Having enjoyed the peace of Mallipo and Chollipo beaches and the rich rewards of Chollipo arboretum on previous visits to Taean-gun, for LKL’s third visit to the county it was time to explore the coastline elsewhere. This time, we were to venture into Anmyeondo, Korea’s 6th-largest island, where the attractions include a recreational forest and a public arboretum.
Anmyeondo is also home to two items of Taean’s scenic heritage as listed on the Cultural Heritage Administration website (something I often consult to discover items worthy of a detour when I visit a place for the first time). Natural Monument #138 is a population of Goldenrain Trees on Bangpo beach, and Scenic Site #69 – Halmibawi and Harabibawi Rocks on Ggotji Beach – is known as one of the best places to see the sunset anywhere in the country. Anmyeondo is also known for its native pine trees, once valuable for construction of temples, palaces and ships. With these things in mind, we booked a modest hotel on Bangpo beach, which is within walking distance of Ggotji Beach, for our stay. I had reckoned that Ggotji Beach was likely to be busier than the lesser-known Bangpo, so judged that the latter, with its scenic Goldenrain trees, would be an ideal base.
Anmyeondo. The name literally means something like the Isle of Rest and Calm, or the Isle of Comfortable Sleep. The name Taean has similar connotations, and each time I have visited so far it has lived up to its name. But Anmyeondo only became an island in the 17th century, and its name contains a certain amount of wishful thinking. Further up the coast, pretty much on the westernmost point of the Taean peninsula, is a strait known as Anheungryang where in the first 60 years of the Joseon dynasty around 200 ships were lost.
During the Goryeo dynasty laborious efforts were made to provide a short-cut around those dangerous waters – literally: they tried digging a canal to cut Taean off from the mainland, enabling ships to travel up the eastern side of what is now Anmyeondo, through 7km of inland waterway, emerging into the West Sea via Garorim Bay, a calm inlet on the north side of the Taean peninsula. But engineering technology of the day was not up to the task, and it was not until the reign of King Injo that a less ambitious canal was dug, creating the island of Anmyeondo. While this did not solve the problem of having to sail around the westernmost reefs of the Taean peninsula, it allowed ships to avoid the rocks on the southwest corner of Anmyeondo where rice shipments often went down. Some sources also suggest that the west coast of Anmyeondo was a favourite spot for Japanese pirates to ambush grain shipments being sent northwards to Seoul, so the canal eliminated some of that hunting ground. The canal was completed in 1638.
When day dawned on my first morning on Anmyeondo, I walked up and down the Bangpo beach, and slightly inland, trying to find anything that fitted the description of Natural Monument #138 – the population of Goldenrain Trees – or any location that looked remotely like the photographs on the Cultural Heritation Administration website, but drew a blank. I probably saw them without realising their significance. Somewhat disappointed at failing to tick off another official heritage item, I decided instead to walk southwards over the headland to Ggotji beach and find some coffee. There is a well-signposted scenic coastal path that runs all the way up the west side of Anmyeondo and up further along the Taean mainland, and this was the route I followed in search of breakfast.
On Ggotji beach, ajummas were digging for shellfish, and early-rising sightseers were strolling on the flat sands. The tide was out, and you could walk to the famous Halmibawi and Harabibawi (Grandma and Grandpa Rocks) along a white path of broken seashells. I walked out as far as the rocks, then grabbed myself a coffee from the range of snack stalls in the car park between the beach and Korea Flower Park, before strolling back to Bangpo beach the way I had come. I had a rendezvous arranged with Chris and Eunok.
The early afternoon was spent in a walk around Anmyeondo’s pine forest (안면도 자연휴양림), and a visit to the scenic arboretum (안면도 수목원) – a large park beautifully landscaped and planted, well worth a visit, just across the road from the forest. We then returned to the Tulip festival.
As the afternoon came to an end, we bought some beers and snacks from an ajumma and sat at a plastic table on the beach watching the sun go down behind the rocks. Unfortunately the yellow dust in the air got in the way of the best sunset, but it’s still a nice place to be at the end of a day.
As night fell, we drove to the northernmost point of the island in search of some dinner: it was the last day or two of the jukkumi (주꾸미) season. The small webfoot octopus is something of a local delicacy: at this time of year the squid are pregnant, and the body is fully of tiny roe, each the size and texture of a small grain of rice, which will become the next generation. I have to say that I didn’t find it particularly appetising: the legs rather rubbery and tasteless, and the bodies somehow managing to taste richly of not very much. Maybe it was the way we cooked it. But Chris’s father was reportedly happy to be given a doggy bag of the bodies we didn’t eat: apparently it’s an old-style snack, regarded as something of a delicacy. We retired to our beach hotel, grabbing a soju and snacks from the hotel’s convenience store, watching people let off small fireworks on the beach.
- The (un)Natural and Cultural History of Korean Goldenrain Tree, Arnoldia (The journal of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum) Volume 64 Number 1 2006
- Why did they make Anmyeondo an island during the Joseon dynasty? Opinion News (Korean), 17 October 2017