Pedro’s House

We don’t usually specifically promote things here, but this is a guest house that we really think is a great little place to stay in Gwangju. Some people may remember Pedro, the Lonely Korea operator, being mentioned here before. We have gone on a variety of trips organised by Pedro, including: Geoje Island, Boryeong Mud Festival, the Jindo Sea Parting, and camping on Buddha’s Birthday. Pedro also took Blake’s parents on a day long tour around Jeollanamdo when they visited last October. A great time was had by all on every trip. In short, Pedro is amazing.

Right this way my friends.

Right this way, my friends.

In the last year, Pedro has opened Pedro’s House in Gwangju. This is a great spot for Gwangju visitors as it is centrally located and easily accessible by public transport. Gwangju expats have family coming who need a place to stay? People popping down from Seoul for a visit to Jeollanamdo? Look no further for great accommodation in Gwangju.

Look for these signs when locating Pedro's House.

Look for these signs when locating Pedro’s House.

Guests can choose from four styles of room: male dorm, female dorm, private room w/ private bathroom, or private room. All are super clean and newly renovated. Pedro’s House is still relatively small so guests should book ahead if possible.

Other services that come with the rooms include continental breakfast, coffee and tea, linens, towels, bag storage, rooftop terrace access, and wifi access. Shuttle and laundry services are also available for additional fees. Of course, the greatest plus of Pedro’s House is that it comes complete with Pedro! Having an English speaker with a detailed knowledge of the regional attractions, transport systems, local culture, and surrounding countryside is a huge plus for anyone travelling in Korea.

How to get to Pedro’s House

As usual, our directions start at the U square bus terminal. Cross under the street from the terminal to the city bus stop on the far side and catch the number 16 bus. Get off the bus at Honam University, turn left and walk to the cross walk. Cross the street and head down the side road with the Travel Fox. Go straight down this street until you see a brick villa complex and turn right. Look for signs from there.  Detailed instructions for other types of transport can be found on Pedro’s website listed below.

 

Buses that stop near Pedro's House

Buses that stop near Pedro’s House

You can find details about costs and reservations here. Happy travels, everyone!

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Gyeongju and Namosan

We arrived in Gyeongju around 9:00 Saturday evening and immediately went around the corner to the Gosak bus terminal to grab our tickets back to Gwangju. There are only two buses so we grabbed tickets for 4:40. The next order of business was finding a place to sleep for the night. Love motels are everywhere around the bus terminal and we had decided that after so much time on the bus and a six hour hike we were up for a place with a bed and a little privacy. After popping into several different motels that were out of our price range we finally found one a little further back for 60,000, the Potato Motel. Interestingly, when we asked for the price and suggested it was a little too expensive for us, some of the motels dropped their prices by about 10,000₩.  As it was, after we got cleaned up we passed out almost instantly.

Our room at the Potato Motel

Our room at the Potato Motel.

We overslept Sunday morning and weren’t out the door until about 8:30. Once we got outside, we discovered it was raining on and off, but at least it was not completely pouring. We dumped a bunch of our stuff in a locker at the bus terminal and then grabbed a quick bite of breakfast while we figured out what our plan would be. We decided that we would only visit one area outside of the town itself and get a little hiking in. We opted to go to the Namsan area of the park and stopped by Tourist Information to figure out how to get there. Tourist Info has fluent English speakers, which was great, and they told us which bus to catch and where to go to catch it. When we arrived, the bus number that we were looking for was parked and locked with the driver completely passed out in a reclined passenger seat. Ohh Korea. We eventually caught an alternative bus number out to the Samneung Valley and started our wander into the mountains. The Namsan area is billed as the “museum without walls” and to a degree that seems to be true. Samneung Valley stretches up the mountain from three royal tombs and is honeycombed with historic treasures from the days of the Shilla Kingdom. There are tons of interesting rock carvings and inscriptions as you climb up. The rain, which had been increasing all morning, meant that we bypassed several of them, but those that we venture off the main path to see were pretty interesting.

We reached Sangseon-am Hermitage and took a short break. Despite the rain, it was far too hot to hike with our gortex layers on any longer so Blake peeled off his rain jacket and just got soaked. The mist made for some pretty views out from the hermitage, but as we continued up towards the Namosan summit, the valley was completely obscured.

The summit itself would not provide much of a view in the best of weather, but in the rain we only stayed for a few minutes before heading back down. We took a slightly different trail on our descent. Thankfully, the rain started to let up shortly after we left the peak. By the time we were halfway down, there were even some places where there was a bit of a view.

