Aware of our dwindling time in Korea, we decided about a month ago that we should turn our attention back to the 12 Scenic Sites of Ulsan in an attempt to try and complete the list. Having been bullied into a supermarket trip with H-J’s bosses (its a long story) and then having had the meeting time changed on us, we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare one sunny Saturday afternoon. Choosing what we thought was the closest one of the 12 to where we were, we set off in search of Seonbawi – otherwise known as the ‘standing rock’ which is linked to the Taewhagang River Park. Which sounded close.
Feeling the pinch of time and not being able to immediately identify which bus to take, we hopped in a taxi with the thought that nothing is very far away in Ulsan…but as we kept driving…and driving…and driving…and driving, the fare on the meter kept increasing and increasing. 12,000 won later we finally stopped and were thrust forth into the bosom of another Scenic Site of Ulsan. There were families everywhere lapping up the searingly hot summer day, splashing in the water of the upper reaches of the river, reclining under the bridge and generally enjoying the peaceful escape from the city hub.
A short walk across a carpark led us to the sign we sought – the sign that confirms the authenticity of this in fact being one of the legendary 12 Sites.
And lurking just behind it stood Seonbawi itself.
Hmmm…what to say? Well, its a rock. Its standing. In the water. We took some photos, yawned, whinged about the fact it cost us the equivalent of two lunches to get there just to see a not particularly spectacular rock and then headed off to find the return bus back to the city in order to make our prior engagement. Which we were stood up for. So we needn’t have rushed. Goody. A pretty dismal outing under our belts, we sulked and then went nowhere near the Ulsan 12 list for weeks to come.
Seonbawi. TICK. Even if it does suck.
Cut to a month later and we’re REALLY running out of time to complete this list. So with a Sunday to fill, we set off bright and early with the goal of attacking not one, but two of the list – first, Jakgwaechon, an apparently stunning looking stream and secondly, the Paraeso waterfall.
Now Googling solves a wonderful array of problems in day-to-day life. One thing it is not particularly helpful for, however, is concrete directions in English to some of the more far flung of the Ulsan 12. Having consulted a number of websites/blogs we thought we had a fair idea of how to construct our day. Alas, our first lesson was to be the following: “nearby” does not necessarily mean walkable and/or locatable just by wandering around the general vicinity. Accordingly, we arrived at our first point of reference to find that we were nowhere near either of the two things we wished to see for the day. Sigh.
Selected as one of the 100 Most Beautiful Mountains in Korea (wow?), Mt Gaji is the tallest mountain in Ulsan and a favourite haunt of local hikers. The actual entry to the 12 Scenic Sites of Ulsan list is “The Four Seasons of Mt Gaji” due to its spectacularly changing seasonal landscapes. We wrote this one off fairly early on the Ulsan 12 mission due to the fact that we were unlikely to ever go back four times and truly capture the essensce of its fame. However, having ended up there by accident we are putting this back on the list and giving it a tick, much in the same vein as having accredited ourselves with the Ganjeolgot tick without having seen the sunrise. We’re sure you’ll understand.
Mt Gaji – TICK.
Nonetheless still confused about where exactly we were, the on-site map helpfully pointed out that we were some considerable distance from both of the other sites. Buses in this area are few and far between so we caught the next one and aimed for Jakgwaechon as we had passed a sign for it on the way up to the mountain. Figuring we’d get off at the place where we saw the sign seemed like a safe gamble.
Finding ourselves in the middle of a strangely deserted industrial area, we walked around a while trying to find this famous site. After half an hour or so of wandering and finding no further signage, we approached a man we saw hanging out by the river. In our awesome style of repeating the name of the place we wanted to go to and flapping our arms around we explained what we were looking for, hoping he would just point us in the right direction and off we’d walk for a couple of minutes to be greeted with success. After five minutes of babbling in Korean at our confused faces (where was the simple “its just up there”?!), he gave a huge sigh, and directed us to get into his car.
A twenty minute drive through winding countryside later, he pointed to the side of the road and stopped the car to let us off and drove off into the day. Very grateful to our Korean in Shining Hyundai, we set off to see what we could see.
The rocks here are the attraction – formed by many years of water erosion, they create a softly curving wave of stone down a flowing stream. Now THESE were rocks we could get down with.
So down, in fact, that H-J decided to make an offering to the gods of the stream – the brand new Nikon Coolpix camera that we bought a little over a month ago. Yes, you read that right, dear readers. After the mishap and distress bought about by abandoning our old point and shoot in a taxi in Mokpo, you’d think she’d have learnt a good lesson in maintaining a firm grasp on cameras. Second lesson of the day: an unplanned swim does not make for a happy camera. H-J is now banned from touching all cameras that aren’t waterproof, shockproof and pinned to her clothing.
