On Saturday I took a placid bike ride to the flip side of Chungju-si to glance around the newer side of town, where urbanisation meets the Gyemyeongsan Mountain. Looking up towards the crest it is difficult to envisage Chungju creeping any further up the mountain. In saying this they have constructed a brand-new hospital atop the mountain, rather inaccessible without a car me-thinks! The accommodation around here is new or under-construction and I came across a street of restaurants and bars that seemed to be attuned to attracting a younger more professional clientele than those on the periphery of downtown. This area of Yeonsu-dong was earmarked for a testing in the not-to distant future.
The future was definitely not too distant and we headed there for the evening. We had Italian and Cabernet at a restaurant called Orvietto then watched the Man U game over beer and chicken in the Hof opposite. The area was much more lively and progressive than most of the establishments downtown but we still took in an air of Bohemia by grabbing a cab back across town to Jazz and Sandro. As is the norm the taxi driver was clueless, at downtown he took a right instead of following my “straight ahead” instructions. He also refused to turn back and take us to J & S, so after a brief catalogue of expletives we endured a mini-hike up the hill in freezing weather to arrive at our destination. One could harbour the thought that taxis are ineffectual if they do not complete their undertaking, which I would advocate is to drop you off at your desired goal…thanks Korea! Mercifully Jazz & Sandro lived up to its mission, which is to deliver an adult atmosphere with top-notch music in bohemian surroundings…..thanks Korea!
Sunday saw a venture to the last remaining “must do” destination within touching distance of Chungju-si. This was to the area near Jecheon along Chungju Lake, well-known for its spectacular scenery and “resort hotels” as well as adventure sports such as bungy jumping and jet boats.
On the way we followed a brown sign to ‘Bakdaljae’ which is a mountain-pass in north-Chungcheong-do renowned for a folk tale which records the sorrowful love of ‘Bakdaldoryeong’ a young Korean man and ‘Geumbongnangza’ who was a virgin. It’s said he was en-route to Seoul to sit his finance examinations when he set eyes upon his lady and it was love at first sight. “Bakdal Hill Passing through, While Crying” is a folk song which lavishes affection on this tale. It transpires the poor lass waited years and years for her one true love Bak Dal to return from Seoul after his examinations. Bak Dal actually returns to the Cheondeung-sam Mountain Pass many years later, but he learns that Geum-Bong has already committed suicide. She believed that Bak had passed the State examination, found the daughter of a very high official or a wealthy man and married her. Unfortunately for both Bak and Geum Korea still awaited the advent of pigeon post and stagecoach and so the tragedy became the stuff of legend. Things have changed in SK now suicide happens in the name of education and achievement rather than for love.
This is also the place where General Kim Chwiryeo consigned the Georangun to defeat in 1216. Also in 1258, the locals gained another victory, joining the Jecheon, Chungju and Chungpoongin armies in defeating the Mongol hordes. This place would be inaccessible in the midst of winter and was abysmally cold during our visit. There are a couple of restaurants here and a wood carvers business sits behind a memorial to the General. Adjacent to this is the statue commemorating the love story of Bak and Gum and a Wood Sculpture Park. The area is spattered with phallic carvings which sort of dissipates the romanticism somewhat.
Cheongphung Cultural Heritage Complex is at the end of a stunning riverside drive (10km-long) along the road to Multae-ri from Jecheon.
Before arriving at the complex you pass through Geumwolbong Peak which sits opposite Mt. Dangdusan. This is known as “Little Mt. Geumgangsan” due to its resemblance to the 12,000 peaks of Mt. Geumgandsan. Legend has it that all your dreams will come true just by looking at the mountain. Whilst a fantastic natural creation the Koreans have spoiled the experience by creating an ugly visitor centre and recreation stop immediately adjacent to the peak. There is also no walkway or staircase to take in the view from the top. Passing along the road you come to the site of the KBS Drama Set and a Mountain Training Centre. After stopping to take some panoramic shots we stopped for lunch at the Cheongpungho Tourist Hotel which had the ubiquitous irritating, screaming kid on tap, dressed as its mothers mini-me in a hanbok. We chose the Cod soup but didn’t envisage that the cod would not be fresh or frozen but dried to resemble inedible rubber. The soup itself was spicy and tasty but please embed this seed in your head, never eat cod soup in SK! The views from the restaurant were magnificent giving a panorama of Cheonpungho Lake, Mt. Bibongsan, Mt. Daedeoksan and the Bungy Jumping facilities. After lunch and managing to avoid infanticide we passed another tourist attraction Cheonpung Land. Beyond here is the local ferry station, resembling the poor relation of a snail before finally crossing over the impressive Cheongpung Suspension Bridge to reach the culture park.
On arrival were offered a tour of the centre (park) by a local volunteer guide. I was unenthusiastic at first as I prefer to take adopt the role of a flaneur when visiting historic sites but on this occasion it proved a pleasant experience. He explained that Yeolliji and Yeollimok trees are famous here and if two trees grow in close proximity for a long time; they grow together, which is called ‘Yeolli.’ Because the two trees are united into one, they are often compared to ‘passionate love’ (widely known as a ‘Love Tree’). These trees are called either ‘Yeolliji’ (branches are connected) or ‘Yeollimok’ (trunks are connected). The former is far rarer than the latter but there is an example of the former within the complex grounds. The heritage complex has a variety of cultural heritage buildings and artifacts that were collected from the region before it was flooded in 1985 during the construction of Chungjuho Lake. Here, visitors can see Hanbyeokru Pavilion, Seokjo Yeoraeipsang Buddha, Paryeongru Pavilion, Geumanmru Pavilion, Geumbyeongheon Hall, Eungcheonggak Pavilion and the Cheongpung Confucian School as well as nearly 2,000 household artifacts. At the highest point sits a walled citadel and a pavilion that affords amazing views of the upper reaches of the Namhangang River. It is time for another odd observation about Korean behavior at historic sites, why do they (lets ignore the daft finger salute) chose the worst background possible when taking snaps? My theory is that they do not want the background to detract from their own immeasurable beauty! Any other theories?
Apparently (a good reason to return) beginning in mid-April, the Cheongpung Cherry Blossom Festival is held in the area. This area also has a further adventure attraction which is Cheongpungho Paragliding Park which is accessed by funicular railway from the foot of Mt. Bibongsan.
We asked our Passport Tou which was the quickest way home; it was off course to double back on ourselves. We could have chosen to follow the scenic route back skirting the lake, via Susan and Woraksan to Chungju but this would have taken much longer. I banked this drive for a next autumn when once again the leaves are turning. Heading back we stopped at another temple which looked magnificent sat against a mountain backdrop and fronted by a pagoda sitting perilously on a finger of rock. On arrival I judged it to be disappointing but the setting beautiful.
Returning back to Chungju-si in just more than an hour we took a nap and then enjoyed a Korean barbecue in the newly discovered part of town. In conclusion a great weekend; thank you SK and FOBY’s Taxi.