Charmed by Naejangsan National Park
Without a doubt, Naejangsan National Park 내장산국립공원 must be one of the most incredible places to see Fall colours in its full splendour in South Korea. Located in North Jeolla 전라 province, Naejangsan (literally translated as ‘the hidden mountain’) is, true to its name, not an easy location to get to at all. Public transport from Seoul takes a little northwards of three hours, a little faster with private transport. For convenience and fearing that we might not be able to board the public transport since it was the peak season for autumn leaves, we signed up for a day tour leaving Seoul as early as 0630hrs.
The coach picked us at Myeongdong Subway Station 명동역, its last stop before heading south and it was packed with like-minded foreigners who probably had to wake even earlier than we did. Good thing that we could all catch forty winks after boarding, because that was exactly what all of us did. 😆
While the journey was estimated to take around four hours (including a pit stop and taking into consideration traffic conditions), we did eventually arrive at the foot of the National Park in a little under 3.5 hours.
Had a little preview of what we should expect ahead after we alighted the coach to get to the national park on foot. And I absolutely loved what I saw. Seemed like we managed to catch the peak season of the autumn leaves after all, despite South Korea experiencing early snowfall this year.
There was quite a bit of walking, alternating with two short rides on authorised shuttle buses that plied the national park. Waiting time was minimal despite the fact that many visitors were making their way up to Naejangsan to enjoy the autumn foliage. Did I ever mention that mountain-climing/trekking is South Koreans’ favourite pastime? Well… it is, and one that appeals to all ages. That would totally explain why 80% of the visitors we came across were locals rather than foreigners.
Of course, one could opt to trek all the way instead of utilising the shuttle buses (I believe the one available after the ticket checkpoint was not free but inexpensive anyway) since we saw many groups of elderly Koreans enjoying their trek. In our case, we were operating on a tight schedule so it was more expedient with the usage of shuttle buses.
Heard from a friend who just visited Naejangsan last year that the queue for the cable car to reach Yeonjabong Peak’s 연자봉 observatory would be horrendous so we should endeavour to arrive early. Since we had no control over our arrival time, we immediately made a beeline for the cable car terminus and were absolutely horrified to see how long the queue was. The picture above was just a section of the queue; it persisted a long way more behind the building on the left.
Our main worry was whether we could make it back to the meeting point in time if we joined the line. Since the autumn leaves were at their peak at the foot of the mountain, we reckoned that the ones at the top would have browned and wilted. Probably not such a great view after all. In addition, I also did have the fortune of receiving good counsel from the same said friend – she showed me her pictures from last year and nah… wasn’t worth the time queuing to get on the cable car. We passed up the opportunity.
We followed the main footpath and turned in the lane leading us to Naejangsa Temple 내장사.
Said to be built in Year 636 during the Baekje dynasty 백제, Naejangsa Temple used to be a massive religious site with over fifty building but were all completely razed to the ground, once during the second Japanese invasion and once during the Korean War. The buildings that we saw standing were the result of reconstruction efforts following the total destruction. Just imagine how majestic this site would be, if all the original buildings were still intact and standing.
Where we hail from, we don’t see four seasons; just the rain and the sun. Thanks to the advent of air travel, people like us are now able to experience natural phenomena like spring blossoms, autumn foliage and snowfall, something probably unthinkable to the common folk a century ago. Autumn foliage is no stranger to us, since we do love travelling during autumn (and winter, which is my personal predilection and the mister’s bitter pill to swallow), but seeing maple leaves in such intense hues of red, almost crimson? Never.
One would think that the locals, having been able to witness such beauty of mother earth year in year out, would be immune to it by now, especially the elderly. But by my reckoning, this is not the case at all. Perhaps Thomas Kincade was onto something when he said ‘Everyone can identify with a fragrant garden, with beauty of sunset, with the quiet of nature, with a warm and cozy cottage’. The human race, regardless of creed, gender, nationality or even colour of our skin, isn’t that different after all.
Plenty of photo opportunities since the scenery was so stunning and we were blessed with good weather. Blue skies, my favourite! Good thing I brought my selfie stick.
We backtracked to join hordes of visitors along the main trail, going in search of Uhwajeong Pavilion 우화정 at a leisurely pace. Making good time, we stopped by one of the many eateries set up by the side to settle a quick lunch before continuing with our search.
I think this pink windbreaker has been overused to death. 😀
And we finally found the picturesque pavilion, only to learn that the current one was only built 2 years ago because the previous one built in 1965 was ‘criticised for failing to harmonise with its surroundings’. Harsh!!
More wefie time! Pity much of the maple leaves on trees surrounding the lake had already fallen.
We walked along the circumference of the lake, taking pictures of the pavilion at different angles and did end up with many (too many!) pictures on both our iPhones and my mirrorless camera. ‘Twas a painful exercise picking the best out of the lot, but I eventually managed to shortlist about ten of them. Almost all of them made the cut and were featured above. A tad excessive, eh?
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much when this picture was taken (and Lord knows how I struggled trying to take it myself with the mirrorless camera while holding the maple leaf steady), but it ended up being my personal favourite. Worth the effort (and in the process, looking quite stupid) after all. 😛
More picture opportunities as we made our way down to the meeting point at the foot of the mountain. I’ll admit that I was also somewhat a little distracted by then. If you play the same mobile game that we do, you’d probably understand when I say it was community day for Cyndaquill during the time when we were out on the day trip. I’m a sucker for shinies, so yea, playing the game as we walked down.
The whole street, I reckon about 1km long or so leading to the public parking area was lined with vendors selling their wares and foodstuff. I would have stopped and looked around more, but by the time we got here again, we were already reunited with our guide and walking in a group. The mister wouldn’t be too pleased if I got distracted and couldn’t keep up with the pace of the larger group.
We spent a total of like… a little under five hours at Naejangsan National Park. Considering that we took more time traversing to and from Seoul, many may wonder if it was even worth the effort and time. While I can’t speak for the ever pragmatic mister, I’ll say I find the trip fruitful and hassle-free. Should the opportunity arise again, I may explore making our way there on our own using public transport so we can achieve better time management in particular arriving earlier and leaving later.