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Byeonsanbando National Park: green mountains, blue seas, and golden sunsets

Byeonsanbando National Park does something no other national park in Korea can—combine scenic shoreline with rugged alpine scenery. In this sense, it’s a virtual microcosm of the best Korea has to offer. A million and a half people visit this park each year to take in its dramatic vistas and spectacular sunsets, some of the most romantic in Korea. While Byeongsanbando is best known for its natural surroundings, it’s got a bit of culture, too. It’s home to two major Buddhist temples, including Naesosa Temple, one of Korea’s most architecturally important monasteries. You’ll also find a unique shamanist shrine where villagers pray to a local deity in hopes of ensuring the safety and prosperity of the village’s fishermen.

Chaeseokgang Cliffs

Chaeseokgang Cliffs


Naebyeonsan

Occupying a peninsula on the southwest coast of Korea, Byeonsanbando National Park is really two parks in one. The inner part of the park, Naebyeonsan (“Inner Byeonsan”), is where you’ll find the park’s rocky peaks, waterfalls, and major Buddhist temples. The outer part, Oebyeonsan (“Outer Byeonsan”), is where you’ll find the picturesque seashore, including one of the highlights of the park, the Chaeseokgang Cliffs.

Naebyeonsan is crisscrossed by a number of hiking trails. The most popular takes you from the Naebyeonsan ticket office to Jikso Falls, where the water cascades 30 meters into a jade-green pool below. It’s a pleasant, 40-minute hike.

Many visitors stop at the waterfall, but for a fuller— and more taxing—exploration of Naebyeonsan, continue up the trail into the mountainous heart of the park. Along the way you will hit Gwaneumbong Peak (425 meters), which offers sweeping views of the entire park.

From Gwaneumbong, hike down to Naesosa, the park’s largest Buddhist temple. Founded in 633, Naesosa is a masterpiece of Korean architecture, its charmingly rustic buildings harmonizing perfectly with the dramatic mountain location. Of particular note is its lovely 17th-century main hall, with beautiful wooden flower-pattern doors and a spectacular painting of a white-robed Avalokitesvara behind the main Buddha image. Be sure to visit the temple tearoom, too.

The park’s other major Buddhist temple, Gaeamsa, is also well worth a visit. It doesn’t get nearly the number of tourists as Naesosa, which lends it a serenity that Naesosa might lack in the peak season. Like Naesosa, however, it boasts a beautiful main hall from the 17th century, built to harmonize with the rocky peaks that form its backdrop.

Sea seen from cave of Chaeseokgang Cliffs

Sea seen from cave of Chaeseokgang Cliffs


Oebyeonsan

Oebyeonsan is comprised largely of scenic coastline. This section of the park is also ideal for windshield tourists—National Road No. 30 takes you along a good stretch of the region’s inspiring coastline. Along the southern stretch of the road you’ll find the rustic fishing port of Gomsohang. The port is well known for its salted seafood products. Of historical note are the old salt farms, where salt is extracted from giant pools of seawater through evaporation.

The best known of Oebyeonsan’s coastal sights are the Chaeseokgang Cliffs. The base of these stratified cliffs is granite and gneiss from the Cambrian Period—countless years of battering from the sea has given them their current shape. At the bottom of the cliffs are several caves that you can enter at low tide. The sunsets from the caves are especially lovely.

About a kilometer north of the Chaeseokgang Cliffs are another set of similarly stratified cliffs, the Jeokseokgang. Near these cliffs is a small wooden shrine overlooking the sea. This shrine, Suseondang, is dedicated to Gaeyanghalmi, or the “Old Lady of Suseong.” The guardian entity of these seas, this spirit is said to have nine daughters—eight are married to each of Korea’s traditional eight provinces, while she herself lives with her youngest in the shrine, where you can find a painting of the family. The Old Lady of Suseong calms the seas to keep local fishermen safe; in the old days, she also kept nearby villages safe from tigers. Villagers still come here the first lunar month of every year to make sacrificial offerings to the deity.

All of Byeongsanbando National Park offers beautiful sunsets, but the most spectacular is the sunset over Solseom, or “Pine Island.” The setting sun silhouettes the lonely cluster of pines against a backdrop of gold. It’s a sunset best shared with someone you love.

*Article from Korea Magazine (April 2013)

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