Byeonsan National Park Road Trip with Charlie’s Angels


Buddha’s birthday weekend and a venture into mid-South West Korea with the angels that Charlie failed to employ.  Buddha’s birthday is the 8th day of the 4th lunar month. Elaborate, solemn rituals are held at many Buddhist temples across the country and lanterns are hung in the temple courtyards. The Sunday before Buddha’s birthday these lanterns are lit and carried in parades in the evening.  We decided on an early departure, the first hurdle negotiating a Mc D drive through so we could imbibe coffee. It was a reversing baptism of fire for Angel Sam Bath; she managed the assault on her senses in terms of information overload with great aplomb but admitted defeat deferring to the awesome reversing talents of Angel Heighway. Angel Bath had also prepared sumptuous breakfast boxes containing Angel Disley’s “food of the gods”, Curley Wurley’s! It’s Angel Disley’s birthday tomorrow so any container ships carrying the said food would be a worthy pressie. We hit the road with pre-programmed destinations added to the Sat Nav by the hire-car company the night before.

Our first destination was Jeonju via Daejon, after a couple of hours we realised we had picked the wrong target and were in fact heading due west for Taean! Then a traffic jam to test the patience of a saint, we had one, Angel Bath, who stoically stayed on task for some 3 hours of traffic hell! We headed slowly south and decided to head for Buan and the beaches in Byeonsan National Park. Byeonsan Peninsula National Park is a 35km stretch encompassing five townships along the coast. Designated as a national park in 1988, it is the only national park in the country that has both a seashore and mountainside.  After leaving the main highway we followed the coast road looking for places to set up camp, as is usual in SK this proved a little arduous as none were clearly signposted.  The coast road threw up some beautiful scenery and little coves; I think Angels plus 1 were all happy to be there. We passed through Byeonsan Beach and eventually came upon Gyeokpo Beach, Byeonsan-myeon. There was an ugly pink waterpark resort but alongside it a campsite, unfortunately it was jam packed with not one single space.  We decided to take a chance and set up camp on some wooded land opposite the beach. There was a gently curving bay with spectacular cliffs and an abundance of restaurants. Our very cheap G-market tent was a great buy and well up to the job, as we pitched we realised we were flying solo and I have to admit I was worried we may be moved on. My fears proved unfounded as later we proved to be early adopters as many others pitched up alongside us. They (the Koreans) are well prepared and obviously invest lots of money in high quality equipment.  Many of our neighbours were families with small kids and had all the pots, pans and paraphernalia to prepare family meals.

After pitching up the Angels and I decided to find the famous Chaeseokgang Cliffs so we set off along the coast road heading out of town. We were struggling to get the correct reading in the Sat Nav and we could see not one sign indicating which direction to take…very frustrating! We managed to discover the vilest smelling harbour in the world and at this point Angel Sam (who displays excellent Korean Language skills) managed to “fix” the Sat Nav for the correct destination.  Lo and behold we followed the instructions of the 5th significant member of our group, Norah Satnav, who directed us accurately right back to where we started……..yes the cliffs were at the end of the beach we were camping on!

As the sun went down the sky became a glorious orange as fellow holidaymakers took pictures in the shadow of the cliffs. Some took speedboat trips around the bay from a floating pontoon tethered at the base of the rocks. It was a relaxing end to a difficult first day.  We were aware the loss of time would impact on our ability to visit all our chosen destinations. Angel’s Carissa and Sam suggested we stay in Gyeokpo Beach for the next two nights and use it as a base to explore……a great idea.

Chaeseokgang refers to the cliffs and the sea around them; it is apparently easy to misunderstand, as it’s also the name for a river. The origin of the name comes from China, from the story of Lee Tae-Baek, who while drinking wine on a ship, saw the moon reflected in the river and jumped into the water to grab it. The name Chaeseokgang was adapted, as it resembles the Chinese equivalent of this location. 

Chaeseokgang was created from many layers of rocks stratified by the sea. The KTO say, “It is nature’s masterpiece of stratification, and you can see interesting structures and shapes here that are not seen elsewhere”. The cliffs are accessible twice a day when the water recedes, and at low tide, it’s easy to observe various sea life existing in the lower areas of the rock cliffs and the cave, particularly interesting were some small crustaceans that live in the rocks and scurry around as you step over the petrified lava flow, I still cannot find out what they are called. The sea level of the Yellow Sea varies up to 8 metres at each tide and it may be that they are sea animals left stranded when the tide goes out, I simply do not know. Korea’s west coast has the 2nd greatest tidal change in the world. When the tide goes out, it looks as if someone pulled the plug on the ocean.

