My annual visit to Korea this year for once really didn’t have an agenda. Originally planned as a late October / early November trip to see some Autumn leaves and catch the tail end of the Gwangju Biennale, everything changed when I heard that Ahn Sook-sun was coming to London at that precise time to sing what was billed as a full-length pansori. Accordingly, I delayed the trip by two weeks. This of course was enough to mean that most of the Autumn colour was over by the time that I arrived in Korea. But it also meant that my visit coincided with an event in Sancheong County which I could attend in my capacity as goodwill ambassador: the opening of a new trail in the scenic valley beneath Jirisan’s Daewonsa temple. I was also there at the time when they were shooting a new tourism video for the county, so I spent the best part of a day in the company of a camera crew being filmed in scenic locations, trying to maintain an appropriate expression of awe and wonderment despite the distraction of the drone buzzing overhead. I hope the results are usable for them.
Having been blown away last year by the beauty of Taean-gun’s beaches and Chollipo’s arboretum, my first priority this year was a return trip in the Autumn. And although I was there a little late for the best of the leaves, I am happy to report that Chollipo is somewhere that you can enjoy at any time of year. I hope I shall return next year too, perhaps in magnolia season.
Next door to Chollipo, Mallipo is the more widely used beach, with the sea front lined with family-owned seafood restaurants and convenience stores. A recent addition to the beach is a surf rental place. Yes, despite the calmness of the sea, surfing has taken off at Mallipo, apparently because a celebrity was once filmed on a surfboard there. In fact the beach is trying to market itself as Mallipornia – Korea’s answer to California. At sunset on a brisk Autumn day therewere more than a hundred would-be surfers in the water trying to catch what waves there were. Overall though Mallipo felt comfortably like home: I come from a seaside resort in the South West of England, so the atmosphere of a seafront outside of the main tourist season felt quite familiar to me.
Last year my visit to Taeangun had been unplanned – an escape from the oppressive busyness of Jeonju during film festival week. So for my return I did a bit of research in advance. Several attractions presented themselves; which ones we could fit in to the schedule would depend on our feeling at the time:
- the westernmost point on the South Korean mainland – a small promontory in Monhang-ri, just around the corner from Mallipo. This would complement my visit to the southernmost point – Ttanggeut Maeul in Haenam – two years ago
- catching the sunset at Kkotji Beach, Anmyeondo Island, the location of Scenic Site #69: Halmibawi and Harabibawi Rocks
- seeing the Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad in Dongmun-ri, (National Treasure #307)
- visiting the so-called Smile of Baekje: the rock-carved Buddha triad (National Treasure #84) in the neighbouring county, Seosan-si.
After Taean-gun, it would be necessary to make my annual visit to the Jirisan area where I am goodwill ambassador for Sancheong County. Kyung-sook, my dear friend in Sancheong, who always helps when I visit down south, suggested visiting one or more of the mountain temples that had been recently listed as a UNESCO world heritage site as part of my schedule. This sounded like a good framework for a few days before I had to return to Seoul. And, as it happened, she had recently become friendly with a monk from Hwaeomsa the other side of Jirisan, and he managed to fix up rather more than I had anticipated in terms of temple culture.
After a few days down south, a final weekend in Seoul before returning to London would provide opportunities to see friends and to visit various exhibitions. Alas, one weekend is definitely not enough in Seoul, and in the end I failed to get to any of the exhibitions I wanted to. But in recompense I enjoyed what was probably in retrospect the highlight of my trip – a hike on Mt Inwangsan, starting at the recently reopened Suseongdong Valley, a favourite spot of landscape painter Jeong Seon. I was also lucky to catch a concert by indie musician Earip in Samcheong-dong, thanks to a Korean friend I met in London who told me about it.
