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Photo essay: Saejae Trail:
Chungju to Ihwalyeong Pass

   

Chungju to Ihwalyeong Pass (50mi, 80km) Beautiful valleys separated by a mountain pass.
Points of Interest: Spa town, river valley, forests, continental divide.

  Gimbap restaurant, Korea Gimbap chef Bibimbap. Central Market, Chungju, KoreaThere are a couple of chains of 'gimbap' restaurants.  The both use yellow and orange in there color schemes and they are both open early for breakfast.  Besides gimbap (similar to sushi) and being quick, the restaurants have extensive menus including omelets, cutlets, noodle soups, mandu (dumplings), fried rice, etc.  Something for almost every pallet.  They were always a good choice for breakfast when we could find one. Checkout the shape of the egg in the bibimbap!
  Morning mist, Seoluncheon, Chungju, Korea Simple, but hard working tractor, Korea

Korea is known as the land of the morning calm -- in the fall it can also come with a morning mist (left, Seoluncheon (river).

This farmer (right) has harvested his perilla (wild sesame) and is spreading it along the guard rail of a bridge to dry.  The leaves are served fresh and used as a wrap for fried meat. The seeds are used dried or pressed for oil.

  Apple capital of Korea

Pheasant sculpture, Korea

Chestnut monument, Korea Pheasant sculpture, KoreaMany districts have symbols.  To the left are apples.  Although apple orchard seem fairly common in other parts of the country I am assuming this is the self-proclaimed apple capital of Korea and with that comes an apple festival.

Another sculpture seemed to be a pheasant. Pheasant is a culinary specialty in the area. There are dozens of pheasant restaurants in and around Suanbo so either the peasant population is endangers or there is also peasant farming in the area.

The third in this series is a chestnut, which was logical because a lot of chestnuts had fallen on the road (in October), but again, they can be found throughout the country.
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  Apple trees, Korea Saejae River, Korea Apple trees, KoreaSure enough, up the valley and up in the hills, there were health apple orchards in the area.  They produce more apples on one branch of a tree than I can get off of a whole tree four times as large.  The dearth of leaves on the tree is interesting.
  Saejae Eco Bike Path, Korea South of Chungju any sign of a nationwide bikeway network disappears again for a while.  At Chungju you leave the Namhan River system and south of there the route is being developed as the "Saejae Eco Bike Path".  The first evidence we found [2011] of the Saejae section was around Suhoe-ri, where a non-motorized side path is cantilevered off the highway on the Westside of the road.  Using this, some farm roads and old roads your can reduce the distance spent bicycling on the highway and reach Suambo fairly expeditiously and enjoyably.  If you are traveling northbound, towards Seoul, it would be hard to pick-up this alternative route.Saejae Eco Bike Path, Korea

[2015 update: Each year there are new improvement to this trail: The signage is better, links are added to get users from one existing section of farm road to the next and the route has been diverted from the main highway to roads further a field.

  Suambo, Korea Suambo, KoreaMidway into the mountains is Suambo, or generally referred to as the "spa town."  The streets have a small town feel, but ringing the very modest town center is a disproportionate number of high-rise hotels.  At least in early October the town isn't full of people so it was hard to get a sense of the spa part of the local economy.
  Jjimjilbang, Suambo, Korea

Pheasant Restaurant, Suambo, Korea

Long ago, records show, that the hot spring were reserved only for the kings, their family and close friends. During the reign of King Hyunjong (1018) the place was called Yu hot springs. The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty show that the founder, King Taejo (1392-98), often visited hot springs. Now-a-days hot springs is owned and managed by Chungju City. No individual or corporation is allowed to commander the resource.

By the numbers, the water originates 250m underground, it flows at a rate of 4800 tons a day and it is 53oC. It is high in copper, fluoride and silic acid. The ph is in the range of 8.4-8.7. It is said to be effective for neuralgia, arthritis, rheumatism, stomach disorders, female diseases, dermatitis, and prevention of cavities.

If you want to partake head to one of the "jjimjilbang", a Korean spa. In Suambo they are mostly at the bigger hotel. The facilities are generally separated by gender. There are lockers, users disrobe completely and take shows before entering the baths.

  Row of pheasant restaurants, Suambo, Korea Pheasant Restaurant, Suambo, Korea Pheasant Restaurant, Suambo, Korea

If you want to eat pheasant in Suambo you are in luck.  It is the local specialty. There can be four restaurants a block all serving pheasant -- you'll know from the pheasant statues out front.

  Restaurant, Suambo, Korea Room discount 40% for bicyclists, Suambo, KoreaFor what ever reason this group didn't want pheasant.  They did want duck, but the kitchen was out of duck, so they settled for chicken.

Suambo is expensive by small-town-Korea standards. It was nice to see that one hotel offered a room discount of 40% to bicyclists.  This brought the rate down to near what you might expect to pay at a small hotels in other towns.