 

Our exit took us past the three standing stone Buddhas and Sambulsa temple, which are two of the park’s attractions, and from the main road just outside we were able to catch a bus into town.

Juwangsan - Gyonegju D5200 225

We jumped off in front of Tumuli Park, which contains 23 tombs from Shilla Royal Families. Before entering (2,000₩ fee) we had a quick coffee at a nearby café called Dark Black, which was excellent. We recommend it for those who are in the area and in need of a warm pick me up.

Relaxing at Dark Black

Relaxing at Dark Black.

Inside Tumuli Park, we took a leisurely stroll along the paths, looking up at the many toombs. However, after so long with no proper lawns, we were faced with huge expanses of grass that we are not allowed to set foot on. Torture! We went inside Cheonmachong Tomb, but that was actually pretty disappointing. The place has essentially been turned into a small museum room with tiled floors and display cases. Nothing authentic about it as far as we could tell. You are not allowed to take photos inside so you will have to take our word for it.

Once we finished at the tombs, we decided that we would like to have a quick look at Anapje pond. This is considered one of the must-see places in Gyeongju and we thought that we might as well check it out, seeing as we had a few hours to spare. We decided to walk, even though it has started to rain again. It took us a little under 45 minutes to get there and less than that to wander through the old palace. Granted the place is pretty and has some really neat views of the pavilions over the ponds, but even in the rain there were more than a few people there.

After only about half an hour we decided that it was time to call it quits and go find something to eat before we had to catch our bus. For those who have a bit more time and better weather, it is possible to rent audio guides for the ruins and get a full tour that way. There are not a lot of western food options near the bus terminal, at least not that we were able to find, so we settled on some overpriced sandwiches from A Twosome Place before catching our bus.

Just awesome flower pots in Gyeongju

Just awesome flower pots in Gyeongju.

Gyeongju is a place that we would certainly say is worth the visit, but it is a really busy area. If possible, go during the off season to avoid the worst of the crowds. Namsan was really interesting and, on a rain-free day, we likely could have spent a full day or more poking along the hiking trails and following all the signs off to find other old artifacts. It was great to wrap up our weekend with a nice mix of history and the outdoors. All in all, a perfect weekend getaway.

Juwangsan National Park

Seeing as last weekend was the only one that we have free in July, we decided to take advantage and spend it exploring two places we have been eyeing from afar for some time: Juwangsan and Gyeongju. Friday night we caught a bus to Daegu and, after a bit of hunting, found ourselves a jjimjilbang to crash in. It is called the Nexus jjimjilbang and is just a few blocks south of the Dongbu intercity terminal. Sadly, Friday is apparently the night when large groups of kids terrorize this particular establishment so sleep was a challenge.

Nevertheless, we were up early for a quick coffee and bagel at Café Droptop (one of the only places open at that time) and then we caught the 7:30 bus to Juwangsan. This bus ride was a bit over two hours all told but was through some really pretty country. The route is well away from the main highways and cities so it is all agriculture, little villages, and mountains. If we had a car, there were a million cute little places we would have stopped. As it was, we enjoyed the sights through the bus window.

We arrived at the Juwangsan Park Office about at 10:15 and spent a bit of time getting oriented, figuring out bus schedules, and choosing routes before heading up the road. One of the first things we noticed, before we even got to the ticket booths, was that all the shops and restaurants had a bit more of a peaceful feeling compared to those at the entrances of other national parks we have visited. Everyone was friendly and there were simply far fewer hikers.

Once we reached Daejeonsa, which is the temple at the base, and paid our fee, we headed along the main path keeping right at all the branches. We had decided to start our day by climbing the park’s namesake: Juwangsan. Based on the level of development on the other trails, this is by far the road less travelled.

And we are off in front of Daejeonsa.

A quick photo in front of Daejeonsa and we were off.

Daejeonsa

Daejeonsa.

The summit is only 722 metres, but you climb up to it pretty quickly so things get relatively steep early on. About three quarters of the way up you break onto the ridgeline and follow that to the summit, which is a really nice little walk. There are some great views from the ridge, but absolutely zero from the top. For those wanting lunch with a view, stop on the ridge before the final climb.

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We had lunch on the summit and then dropped of the far side heading for the Hurimegi Samgeori (three forked road). It is also possible to continue on to the highest peak in the park (Gamebong), but we were running on very little sleep and waterfalls sounded way more appealing.

Juwangsan peak.

Juwangsan peak.

This little guy was hiding under the steps on our way down from Juwangsan.

