The many attractions of Sancheong County at the Thames Festival and beyond

Sancheong County
Sancheong County

This year, as for the past four years, Korea will be heavily represented at the Thames Festival. But this year, for the first time, the Korean village will host some stalls from parts of the country outside of Seoul. The regions all have particular unique characteristics to attract people to visit. Jeju-do, still in the running for one of the New Seven Wonders, will be seeking to boost its campaign. The seaside city of Yeosu, Jeollanam-do will also be there as host of the 2012 World Expo. And another representative from the regions is Sancheong County, from the Jirisan region at the south of the peninsula. It is a beautiful area, and home to much of the country’s best medicinal herbs. The thing they will be promoting most at the festival is their association with Heo Jun, Korea’s best known medical scholar, and the huge compendium of medicinal knowledge that he compiled, the Donguibogam. They will be hosting the international Donguibogam expo in 2013, marking the 400th anniversary of its landmark publication.

Some of the many herbs used in Korean traditional medicine
Some of the many herbs used in Korean traditional medicine

At the Sancheong County stall at the Thames Festival you will be able to talk to two of Korea’s finest traditional medicine practitioners (one of them has queues outside his clinic at 5am, with people hoping to get an appointment with him) to find out more about the importance of the Donguibogam. They will also be happy to offer health and well-being advice using traditional medicine.

Lee Young-ae as Dae Jang Geum
You too could look like Lee Young-ae as Dae Jang Geum

For those without ailments, you can dress up as famous court cook and medical practitioner Dae Jang Geum, made famous by Lee Young-ae in Jewel in the Palace. Or the chaps can dress as the great man Heo Jun himself.

There will be herbal cocktails to try, some herb cakes (no, not the sort you get in Amsterdam) and of course herb tea; and you can find out about a temple stay at Daewonsa, probably Korea’s most famous temple for Buddhist nuns. But men can stay there too. I have.

Some of the herbal cocktails for sampling at the Sancheong medicinal herb festival last year
Some of the herbal cocktails for sampling at the Sancheong medicinal herb festival last year

But Sancheong has so much to offer that it will be impossible to display it all to the casual punter at the Thames Festival. So here’s an attempt to introduce Sancheong County to someone who hasn’t heard of it before.

First, it’s worth bearing in mind that “Sancheong” in Korean literally means “Mountain Purity”, and this possibly sums up the attractions of the county – in a way, Sancheong is its own advertising slogan.

The official “nine attractions” of Sancheong-gun, according to the county website, are:

1. Jirisan’s highest peak: Cheonwangbong

Cheonwangbong
Cheonwangbong: Jirisan’s highest peak (photo: Sancheong County)

Jirisan is the highest mountain on mainland South Korea, and is the southernmost point on the peninsula’s mountain backbone – the Baekdu-Daegan. Many believe that parts of the Jirisan area have high levels of geomantic energy. Next time I’m in Sancheong I’m determined to get to the top. (LKL coverage here)

2. Daewonsa temple and valley

Daewonsa, as featured on the front cover of the LKL book - Royal Ancestors and Ancient Remedies
Daewonsa, as featured on the front cover of the LKL book – Royal Ancestors and Ancient Remedies

The temple is a beautiful peaceful spot on the slopes of Jirisan, with a torrent in the valley below. The temple is home to the multi-layered stone pagoda known as Bangwang-tap, national treasure number 1,112. The temple is home to mainly female monks. You can have a templestay in Daewonsa, which is also one of the starting points for the ascent to Chonwangbong. (LKL coverage here)

3. The Royal Azaleas of Hwangmaesan Mountain

The azaleas of Hwangmaesan in full bloom
The azaleas of Hwangmaesan in full bloom (Image source)

Well, I guess you have to be there at the right time of year for this. I think I saw a riot of pink on the mountainside as I drove to Sancheong for the first time, and it was so colourful and extensive I couldn’t believe that it was seemingly acres of flowers. I guess it was. (LKL coverage here)

4. The Royal Tomb of King Guhyeong

The sombre tomb of King Guhyeong
The sombre tomb of King Guhyeong

This is quite unlike your Joseon dynasty tombs, which were listed in UNESCO’s heritage list in 2009. The naked black rocks of the tomb give a completely different, sombre atmosphere. (LKL coverage here)

5. Gyeongho River

Gyeongho River
Gyeongho River (photo: Sancheong County)

The purity of Jirisan’s river water is important to Sanchong. Gyeongho is one of the county’s more lively rivers, on which you can go rafting.