People who do not know me that well sometimes assume that my trips to Korea are paid for, organised and hosted by the Korean Ministry of Culture. That is not the case. Sancheong County welcomes me as their goodwill ambassador, paying for my accommodation when I am in their county. Apart from that, I’m self-funded – though my friends are often too generous in paying for meals and the like, and I could probably survive purely on their generosity for most of the trip. But sometimes it’s nice to get to the counter at the restaurant first, and play at being host myself.
Milyang was included in my itinerary this year quite by chance. I happened to ring Kyung-sook about my trip when she was in the car with her teacher and Milyang’s deputy mayor, a distant relation of his, and who also used to be deputy mayor of Sancheong. Kyung-sook’s teacher had been judging a tea-bowl competition in Milyang. After I ended the phone call it, seems the plan was hatched that I should spend a day in Milyang so I could write nice things about the city – which I hope I shall. Accordingly I had the hospitality of the city’s tourism department while I was there.
Although the trip had not really been planned (at my end at least) as a temple tour, that’s the way it seemed to end up. Thanks to my new Sunim friend I stayed overnight in three different temples, and in the space of the 11 days that I was in Korea I managed to average one temple, hermitage or former temple, per day. ((In order, Taeeulam (Taean-gun), Gayasa (Yesan-gun), Pyochungsa (Milyang-si), Mubongsa (Milyang-si), Bongjeongsa (Andong-si), Jikjisa (Gimcheon-si), Hwaeomsa (Gurye-gun), Daewonsa (Sancheong-gun), Anjeoksa (Sancheong-gun), Jogyesa (Jongno-gu, Seoul) and Seokgulam (Inwangsan, Seoul) ))
I definitely won’t be writing a detailed account of my daily travels this year. Instead I shall probably end up writing a little about the three main temples I visited; an article about Samyeong Daesa, a diplomat and significant leader of the warrior monks during the Japanese invasions at the end of the 16th Century, and who was born in Milyang; and maybe something about the Inwangsan hike and the new Daewonsa trail. Other than that the posts will probably be light on text and consist mainly of photos. My trip this year will linger in my memory less for the things I saw than for the various people I spent time with – and that does not make for interesting reading.
If, in previous years, people in London asked me why I enjoy travelling to Korea I most likely answered that I’m interested in the history and culture, and enjoy the range of scenic and cultural diversions on offer. I’m realising more and more that the real reason I go to Korea is to see my friends there and to make new friends. Even when we don’t share the same language somehow a bond seems to form, and I always return to London with an incredible sense of warmth.
My thanks for making this year’s trip special go to the following (family names omitted to preserve some privacy):
- Kyung-sook, as ever, who is my main contact in Sancheong and who this year came up with a schedule that kept us very busy; for acting as companion, guide and translator on the journey in Gyeongsan Province (both North and South) and Jeollanamdo. For her gifts, time and long-standing friendship.
- Chris for meeting me at the airport, driving me to Taean-gun, fixing accommodation on the beach-front with fabulous views, and researching some extra items on the schedule to complement my normal mission of ticking off items of National Heritage wherever I can find them, and then ferrying me to CheonanAsan KTX so that I could continue on down south. And for the education in Korean gardening tools.
- Eunok for spending time with Chris and myself in Taean-gun, recommending the interesting live music café owned by a popular singer from the 1970s, and for giving me those nice soju cups.
- Sun-mi for the discount she gave on her ceramics in Chollipo.
- Heogong, for his time, for pulling strings at various temples and for driving us from Milyang to Andong and back. Heogong and Kyung-sook were also far too generous in buying lunches and dinners for me, though I managed to get to the till first in Andong.
- Jeong-taek for hosting us for tea in Mungyeong, and for those very special gifts; and for trying to fix the visit to the paper-maker. Maybe it will work out next time. I hope you enjoy the English whisky.
- Heejung for sneaking me into Earip’s intimate gig in Samcheong-dong, and for the drinks afterwards
- KapSoo for leading a fantastic hike on Inwangsan and for entertaining me to a lovely lunch, giving me a handsome gift and generally being so hospitable. And to Aeran for joining the hike and thinking of our health by bringing those face masks.