  Street, Suambo, Korea Street, Suambo, Korea

 

Street by day and night in Suambo. It is festive without a festival.

  Korean burial siteAs we start up hills, burial sites are again a more common site.

On the top of the hills and ridges in this area are scattered ruminants of  fortresses and fortress walls.  The fortresses are believed to have been built during the Three Kingdoms Era (B.C. 57 - A.D. 668) by Goguryeo Kingdom. Since Chungju and the South Han River was the border area between the Silla and Goguryeo, these mountains had strategic importance for the Goguryeo defending their southern border.

    After Suambo, again, there are no obvious services for bicyclist for the next 16 km (ten mile).  The  route is on the old Hwy 3. In before the additions of paved shoulders, it relative low traffic volumes and beautiful scenery makes it a pleasant trip. Fined the right gear and take the hills in stride.
  Jang-seung totem poles, Korea At one corner along the way some Jang-seung totem poles greeted us.  At the pass and tuck Statue: scholar is from the Joseon Dynasty, Korea up against the trees, a statue of a traditional young scholar stood vigil. (Note 2015: He seems to have been moved to widen the road and better accommodate bicycles.)

The scholar is from the Joseon Dynasty. At that time he would have had to walk the trail over the pass from Yongnam (southeast of the Mungyeong Saejae pass) to get to Hanyang (Seoul's name at the time), to take the scholastic (civil service) test. Students who scored high would be picked by the kings to work as a government employee. The statue shows how the applicants looked on their way to Hanynag for the test. [The statue disappeared about 2014, presumable to accommodate the widening of the road to allow for wider shoulders / bike lanes.]

    At this point there is a junction and alternative (now forbidden) route through Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park, but we will need to follow the main route.
  Two Buddha stone carving, Yichebul (이체불), Goesanwonpungrimaaebuljwasang, Wonpung-ri, Yeonpung-myeon, Goesan-gun, Chungcheonbuk-do Two Buddha stone carving, Yichebul (이체불), Goesanwonpungrimaaebuljwasang, Wonpung-ri, Yeonpung-myeon, Goesan-gun, Chungcheonbuk-doBuddha stone carving, Yichebul (이체불), Goesanwonpungrimaaebuljwasang, Wonpung-ri, Yeonpung-myeon, Goesan-gun, Chungcheonbuk-doAlong the highway there are a couple of large Buddha carved into stone cliff, Yichebul (이체불), Amida Buddha and Sakyamuni Buddha. These cultural treasures are from the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla Goryeo Dynasty. The name seems to translate as "remember the sedentary light". The two  seated Buddha's are posed very formally. There are smaller Buddha carved in the halos of light around their faces. This form of two Buddha carved side-by-side, in a rock face is rare. They are presumed to be influenced by the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise and SakyamuniWoman tending her cabbage, Korea Buddha fables in the Lotus Sutra. The carved area is 12m high.

Around another curve in the road a woman was tending her cabbage, one-by-one.

  Pepper man, Goeson County, Korea The man with the chili pepper is the symbol of Goesan country (the west side of the mountains), which is know for its chili pepper production.

On the far outskirts of Yeonpung there are some yeogwans, but no convenient restaurants.  In Yeonpung there are several restaurants but only one sketchy hotel that is not always attended..

Turning west at Yeonpung will put you on the Ocheon Trail,
which connects the Saejae Trail to the Guemgang Trail at Sejong, via Yangpyeong and Cheongju. In this direction you won't find the co-location of a hotel and restaurant until Goesan-si.
 

  Hongsalmun (one-pillar gate), Hyanggyo, Yeonpung, Geosan, Korea Myeongnyundang (lecture hall), Hyanggyo, Yeonpung, Geosan, Korea Whaesammum (public door), Hyanggyo, Yeonpung, Geosan, KoreaThe point of interest in Yeonpung is the Yeonpung Hyanggyo (government school), founded in 1515. Hyanggyos were a local educational institution from Goryeo (910-1392) down through the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). They served primarily the children of the yangban, or ruling elite upper-class. Education was oriented toward the gwageo, or national civil service examinations. They  competed with the privately run seowan and seodang.  This Hyanggyo is connected with a Confucian shrine at the rear. The complex has, from front to back, a Hongsalmun (one-pillar gate) (far left), Whaesammum (public door) (left), Myeongnyundang (lecture hall) (right) and behind this two dormitories and the Daeseongjeon (shrine). In 1894, the educational system was reformed and the Confucian schools gradually closed. Conducting semi-annual memorial rites at the shrine has continued to this day.
 
 

Saejae Eco Bike Path, Korea

Saejae Eco Bike Path, Korea

Saejae Eco Bike Path, KoreaAt Yeonpung the Saejae Trail passes under the new Hwy 3 Expressway and heads up towards Ihwalyeong Pass.  In 2011 bike lanes and several view points were added on both sides of the road up to the pass.  On the corners and sharp curves the bike lanes are identified with red asphalt.