SEE MUPPET BELOW!
Having seen many hikers during the course of our day so far, we were intrigued to know what they were all carrying in their largely bulging day packs. Just how much kimchi could one need for a day’s outing, we pondered. Attracting the attention of one such group, they proceeded to empty their packs onto the ground below, from which poured forth hundreds of chestnuts…
In the spirit of generosity that was starting to become a pattern for the day, more chestnuts that we could hold were thrust into our cupped hands. Should we have become lost in the woods, we would have survival food for days.
And with that we granted ourselves a tick for another one of the Ulsan 12. Jakgwaechon – TICK.
Locating a nearby bus stop (of course NOW we find it) we headed off in search of our next target, the Paraeso Waterfall. The day’s journey had already taken us through areas we had never seen before and this bus ride was no different. As the bus pulled up outside the Ulsan Station we made a couple of quick decisions: (a) that the bus was going in completely the opposite direction from where we suspected we needed to be; and (b) that a couple of attractions peeking at us through the bus windows were worth hopping off to investigate.
Which is how we found ourselves eating our thoughtfully packed lunch beneath an awesome sculpture of a whale, while overlooking an Ulsan sign that may just elicit fond associations for you if you’ve ever been to Mosgiel or Wellington. Oh yeah, or Hollywood.
Appetites sated, photos captured, it was time to carry on the adventure. In lieu of being able to figure out which bus to catch, we figured we’d take advantage of the “nearby” claim and jump in a taxi to find the waterfall.
Around 20,000 won later, we curiously found ourselves back where we had been at the start of the day…sigh…however, another 10,000 won later we found ourselves at the top of the mountain and on the edge of Mt Sinbul regional park, home to Paraeso Waterfall.
We paid our 1,000 entry fee and off we trotted. Feeling decidedly under accessorised compared to our fellow hikers, we made a mental note that for any walk of more than 50 metres of so, we would need to be more prepared in future. While hiking is a serious national pastime in mountainous Korea keep in mind though that most of the paths on this particular mountain are no more than 5km and of terrain no more challenging than that of a slightly unkempt backyard. But like most things Koreans do, they do it in the Best and Most Over The Top Style possible.
The path followed up the river. We found a number of cool little falls which camera rookie Dan made the most of with the new camera.
1.5 kilometres of ‘hiking’ later, we were there – the beautiful Paraeso Waterfall.
Feeling rather chuffed with our efforts, we headed back off down the mountain and out of the park toward the bus stop…where we waited for a bus that seemed like it would never come. We have no idea whether or not it actually did because after waiting for ages we made the executive decision to see if hitch hiking in Korea would work. Being hairy, a tad scruffy and obviously foreign, our hopes weren’t high. In the spirit of day, however, one of the first cars that drove our way stopped and in we hopped. The driver spoke fluent English and was excited to pick us up and practice his English – so the three of us chatted happily for the 45 minute odd drive back into the heart of Ulsan.
By this time of the day, our tummies were rumbling so decisions were to be made. Initially we had our hearts set on exploring the bulgogi complex which is reportedly somewhere in the region we had been for the majority of the day. However, when our new friend had picked up us, he hadn’t a clue where it was and our reserves of trying-to-find-stuff-we-didn’t-really-have-any-clue-about were running on empty. Not only that, but the offer of an extremely comfy ride as far as Ulsan had been too good to pass up.
For the record, we are not avid buffet fans by any stretch of the imaginations. Its that old chestnut of always having bigger eyes than your belly but still never really feeling like you get your money’s worth for generally substandard, slightly dodgy food. But a memory was triggered that we had read something extremely positive about this place on a website somewhere…so a quick but decisive round of ‘rock, scissors, paper’ ensued and the decision was made to give it a go.
As far as punts go, this was a pretty succesful one. The buffet selection is EPIC, to say the least. Fancy some shrimp as big as your forearm? Done.
How about whole fresh crab legs? Sure!
Fancy a steak grilled to order? Sweet as!
…AND left room for a thorough tasting of each and every one of the pretty little cakes on offer. Yes, we showed amazing restraint for two people who have been known in the past to plan an entire day around trying every burger in town.
Just as we thought it was over…. Dan noticed the one hurdle still to be conquered! The self serve ice cream!
The day drew to a close and the last bus back to the village beckoned. Full, happy and feeling a sense of accomplishment at having completed a further THREE ticks on the Ulsan 12 mission (so what if one was accidental?!), we wound our way back through the industrial area to the place we call home for another three weeks.