Katrina and I caught an early train to Daejeon Saturday morning, our first time taking KORAIL and everything went smoothly. We arrived in Daejeon about an hour and fifteen minutes after departing and were met by Transition (aka Matt) and his girlfriend Dani. Transition and I met up on the Appalachian Trail and I have kept in contact with him ever since. It is quite a small world – sharing a few beers on the trail and now a few in South Korea.
As we were walking back from the Subway to their apartment, I started to talk to Transition about some straw houses I had seen online. The website said something along the lines that people had been living in that particular area for over 5,000 years and it was the only place in Korea thus far where archeological digs have recovered artifacts from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and one other Age. As soon as I started talking about the huts, he pointed to the left and said, “You mean these ones.” Sure enough, those were exactly the huts I had been talking about. So, I snagged a few pictures and we walked around the area for a bit.
After that, we headed back to their apartment before heading out on our adventure. Our original goal was to catch the 107 Bus to Gyeryongsan National Park and explore the sacred “Chicken Dragon Mountain.” We ended up taking the subway after waiting for the 107 for a few minutes (good thing because we later found out that the 107 did not stop at that particular bus stop). After the subway, it was a half an hour taxi ride to Gapsa Temple which cost 25,000\ or about $20. Dani and Matt had been to Donghaksa, another temple in the area and wanted to see this new temple.
We hopped out of the bus, spirits high, and began our adventure. There were some funky looking tree sculptures as we entered the area and began our trip. Upon arriving at a map, we decided to do a bit of a hike, see Gapsa Temple, catch a few waterfalls, walk to a peak, and end our journey at Donghaksa Temple, the only female Buddhist monastery in South Korea, so we could catch the bus back home and the cost would only be 1,300\ per person.
(Funky Human Tree)
(Dart game on the way to the temple. The objective is to throw the darts into the basket from a set distance. Some older Korean lady cheered every time one of us got one in the basket)
(Statues inside the Main Gate)
Gapsa Temple was beautiful and quite the sight. Katrina picked up a brochure about staying at the temple, a common practice in South Korea. Koreans and foreigners alike are invited to stay a weekend to experience the Buddhist culture and practices for about 30,000\ per person. This is definitely something I am interested in and hope to partake in in the near future. After exploring Gapsa and its surrounding structures, we took off on our hike.
(Inside the main temple at Gapsa)
In our defense, much of the hiking in Korea, at least my experience so far, has been a short little jaunt up a paved hill. The trail has always been paved and not very difficult. Dani had on Crocs, Katrina and I didn’t have any water, and fortunately Matt had four Granola bars and a small water bottle. Off we went. We started off going to see a waterfall that was about .6 km out of the way and put our feet in the water after we got there to cool down a bit.
(Katrina drinking out of the communal cups before our hike began. Notice the turtle)
Next, we began our hike up the mountain. Now, when I say up the mountain, I literally mean straight up the mountain. After about 10 minutes the road went from paved to rocks and our dreams of an easy hike were quickly dashed. There were areas of the trail where I stood erect and could place my hands on the steps in front of me – just to give you an idea of the steepness. After an hour or so we took a break, soaked in sweat, Dani in our Crocs, and Katrina and I without any water and enjoyed our granola bars. We continued the difficult ascent and arrived at the peak.
Fortunately, there were some spectacular views from the peak. Rice paddies formed the intricate cut outs in the valley below accompanied with a few lakes. After spending some time on the pinnacle of the mountain and taking a few pictures, we hiked to another temple which was extremely close in search of some water. Luckily, there was a giant silver water bottle and we each got three or four drinks. At the temple, they were constructing another building and a worker came up to me and asked if I was hungry. I politely declined but motioned around the corner to the rest of the group.
I saw Katrina talking to the worker when a monk came out and I assume, translated. Next thing I know, all of us were sitting at a table with a giant spicy rice cake with sugar on top, two huge pears, a tomato, some crackers, waffles, and four cups of hot coffee. Surely a god send for the four desolated hikers who were starving and thirsty. At this time, it was probably around 6 o’clock and all Katrina and I had to eat the whole day was a streusel. Dani and Transition had a bagel and that was all.
(Food from the Monk and worker)
(Monk, Transition, and I)
After refueling and thanking the monk, we continued on our hike, this time with a flatter terrain until we had a spectacular view of Donghaksa Temple. We again took a little break and enjoyed the amazing view, everyone snapping pictures so they could remember the view. Then, all the distance we covered going up we had to go back down. I don’t know about you but I would rather be hiking uphill than downhill, easier on the knees.
(Myself, Katrina, Transition, and Dani in her Crocs)
After walking partially down the hill we ended up at another ‘waterfall’ which was little more than a trickle. We continued on to Donghaksa Temple and when we arrived, the female monks were chanting and praying. Three times a day the monks do 108 up/downs as I like to call them for the 108 desires according to Buddhism. It was quite the sight to see and an experience I will never forget. In fact, the whole day turned out to be amazing, from the views, to the monk giving us food, to the chanting monastery. We caught the 107 back in to Daejeon and took a taxi from the bus stop. Everyone was exhausted and tired but we made our way to an Indian restaurant and had an absolutely delicious dinner. Food always taste better after a long day of walking, especially when it is uphill.