All through this town there are seafood stalls where diners can pick out the seafood they want and the proprietor will cut it up for them and serve it right there – live and raw, of course! A delicacy in SK. The most interesting creatures were the “willy” shaped ones (see the pictures). We had been ably fed by Angel Bath throughout the day, not only had she prepared individual breakfast boxes she had made “Lasagne Cup Cakes”, truly inspirational and addictive alongside her flan/omelette and fresh veggies….what a star! We bought some Soju and juice and as the evening grew quite chilly we settled on the beach watching the kids set off fireworks. Later three troubadours arrived guitars in hand playing acoustic versions of Indie rock songs, Oasis etc…. as the Soju took hold we tamely sang the lyrics.  As the crowed grew larger we chatted to a Korean who had been educated in America and was on vacation with his parents, staying in a local condo. We carried on chatting and downing the Soju, becoming more boisterous and louder along with our ever-increasing band of followers. The finale involved waltzing on the beach and renditions of Hey Judy, Judy, Judy, and Na Na Nananana; this impromptu Norebang will be remembered for a very long time.  I am not sure how but at one point I was face down, motionless on the beach, apparently for over a minute! We eventually retired to Angel Base for our first night of camping on Korea’s West Coast.  I don’t really remember going to sleep but I got up around 7am and decided to head up to the pagoda on the hill.

The 15-minute climb was very worthwhile affording spectacular views of the coastline. I spent time at the base of the cliffs before heading back to touch base with the Angel’s who by this time were awake and ready for day two. We found a local coffee shop, the brew was particularly average and then we headed out to the “Movie-set Theme Park” just outside town.  It was pretty interesting and people drove around on motorised golf carts which given the size of the park I thought was pretty damn lazy. The Angels all had a go at Archery before we wandered around.  Many extras are employed to give some “authenticity” to the sets, we got to the main part, a mock-up of a Korean Palace, and unfortunately it was closed as they were actually filming. Further on the girls decided to have a go at fan and wood block painting, I thought this would take 20 minutes which metamorphosised into the best part of two hours. Their attempts were pretty good; Carissa has arts training so hers was particularly impressive. We left the park and decide to head along the cast to visit the Naesosa Temple.

Naesosa Temple is the Byeonsan Peninsula’s most visited temple. It’s not hard to see why – the stroll to the temple set amidst towering pine trees is simply magical. The temple itself is blessed with a dramatic mountain backdrop and is home to two treasures: a temple bell from the Goryeo era (Treasure No. 277) and an absolutely spectacular Main Hall (Treasure No. 291). The finely crafted wooden doors are beautiful. Naesosa was built by Buddhist Monk Hye-Gu in 633 AD during the Silla Dynasty and was rebuilt by Monk Cheong-Min in 1633 during the Joseon Dynasty. The Dae-Ungbojeon Pagoda was built at this time. In 1986, the temple area (radius of 500m) was named a culturally protected area. 

On both sides of the main gate (600m across) are large fir trees, which also line the path into the temple. As you continue down the walkway, you come across a row of cherry trees. Just before the temple itself, are four gods called Sacheonwangsang that “guard” the temple. Upon reaching the temple itself (just past the guards) the first thing you’ll notice is the 1000-year-old Dangsan tree. Long ago, people used the base of the tree as a site of prayer. 

Housed in Beomjonggak is a bronze bell that can be found in many Buddhist Temples. This particular bell was made during the Goryeo Era and is engraved with three images of Buddha, called “Samjonsang.” The center building of the temple, called “Dae-Ungbojeon” is also an artistic masterpiece, decorated with splendid colors and designs. The flower Salmun doors featuring lotus and Chrysanthemum flowers add another element of traditional beauty to the building. 

We settled down for some Bimimbap and then after downing ice cream Michelle bought an effective sun hat that was not quite so effective in the wind! Modifications will be necessary.  Heading back along the coast road we stopped at a restaurant overlooking the mudflats to buy coffee, all 6000won of it! I felt bitter and not just because of the cost more the taste, Michelle enjoyed hers.  The Angels posed for pictures on the garden love seat before we headed off taking a different road back.  This road led us to the Silk Worm Museum, a great place for kids and the place were the most spectacular public loos in the world are located. We headed up the coast, stopped off at another long sandy beach and then drove back along the coast road looking for more spectacular cliffs stopping off for photos along the way.

On arriving back at the beach we took a trip up to the pagoda and then purchased breakfast provisions from NH supermarket. We searched for none fishy dinner as Angel Sam has an allergy; it proved more difficult than anyone can imagine.  Eventually a kind fish restauranteur guided us to a small place were we ate a substantial rice omelette coated in Barbecue sauce and served with fried battered chicken, very filling and enjoyable. Omurice is a contemporary Asian dish consisting of an omelette made with fried rice. Its name derives from the combination of the English words omelette and rice. Omurice is said to have originated from Japan and it became a popular dish at a western-style restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza district around the turn of the 19th century.

