Posts Tagged ‘danyang’

Getting to Gyeongju

The day I arrived in Danyang I devoted some time to figuring out how to leave. The information desk in the bus station was empty when I arrived, but after lunch a helpful woman got an English-speaking man on the phone and we had a three-way conversation. After I finally made it clear that I didn’t want to leave that very day, the consensus was that I should take the afternoon train directly to Gyeongju. I had wanted to stop either in Andong (folk museum) or Daegu (herbal medicine market), and Daegu was a major transport hub for the south.  The two locals insisted that Andong was impossible, and that the only bus from Danyang to Daegu was the 13:25, but that it would be better to take the even later train.

The herbal medicine market in Daegu

While I wasn’t sorry to have visited Danyang, I didn’t want to spend the best part of another day there. Careful perusal of the bus timetable turned up a morning bus that appeared to go both to Daegu and to Busan. When I boarded the bus, with a ticket for Daegu, the driver kept saying “changing, changing” with a very worried expression. I took this to mean that I would have to change buses at some point. I did, but it couldn’t have been easier – all the Daegu passengers were shepherded off one bus and on to another, with no opportunity to stray, and the driver even moved my pack for me. Piece of cake.

Ginseng for sale in the market

Unfortunately, getting from the North Daegu bus station, where the bus terminated, to any of the other bus terminals, or to the train station, proved not a piece of cake at all. The driver of my bus told me to take a taxi, but not only were there no taxis in evidence, I though it was a bit far for a taxi ride. A very helpful local lady carefully read all the bus timetables, and agreed with the driver that there was no bus connection. Finally I took a bus headed for an area with a subway stop – only to be told by the driver when we got near that the subway wasn’t working! When I failed to find the stop for the bus he told me to take instead, I gave in and took a taxi to the train station – now much nearer – but I had to waylay a passing pedestrian to translate my destination.

The only items not pre-packaged in plastic

Lonely Planet had been enthusiastic about the traditional herbal medicine market. Possibly it has changed since the book was researched. Or possibly the author had been over-using some of the merchandise. Either way, I found the nearby food market more worthwhile – how often do you see a life-size octopus made out of candy? The medicine market had been cleaned up, with everything packaged in plastic and neatly stored indoors, and no hands-on activities on offer in the cultural center.

Octopus for dessert, anyone?

Since I had to go back to the train station to collect my main pack, I took the train instead of a bus onto Gyeongju. Probably the same train I would have taken if I’d spent the day in Danyang. Comfortable enough, but with an extremely annoying and persistent squeak.

I took another taxi (fortunately they’re pretty cheap in Korea) to the Sarangchae Guest House. At first I thought I had made a mistake – the place looked a bit worn and tired – but it turned out to be a great travelers’ hangout. Not something I want at every stop, but a nice break every now and then. It was a bit far from the nearest bus stop, but the tumuli (or royal tombs) for which the town is famous were right next door – looming atmospherically over the containing wall at night.

I was sleeping on the floor again, but this time, in accordance with Korean custom, the floor was heated! In fact, it was heated so efficiently that several guests, including me, asked for the heat to be turned down after the first night. Once again, I had no problem sleeping, but I did miss having somewhere to put things.

The view just outside Sarangchae in daylight

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Plan A for Korea had me traveling northwest to Seorak-san National Park for a couple of days hiking. Plan B had me heading southwest for Danyang instead, as it would take such a long time to get from Seorak-san to anywhere in the south. A traveler I met in Gyeongju told me that Seorak-san really was beautiful, but since my bad ankle would have kept me from hiking, and there wasn’t much else to do there, I didn’t regret my change of plan. Danyang is on the edge of two other National Parks, Worak-san and Sobaek-san, but there were other attractions, according to both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.

