walls depict the life of Buddha and continue to reveal new details the longer you study them. Also look out for the elaborately decorated stone lanterns with their rampant lions, powerful devas and beatific bodhisattva.
After a hike in Songnisan it’s customary to eat pajeon (savoury pancake) washed down with makgeolli (a sweet, alcoholic tipple).
Getting off the trail in Songnisan National Park
- Inland you will find the small, charming cities of Buyeo and Gongju, former capitals of the Baekje dynasty (18 BC - 660 AD) and both rich in historic fortresses, regal tombs and museums crammed with dazzling jewellery.
- Over on the west coast the long, wide white sand beach at Daecheon attracts a young, energetic crowd determined to have some fun in the sun. The revelry reaches its peak in July during what must be the most unusual festival in the country: the Boryeong Mud Festival (otherwise known as Mudfest!) Boryeong mud is allegedly high in minerals and this weekend is an excuse to get covered in it (expect mud baths, mud slides, mud fountains…)
- In complete contrast, to the east of the region is the charming, sleepy town of Danyang. Life here is lived at a slow pace and the green-blue waters of Chungju Lake are particularly photogenic. It’s worth timing your visit to coincide with the 10 day Royal Azalea Festival that takes place in May.
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