A relatively simple dish, it typically calls for rice fried with ketchup, chicken and onions wrapped in a thin sheet of fried egg. Different variations of this dish can include peas, carrots, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and kimchi.  Pork or beef can be substituted for chicken as well.

After this we returned to the beach, managed one beer and were so slaughtered from the night before and days excursions that we went to bed hoping for an early start to Jeonju, home of Bibimbap and the Hanok Folk Village.

In the morning I awoke at 6am and went for a walk along the next two beaches admiring the rock formations. When I got back the Angels had arisen and after a good breakfast of crackers, plum tomatoes, the laughing cow cheese spread and apples we dismantled the tent ready for our homeward journey via Jeonju. Before leaving we had a fun but painful encounter with the family in the adjacent tent.  They had one passive child who was happy to head a ball but the younger one had a split personality, alternating between a normal child and the spawn of the devil.  He particularly enjoyed thumping people in the midriff and pinching any other part of the body he could get his mitts on! His mum was kind enough to give us all a bottle of chilled coffee which was much more palatable than the mortgage coffee from the day before.  We got away around 9.15 am arriving in Jeonju around 11am intending to head off for home around 2.00 pm.

Jeonju has shops specialising in hanji (traditional handmade Korean paper), his is used for calligraphy and for making fans.  Jeonju Hanok Village overlaps Pungnam-dong and Gyo-dong. There are over 800 traditional Korean ‘hanok’ houses. While the rest of city has been industrialized, Hanok Maeul retains its historical charms and traditions. Jeonju Hanok village is especially beautiful for its curved roofs. The roof edges being slightly raised to the sky, this is unique. Hanok houses are generally divided into two sections, Anchae and Sarangchae. The Anchae is also known as the Gyusu room. The Sarangchae is where the men dwell, and is referred to as the Seonbi room. Because men and women have to remain separate, the Anchae is situated deep inside the house so that it is secretive and quiet.

Another trait of the Hanok is that all the houses are heated with the ondol system, a unique sub-flooring heating system. Since Koreans enjoy sitting, eating, and sleeping on the floor, it needs to remain heated. A part of the Hanok has been set aside so that tourists can experience traditional Korean life, it’s called the Hanok Life Experience Hall. You can enter the Seonbi room and the Gyusu room to experience the warm floor first-hand. An advantage of this system is that it is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. 

We visited the Historical Treasure No. 339, the Gyeonggijeon Shrine was erected in 1410 and holds the portrait of King Tae-jo Lee, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. The King and his wife’s mortuary tablets are enshrined here at Jogyeong Shrine. The structure was partially destroyed during the invasion of foreign forces from 1592~1598. The existing structure was remodeled in 1614. Inside Gyeonggijeon, the portraits of King Tae-jo and other successive kings such as Sun-jong, Cheol-jong, Yeong-jo and many others can be found on display. The carriage used to move the mortuary tablets as well as carriages used to transport dignitaries and individual chair-like carriages are also on display. This shrine has become a popular spot for filming traditional television shows.

Outside here the Angels decided to have their pictures painted in watercolour, this made them all look particularly youthful and the likenesses you can judge for yourselves in the slideshow attached. We wandered around the village to the Dangsan tree, the mother tree that has witnessed the full history of the Hanok Village.  The placard for this tree reads “a five hundred year old Zelkova tree, the Dansan Tree stands in Tambangro Omokdae”. On January 15th every year, the Dansan Festival is held, commencing with a ritual in front of this tree, seeking blessings for Jeonju Hanok Village and the health and well being of the people. Many visitors to Jeonju Hanok Village stop by the tree to wish for happiness and blessings for their family, myself I wished for lunch!

We wandered through some more streets before deciding to eat a pork version of Bibimbap in a local restaurant….the food was fabulous and generous. By this time we had 45 mins before we had to set off back to return the car by 6.00 pm.  Carissa wanted to buy a fan so went shopping with Sam.  Michelle and I wandered further going across the main dividing street of the village to a craft centre where she bought a ceramic incense burner. Further into the village we entered the Yangsaejae, where noble scholars studied 

Originally, this building was affiliated with Hyanggyo, and was a place for talented students to gather to prepare for the national scholar competition. Now this facility is used for the Hanok Village Experience Centre. This building is famous for the poet Lee Byeong-gi, who wrote many poems while staying here.

We also discovered some lovely looking traditional Home Stays or private guest houses, which made us think that Jeonju may be worth a re-visit in the future. We met up with Sam and Carissa, picked up the car from the ugliest hotel in the world and headed home around 2.30pm arriving back in Chungju with 1 minute to spare at 5.59 pm.  Congratulations to Angel Bath for driving the return journey so proficiently and getting us home on time.  We offloaded into taxis and headed for Shittybill….home sweet home!

A fabulous few days.

Where to next?