Dodam-sambong's billion-year-old rocks: the concubine, the husband and the wife

My friends checked the bus routes for me, and I left from Dong Seoul, just five metro stops from my hotel. With only five other passengers on the same bus, I had no trouble buying a ticket right before it left. A heavy haze had blanketed Seoul the day before. I thought it might be pollution, but it never lifted, even as we finally cleared the suburbs half an hour out, and began driving through heavily forested hills. I enjoyed the scenery, and was amazed to read in the Rough Guide that by the end of the Korean War the hills were mostly barren. The subsequent reforestation program must be the most successful in history – you’d never guess today that the tree cover is just 50-60 years old. (Well, if you were an expert I’m sure you’d know it wasn’t virgin forest, but it looked fine to me.)

View from Danyang

I didn’t have a hotel reservation in Danyang – I had had another Korean friend of a friend contact one of the hotels, which said I didn’t need a reservation, and the (very helpful) Korean Tourist Office agreed, although with a note of regret. After an unsuccessful search along the waterfront for the Sky Motel, listed in the Rough Guide as “between the bus station and the ferry terminal” (no ferry terminal was visible) I tried the only hotel that looked at all inviting – Hotel Luxury. My inability to find a normal entrance was the first clue that it was actually a love motel – access was through the basement parking garage, only. Then there were day and half-day rates for the rooms. I picked the cheapest room, just under $50 a night, and found it plenty comfortable. True, there were rather more mirrors than I was used to, and the big TV screen dominated the bed, but it was roomy, and had a deep bath and separate shower. I was amused by the reproduction Vermeer’s in the corridor, and the pieces of Klee’s in my room, and pleased to note that the welcome kit included condoms.

Danyang's garlic market

Mushrooms in Danyang's regular market

Looking for a place for lunch I couldn’t believe the number of empty restaurants – maybe they do better in the summer. I picked the only place with customers, although it really catered to groups. After lunch I discovered that the Sky Motel was above the restaurant, but if I had found it earlier I would have missed out on the love motel. Then I took a taxi to the first attraction on my list, Dodam-sambong, three small islands in the lake formed by Chungju Dam (which drowned most of the original town of Danyang). The rocks were pretty enough, and a musical fountain had been installed nearby, but even if I had climbed the rather steep steps to the stone arch on the nearby hill the place couldn’t have kept me occupied very long. I took a bus back to town, where I drank bad cappuccino, bought some things for breakfast, and discovered that the only power point in my room was under the bathroom sink. Dinner, at a place advertising itself as “green” but serving me packet soup and a huge Weiner schnitzel with minimal veggies was chiefly memorable for the small boy across the room who kept glaring at me with obvious but inexplicable hatred.

The fountain at Dodam-sambong

The next morning I took a local bus across the river and up into the hills to visit Guin-sa, a modern temple belonging to a Buddhist sect called Teon-ta, founded (or re-founded) by a monk, Sangwall Wongak, in 1945. The site, a valley in the mountains, was as spectacular as I expected. What I hadn’t realized was that the valley wasn’t level, and that the final building was a long way up. And, of course, down. (I actually went down some of the slopes backwards, as that put less strain on my bad ankle.) After trekking all the way up, and admiring all the elaborate decoration (and noting the ongoing construction), I was rather taken aback to discover that the statue inside wasn’t that of the Buddha, but of the founding monk, in traditional Korean dress. If that doesn’t bother you, it looked like you could stay in the complex, and the setting is lovely. You’d probably need someone who speaks Korean to arrange it.

Guin-sa - near the bottom

Guin-sa - at the top

Inside Gosu-donggul

The afternoon also involved more stairs (including a long, narrow circular staircase) than were good for me. These were in a cave, Gosu-donggul, which I thought really not worth the effort. There were quite a few interesting formations, but the rock was mostly a muddy grey, which rather spoiled the effect. I preferred the view above ground, strolling slowly along the river bank. I also enjoyed dinner – pork with garlic and pepper sauce arrived in a foil-lined dish over a heater. I was supposed to wrap it in lettuce leaves, but I always have trouble with that.

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