- Mark, Dan, Hyeran, Jeong Suk, Suzy and Rosa for joining me for dinner on the last night, to Suzy and Rosa for the gifts and Dan for 2차
- The city tourism team in Milyang for showing me around Pyochungsa and many of the scenic and historic sites in the city, and for entertaining me to lunch and dinner.
- The county tourism team in Sancheong, particularly Hye-kyung, for looking after me.
- Young-ki’s wife, for the splendid lunch.
- Jin-gu, for spending time with us in Sancheong and Gurye-gun, and for being our congenial drinking companion
- The monks at Pyochungsa (Milyang), Bongjeongsa (Andong), Hwaeomsa (Gurye), Daewonsa and Anjeoksa (Sancheong) for their hospitality, time and gifts
- Sena’s mother for the gifts of tea
- Tom and Anthony for their time and tea / coffee
- Chuljin for the samgyeopsal and soju (is there a better combination?) in Daehakno
- Jieun and Lissy for their company on the last morning and for the gifts. Quite a coincidence that we bumped into Mike at the same coffee shop.
- Sylvia at Park Air Travel for the top class service in getting those flights
- Louise for pretending not to mind that I abandoned her at home for ten days
For the record, the itinerary turned out as follows:
|Friday 9 Nov
|Arrive at Incheon and drive to Mallipo beach, Taeangun
|Saturday 10 Nov
|Visit Chollipo arboretum
Lunch in Taean-eup
Visit Taeeul-am to visit the Rock-carved Standing Buddha Triad in Dongmun-ri, Taean (National Treasure No.307)
Buy provisions for BBQ on the beach
Watch the sunset on the beach
Visit live music café and listen to Lee Yong-bok
BBQ at the hotel and fireworks on the beach
|Sunday 11 Nov
|Drive to Seosan-si to see rock-carved Buddha triad (National Treasure #84)
Drive to Yesan-gun to see Prince Namyeong’s tomb – built on the site of Gayasa, which was burned down by Daewongun, on what is said to be the most geomantically auspicious site in the country
Drive to CheonanAsan KTX and catch train to Milyang-si
Check in at Pyochungsa temple and have dinner with Milyang deputy mayor
|Monday 12 Nov
|Tea with senior monk at Pyochungsa; tour around the temple
Tour around the scenic and historic sites of Milyang:
Drive to Andong-si Bongjeongsa; a quick tour round the temple
|Tuesday 13 Nov
|Tea with senior monk at Bongjeongsa
Visit Hahoe Hanok Village
Drive to Mungyeong-si to visit a pottery
Drive to Gimcheon-si for lunch and to visit Jikjisa
Drive to Sancheong-gun; visit county hall and check in to Donguibogam Village
|Wednesday 14 Nov
|Drive to Gurye-gun to visit Hwaeomsa
Watch a game of chukku with the local community
|Thursday 15 Nov
|Return to Sancheong. Filming in Donguibogam Village and Namsa Yedam Chon (“Beautiful Walls Village”); officiate at opening of new trail in Daewonsa Gyegok valley. Hike up to Daewonsa for more filming. Tea with senior monk. Dinner with mayor
|Friday 16 Nov
|Tea with the monk at Anjeoksa
Lunch with friends in Sancheong
Bus back to Seoul
Earip concert in Samcheong-dong and beer in Insadong
|Saturday 17 Nov
|Coffee with Tom Coyner of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch
Visit to Seoul Museum of Art
Duo Dance Festival in Daehakro followed by samgyeopsal with performers
Tea with friend in Insadong
|Sunday 18 Nov
|Hike on Inwsangsan
Tea with Brother Anthony
Farewell dinner in Insadong
|Monday 19 Nov
|Coffee with The Drawing Hand
Bus to Incheon
A google map of some of the key locations can be found here.