Byeonsanbando National Park (변산반도국립공원)

IMG_1694Hiking has always been a fun hobby for me, but I never realized how often I’d be able to do it in Korea. This country is full of beautiful places to explore. A few months ago we celebrated my birthday at a national park by the mountains and the sea. When I spotted Byeonsanbando National Park on a map I made up my mind that this was where I’d spend my birthday weekend.

Byeonsanbando is in Jeollabuk-do near the southwest city of Buan. It’s not easy to get there from Sejong City, but thankfully my husband indulges my weekend whims (usually), no matter how inconvenient. Together we put in the research on how get there sans car.

The trip started with a quick bus ride north to our closest train station in Jochiwon. From Jochiwon we took a train to the city of Gimje followed by another bus to Buan. Our final leg was a taxi ride to our accommodations in Unho-ri on the southern end of the park. It only took about four hours to get there (including a massive train delay in Jochiwon).

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The many legs of our journey to Byeonsanbando National Park

We were excited to finally be at our destination after all that travelling. On the list of things to do: see the ocean and take a long hike. We were eager to get started, but unfortunately, our traveling wasn’t over just yet…

Earlier in the week, I had a Korean friend help me book our accommodations at a tourist motel in the Unho region of the park. Our friend spoke to a nice ahjussi (older Korean man) who was very excited to have some waygooks staying at his motel. Unfortunately, Korean motels can be really hit or miss. And this was a miss. A big miss. The motel owner was gracious and welcoming, but the motel itself looked like it hadn’t been updated in 30 years. Our room was dirty and cold (the freaking window wouldn’t close!).

But… we were determined to tough it out. We dropped our bags and trudged along an extremely busy roadway to the only bus stop nearby, hoping it would be our way into the park. But… after 40 minutes of waiting… and thinking about that dingy room.. and daylight wasting.. and still waiting for that damn bus… that resolve wasted away. We were outta there.

Moments later, a rare taxi flew by. We flagged him down, grabbed our gear and left. The driver took us to a popular tourist spot near the west side of the park, the Chaeseokgang Cliffs.

Looking back on it… we realized we were in a very remote part of the park. Despite all of our online research, it was still difficult to know exactly how far Unho really was from Gyeokpo-ri, which is a sweet little tourist village with better motels/restaurants/beach access.

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Chaeseokgang Cliffs
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The fishing village of Gyeokpo
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Beach glass!
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Sea pineapple

For anyone thinking about travelling to the park, I’d highly recommend finding a motel in the Gyeokpo area. It’s close to everything and has an awesome beach village vibe. Gyeokpo is only about a 15-20 minute bus/taxi ride from the Buan Bus Terminal. It’s also nice to be in this area if you’re relying solely on buses and taxis.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the beach, picking sea glass and relaxing in our much nicer hotel. We totally splurged, but it is not something this birthday gal regrets. Plus the windows actually closed, so there’s that. 😛

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Happy birthday to meee!

We read that Buan has a popular local dish called haemultang (해물탕). Lots of restaurants serve this spicy seafood hotpot for about 50,000 won. We were really hoping to try this but somehow we ended up with a massive plate of octopus instead. But that is story for another time!

We got off to an early start the next day. We bid the beach adieu and caught a cab to the nearest park entrance. After one quick check in the Conscience Mirror, we were good to go!

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Looking fly in those purple gloves, Wade!

We started our hike at the Namyeochi Ranger Station post. The incline was steep at times, but never treacherous. The mountainside was gorgeous and a welcome sight after all the grey of winter. We made our way to the Wolmyeongam (Temple), which was one of my favorite parts of the hike.

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Wolmyeongam (Temple)
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Buddy!

We could hear monks singing inside the temple, and we met this furry friend. He was so friendly and just looking for a pat!

Our hike continued downward to Jisopokpo Falls, which was one of the most serene and beautiful places I’ve seen in Korea.

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Just ahead of Jiksopokpo Falls

After five hours of hiking we finally hit our ending point at Naesosa Temple. The temple is set in a big open courtyard. It looks different than other temples because it features the natural woodwork instead of the traditional decorative coloring, known as Dancheong. Just outside the park entrance is a long line of cheap and delicious restaurants with pajeon, bibimbap, rice snacks and homemade makgeolli. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to stop here.

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Naesosa Temple

We weren’t exactly sure how to get back to Buan, and didn’t want to be stranded.  Thankfully a bus was waiting in the parking lot and  going that way. We made our way home to Sejong City from there without a hitch.

Overall, a visit to Byeonsanbando is definitely worth it, but be prepared to do a bit of research beforehand. It would have been much easier with a car! Still– I can’t complain a bit. I rang in the year 29 with the ocean, the mountains and my hiking partner for life. Happy birthday to me!

For more photos from our trip, check out the full gallery here!

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