This little guy was hiding under the steps on our way down from Juwangsan.

The descent from Juwangsan is made up of ridgewalks and a lot of stairs, but once you get most of the way down, the trail joins a pretty little creek. There are relatively few people in this area so if you were inclined to soak in a pool this would be the place.

After a fair bit of zig-zagging down along this creek, we came to the three forked road where it joined another creek for more of the same on a slightly larger scale. These two creek were probably our favourite part of this hike because they were beautiful, relaxing, and there were very few few people.

Hurimegi Samgeori - we went right here,moving downstream.

Hurimegi Samgeori – we went right here, moving downstream.

One of the pools on the way downstream from Hurimegi Samgeori

One of the pools on the way downstream from Hurimegi Samgeori.

Eventually we joined the main trail between the second and third waterfall. Because it was so close, we decided to go a little further up the valley so we could see Yeongyeon waterfall as well as the others. Yeongyeon we had largely to ourselves aside from the camera which, coupled with the no swimming sign, put paid to our ambitions for a quick dip.

From there, we doubled back then headed up a side trail to see Jeolgu Pokpo (waterfall) There were a lot more people at this smaller fall but it was still nicer as you could get right down to the water. Of course,there was still no swimming permitted, but we joined others soaking our feet in the stream while we munched on a snack.

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The first fall, Yongchu, – closest to the trail head – is where we started to encounter more people. Still nothing like what we have seen at other parks, but more than the rest of our day. This fall is near the start of a narrow canyon that makes for a pretty awesome view as you walk through it. The river is compressed into narrow channels that have been cut from the rock and watching the water gush through them is pretty neat.

Just after crossing a bridge after the lower fall, there is a choice to continuing down the main path along the river and out of the park, or to veer off to the left and head up to see a hermitage and a couple of caves on your way out. We chose this latter option and headed away from the crowds once more. After a relatively short hike we came to Juwangnam hermitage. You must pass through the hermitage to reach Juwanggul cave. The trail to the cave is really easy to locate. Just look for the massive set of metal stairs covered in chain-link fence. There was something about how quiet it was as we walked along the obviously new man-made structure surrounded by high rock cliffs that was a little bit eerie. Juwanggul cave itself was pretty cool though.

Afterwards, we took a short 400 metre detour off up to Mujang cave. Apparently Mujang means “armed” in Korean. The cave got its name from a legend that claims King Zhou’s warriors hid their weapons here. Given how damp it was, those weapons must have been a pile of rust in no time flat. Of the two caves, Mujang was the least interesting and if hikers are already tired it may not be worth the effort.

In Mujanggul cave

In Mujanggul cave.

We retraced our steps partway, then cut across a creek to the trail down from Juwangnam. Shortly thereafter we rejoined the main trail funnelling people towards the park entrance. Once we had exited and were walking alongside the various shops and restaurants, we opted to stop at one with a seating area over a little artificial pond to have some post-hike pajeon.

From there we caught a bus to Cheongsong, the main access point for the park, where we wandered for nearly and hour before catching our bus to Yeongcheon. Cheongsong is a really gorgeous little town and everyone we met went out of their way to be helpful and friendly. If we had more time we would have stayed overnight here. Something worth considering for those planning on heading that way.

A view of Cheongson

A view of Cheongsong.

Cheongsong parking lot.

Cheongsong parking lot.

Juwangsan is one of our top two favourite hikes in Korea thus far. It is not as busy as most of the others, has lots of hiking options, offers great views, and provides opportunities for lots of wandering along streams, waterfalls, gorges, and caves. Amazing day!

Next up, Gyeongju. Onward into history!

Logistics

The buses getting through all of this were a bit of a nightmare and by far the most expensive part of our weekend. From Gwangju there is no direct way to get to Juwangsan.

The best option is to take a bus to Daegu and then catch a bus from the Dongbu Daegu terminal (near the Goseok terminal) to Juwangsan. However, the Daegu – Juwangsan bus only runs at 7:30 and 13:30. Alternatively, you can catch a bus to Cheongsong and then take a local bus (which stops at the terminal) into Juwangsan.

Buses from Juwangsan to Gyeongju are also non existent. To get from Juwangsan to Gyeongju we first took a local bus from Juwangsan to Cheongsong. From there we took a bus to Yeongcheon. Our bus was actually destined for Busan, but stopped in Yeongcheon, which seems to serve as a sort of hub just northeast of Daegu. In Yeongcheon we were able to catch the relatively frequent bus to Gyeongju.

