And thus resumes our Sokcho adventures in Seoraksan National Park.
The climb to Usan Bawi was exhausting but rewarding. At the summit, I saw how the mountains came alive in a harmonious display of autumn colors. It was a truly daebak experience. After our respite at the summit, my friends must rush back to the park entrance to catch our 3 PM cable car ride. It was already 1:30 PM and the task ahead seems impossible. If we are to descend at the rate we ascended then it is time to bid goodbye to KRW 10,000. Rather than be stressed out, I just took a deep breath and accepted the reality that we might not make it.
During our descent, I decreased my pace to enjoy the relaxing view. I wanted to breathe in the positive chakras. It was just recent that I discovered the healing properties of doing mountain retreats. A couple of years ago, I would have never considered climbing but 2017 has showed me the appealing side of mountain climbing that I never thought it had. What made my Ulsan Bawi climb all the more special is that it was my first international climb.
After an hour of leisurely walking, we finally reached Heundlbawi Rock, the climb’s midway point. There is a grotto-like cave dedicated to Buddhists at Heundlbawi. Worshippers can enter the grotto and pray. This is one of the things I have missed going up because I was too engrossed in reaching the summit. This reminded me that no matter how sure we are of our goal we must learn to slow down some times to appreciate the view. In our rush, we miss the most beautiful things.
With 30 minutes before 3 PM, my friend surprisingly increased her pace in spite of the rocky trail. I guess she still wants to make it to the cable car ride. I matched her pace and with every step, we were drawing closer to the cable car. With a little under five minutes to spare, we surprisingly made it to Sinheungsa. Maybe making the 3 PM cut isn’t impossible after all. Just like a buzzer beater, we made it to the cable car station where riders have already aligned, waiting for the cable car that will lift us to Bongwhadae. I still cannot believe that we made! Wow, we did really make it.
That adrenaline rush was indeed surreal. I can now finally enjoy my first ever cable car ride. The cable car was filled to the brim but thankfully, I was able to position myself on the sides, hence, I have a great view of the park as the car slowly ascends. However, the ride was making my anxiety skyrocket but the view was just so amazing that I forgot about it as we slowly ascend into oblivion.
After a couple of minutes, we reached Bongwhadae. Before exploring the area, we first downed snacks because we still haven’t had our lunch. We were really famished so we wolfed down our afternoon snack with relish while enjoying the majestic view of Seoraksan. With our manna rejuvenated, we started the short walk towards Gwongeumseong Fortress which is located at the top of Dolsan Mountain. The climb to the fortress comprised of a 15-minute walk through the autumn foliage.
A castle once stood in the area but what remains are its remnants – a pile of rocks and stones. The area itself is like a giant bare rock. There were a lot of visitors that day but thankfully the area is spacious. However, one is not allowed to climb all the way up to the top of the rock. Unlike Ulsan Bawi, the edges are not fenced, hence, caution must be exercised when approaching the edges because beyond it is a deep fall. The view is stunning, with the sun going down the mountains. It was so pretty and relaxing I could have stayed there forever but due to our limited time, we had to go back down. We still have some parts of the park to explore, Sinheungsa for instance.
Sinheungsa is another historical site located in Seoraksan National Park. The original temple was built during the 7th century and is believed to be the oldest Zen temple in the world. History aside, Singheungsa is a fascinating collection of Buddhist structures. Upon entering, we were immediately greeted by ugly, impish giant statues. During our temple stay, I learned that this grotesque structure is referred to as the “gate of impurities.” These monstrosities refer to humanly impurities which are “cleaned” once they enter the temple and experience enlightenment and transformation.
There are numerous buildings in the compound but what stands out is the main temple hall. It is the centerpiece and it perfectly faces the temple entrance. It also contains the main Buddha statue and is the primary place of worship. Visitors can enter the main hall but only through the left side entrance but as act of courtesy, I advise visitors not to enter the temple unless to pray or worship.
There are smaller buildings in the compound and almost all contain Buddha statues. There is also the essential temple bell building. The monk residences are off-limits to visitors. What Sinheungsa offers is a feeling of tranquility, it being located in the heart of Seoraksan, miles away from the worries of one’s quotidian existence. For those who want to have a glimpse of Buddhist life and those who want to meditate, they can enlist for a temple stay experience in Sinheungsa.
We took our time strolling around and appreciating the temple. After a few more snaps here and there around the temple and the park, my friends and I returned to Sokcho as it was getting late – it was already 5 PM. Upon reaching the city, we went to Jungang Market to check it out once again. Unlike early in the morning, the market has now come alive with a flurry of activities. There is a din common in such busy places.
We were fascinated with the plethora of fishes and other sea creatures in display, most of which were fresh catches from the East Sea. There was such an array that some of the sea creatures being sold were foreign to us. My friends enjoyed strolling around the wet market. They even bought some dried fishes that they brought home. Even I, not much of a seafood person, was fascinated with the mix. There were also some food stalls that offered free tastes.
From Jungang Market, we moved around looking for a place to eat but unfortunately we couldn’t find one. In the meantime, we tried looking for Abai Village. To our surprise, it was within walking distance from the market. Unfortunately, ferry rides to the island were already closed as the last trip was around 5 PM. In spite of the darkness, we were able to make out the famed statue of Jenny hugging Johnny. Too bad we were already late because Autumn in my Heart has been deeply engraved in our hearts. It was the first Korean drama that introduced Korea to Filipino viewers.
From Abai Village, we went to retrieve our things at our hostel before proceeding to the bus station. We departed for Seoul at around 9 PM and reached Seoul around 12 midnight. For the time being, lights out because we have to wake up early again for our next adventure.
That’s how our Sokcho adventure came to a close. Do watch out for the next leg of our South Korean Odyssey. Next stops: Demilitarized Zone, Haneul Park and Myeongdong!