6. Namsa-ri Hanok Village and its beautiful walls

A favourite view of Namsa-ri
A favourite view of Namsa-ri

Namsa-ri is an unspoilt village of a standard with the famous Hahoe and Yangdong folk villages which were listed as UNESCO heritage last year. That means they have loads more tourists. Namsa-ri is much quieter and more peaceful, and it was recently nominated the first of Korea’s “beautiful villages”. (LKL coverage here)

7. Historical Sites commemorating Nammyeong Cho Shik

Deokcheon Seowon: the Confucian school constructed by Nammyeong's pupils in his honour
Deokcheon Seowon: the Confucian school constructed by Nammyeong’s pupils in his honour

Cho Shik was an important Confucian scholar from the 16th Century. He was born in South Gyeongsang province, and spent the last ten years of his life in Sancheong, in a house with an impressive view of Chonwangbong, the highest peak of Jirisan. (LKL coverage here)

8. Jeongchuiam hermitage

Jeongchuiam, high in the mountains of Sancheong
Jeongchuiam, high in the mountains of Sancheong (Image source)

This small Buddhist temple nestles high up in the crags of Daeseongsan mountain and commands spectacular views. It is said that in 686CE, the 6th year of the reign of King Sinmun of Silla, Amitabha Buddha rose from East Sea and two beams of light shone, one on Geumgangsan and the other on Daeseongsan. Uisang Daisa followed the beams of light and built Wontongam Hermitage in Geumgangsan and Jeongchuiam in Daeseongsan. (LKL coverage here)

9. Traditional Herbal Medicine Tourist Park / Donguibogam Village

A play celebrating the life of Heo Jun at the Sancheong herb festival
A play celebrating the life of Heo Jun at the Sancheong herb festival

Sancheong County is known for its Herbal Medicine, and the tourist park contains a range of attractions including a herbal medicine museum and the buildings where the Presidential Seal is made. (LKL coverage here)

But there are other places of interest as well:

The memorial to the Venerable Seong Cheol

The memorial to Seong Cheol at the time of Buddha's birthday
The memorial to Seong Cheol at the time of Buddha’s birthday

Seong Cheol is Korea’s most eminent Buddhist monk of the 20th Century, having served as Patriarch of the famous Haeinsa temple where the Tripitaka Koreana is stored, and also as Patriarch of the Jogye order for two successive terms. He was born in Sancheong and his memorial site contains information about his life as well as a temple, Geoboesa, which is devoted to his memory. (LKL coverage here)

The two museums commemorating the partisan struggle in the Korean War

Two Jangseung outside the Sancheong-Hamyang Massacre Memorial Park, driving away the demons of civil war
Two Jangseung outside the Sancheong-Hamyang Massacre Memorial Park, driving away the demons of civil war

Around the time of the Korean War, the Jirisan area provided refuge for guerrillas and partisans who opposed the government of the South. They were a constant thorn in the side for local villages. To understand this period of Korea’s modern history, it’s worth watching Im Kwon-taek’s Taebaek Mountains and Jeong Ji-young’s Nambugun (the latter of which is actually set in the Jirisan area). (LKL coverage here)

And the food you get there is also something else. So pay this neglected county a visit. Maybe for the 2013 International Donguibogam expo; maybe sooner. I have ended up going there once a year myself.

Find out more at Sancheong’s tourism website.

[All images sourced from LKL or Sancheong County, except where credited otherwise]

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