Bus times (at least in our case):  Gwangju –> Daegu 3:30; Daegu –>Juwangsan 2:45;  Juwangsan –> Cheongsong 0:20; Cheongsong –> Yeongcheon 1:40; Yeongcheon –> Gyeongju 0:45; Gyeongju –> Gwangju 3:45

Accommodations wise, there are jjimjilbangs and motels near the Daegu station, motels in Cheongseong (we saw a jjimjilbang but it looked a bit dodgy), and there are pensions and minbak strung out in the valley leading up to the Juwangsan parking lot.

Here are some photos of the bus schedules – at least those that we were able to/remembered to photograph.

Byeonsanbando (Accidental) Coastal Hike

We had last Sunday free and we were looking for a nearby hike that we had not done. Byeonsanbando is a park that we have visited before to lounge on the beaches, but it is not a place we have done any real hiking. The park is made up to two sections: the outer coastal section and the inner mountains. Our plan was to hike through the inner section, visiting a couple of waterfalls and a temple.

Pat and Mel joined us for this little excursion, a success in itself as we have been trying to get our four schedules to line up for months now. We headed to Buan on the first bus out of Gwangju at 8:00 Sunday morning. Once we arrived, we headed over to the local bus terminal to try to find the bus for Naesosa (temple) that would take us to our trailhead. Sadly, we missed it by under two minutes and the next one did not depart for over an hour and a half. This was a problem as we had to be back in Buan to catch the 4:20 bus to Gwangju. Rather than wait for over an hour, we decided to take a bus to the second trailhead near Byeonsan-Myeon on the other side of the park. After a short search along the row of buses we located one that looked like it would take us along the coast to the village. When the driver arrived, we showed him on a map where we were hoping to go and he nodded that, yes, the bus would be going there. We happily climbed aboard.

Sadly, there was some sort of miscommunication. We got about halfway to our destination and then the bus driver informed us that we were to get off at the seawall stop. He was insistent despite the fact that we knew it was wrong and it was not the point we had shown him on the map. We did not, however, put up that much of a fuss as we have already been through a similar situation in Hwasun where a driver refused to move until we got off the bus in the middle of nowhere.

On the upside, there was a tourist information booth at the bus stop and Tamara was able to get a little bit of information from some of the people there. They apparently decided that we should be hiking the coastal trail – they were very insistent on it – and rather than wait an hour or more for the next bus we figured ‘what the hell’ and started along it.

The start of the coastal trail

The start of the coastal trail.

The trail goes back and forth between the beach, the road, and the fields in between.

Spaced intermittently along the trail there are old (at least we think they are old) military installations. Some are almost ruins and others have clearly been repainted. Large parts of the trail were almost like a sunken road, with us walking in what was basically a ditch anywhere from waist to head height.

Unfortunately, we had forgotten our sunscreen at home and, as it was a bright sunny day, we were at serious risk of sunburn. This meant that we stopped regularly at small stores to try and locate a place selling it. For a beach area, sunscreen supplies are remarkably limited.

Blake hiding from the sun Korean style.

Blake hiding from the sun – Korean style.

We wrapped up our day of wandering at Byeonsan beach where we stopped for a late lunch and finally located sunscreen. Pat managed to get a few bird photos while we were there and we all headed up the headland at the south western end of the beach for a look.

Knowing that we had to catch the 4:20 bus in Buan, and given our morning issues with the buses, we headed to the bus stop behind the beach a little after two. According to the guys in the parks office and the bus schedule they gave us, the bus should have arrived at 2:30. We were told where to stand (there is no sign for the bus stop) and warned that we would have to flag the bus if we wanted it to stop. Well, the bus was a bit late and when we spotted it, we flagged as instructed… and the bus driver just shook his head, waved us off and carried on up the road.  We know it was the right bus based on the labels in front of the bus and the schedule. We were standing where we were instructed, which is the same place we had caught a bus a year ago when we were at this beach. We could see that the bus was not remotely full. The only reason we can think of for him not stopping is that he didn’t feel like it. Limited bus options meant that we eventually broke down and flagged one of the rare cabs for a 30,000₩ ride back to Buan. Not a happy conclusion to our day.

A bus schedule for the park area.

A bus schedule for the park area.

The 'bus stop' at Byeonsan beach.

The ‘bus stop’ at Byeonsan beach.

Despite our plans going rather awry, and not getting anywhere near our proposed destination, it was still nice to get out of the city and spend some time with Pat and Mel. Byeonsanbando is a great little park and well worth the visit – just be aware that in addition to being rather infrequent, buses are also more than a little unpredictable.