A favorite feature is the wildlife pass-through (right). Note the first span in the photo has no rails across it, and the sign above it instructs

  Ihwalyeong pass rest stop Ihwalyeong pass, KoreaFrom a ragged gravel parking lot, Ihwalyeong Pass has been turned into fancy rest stop and view point.

The ridge over the highway is entirely artificial, it preserves access along the ridge, presumably for hikers or wildlife.

  View from Ihwalyeong Pass

Pepper man, Ihwalyeong Pass, KoreaAt Ihwalyeong Pass, elevation 529m (~1750 ft), there used to be that a sculpture with the big kochu (chili pepper) greeting all visitors, but he has disappeared with the renovations. 

Descending the east side of the pass is a breeze, but at the bottom, if you aren't diligent, before you know it, you will fly on to the new Hwy 3, without any easy escape.  The solution, though it is not signed (at least in 2012), is to turn left and pass under Hwy 3 just before the stealth on-ramp.  Hopefully by the time the National Network is fully built out better signage will appear.

 

Chungju Mungyeong

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park (the now forbidden route)

 
 
The last time we attempted to pass through Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park we learned that it had become forbidden to take a bicycle into the park.  It seems that bicycling is a victim of its success or that bicyclists are their own worst enemies, but in the last couple years, with the increase in popularity of bicycling, someone decided that there wasn't enough space for both bicyclist and hikers in the park so the bicyclists must go. 

As we were turning back from the gate -- at the top -- we met a group of local visitor.  Our disappointed looks must have raised questions in them.  If we had argued the policy with the official, their position probably would have become more entrenched.  But our new friends (left) didn't think our situation was fair, and they could discuss the matter Korea to Korea. Bless them. They negotiated an arrangement where we could pass, but we were to walk our bikes through the park. It sure beat dropping back down the mountain and going through another pass.  As it is the route through the park is more than sufficiently interesting and beautiful that no one didn't mind spending a little more time at it -- walking.

  Joryeong-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Joryeong-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Joryeong-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial ParkJoryeong-gwan, 3rd gate: This was a major transportation route dating back to the Three Kingdoms period (18 BC-935 AD). The gate became strategically significant during the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392).
  Stream, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Road through Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Stream, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Road through Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park
It is 4km of wooded road and streams to the next gate. Walking provided time to photograph and relax, listen to the natural sounds of wind and
  Stream, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Stream, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Heritage house, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park 
water, too absorb the pure air, and enjoy the calm energy of the forest and mountains.  There was almost on one else on the road.
  Cave, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Near the road is a cave, but the entrance has been block off.  What is that about?  Read on.  The legend of the cave is:

Once upon a time, a man was passing by the cave when he was caught by a shower. When he walked in the cave to take a shelter he saw a woman had already  taken shelter in the cave. The two passers-by developed an instant love in the cave and went their ways when the rain stopped.

Later, the woman conceived a boy from the encounter. After 10 years the son was ridiculed by his friends for having no father. The mother was obliged to tell her son exactly what happened and what his father looked like.

The son decided to take a walking tour of the country to locate his father. When the son was walking an trail in a deep gorge, he was caught in a shower and entered a road side tavern to spend the night. The boy doubled up his room with a middle-aged scholar who said to himself , "Oh, this rain feels like a saejaewoo," meaning a rain falling in Saejae. The son felt something special about "saejaewoo" and asked what he meant by "saejaewoo." At the invitation, the scholar told the son of the affair at the cave. The father and son went together to the boy's mother to live as a happy family ever after.

Still, people believe if a boy and a girl enter this cave together, they will develop a deep and long-lasting love.

  Jogog-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Jogog-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Jogog-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial ParkJogog-gwan, 2nd gate. Possibly originally constructed in the Three Kingdoms period (18 BC - 935 AD). Reconstructed by Chungwon civilian, Shin Chungwon, to stop the Japanese in 1592. Fortified by King Sukjong (r 1674-1720) in 1708. The last restoration was in 1976.
  Jogog-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park bridge at Jogog-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Detail on bridge at Jogog-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial ParkJust south of the gate is a large stream, that now has an ornate and elegant bridge.  If this wasn't the case in 1592, the stream would have provided an added obstacle for an invading army trying to getting past the gate.
  Waterfall, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Waterfall, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial ParkWith another five kilometers to the next gate we had more time to enjoy the natural qualities of the environment.

Below the second gate we were more walkers on the road, but minutes could pass without see another soul.  For a weekday it seem like a significant number of people in the park, but it was far from crowded.

  Stacked rocks, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Small stacks of rocks are common on paths leading to Buddhist Temple.  This location has a lot of small stacks of rocks like you would find near a temple, but it also had several large stone pagodas.

The belief is passers-by should lay a stone on the pagoda. It is said that scholars who laid stones here passed the government tests, weak persons who laid stones here became strong, merchants got prosperous and women who had not been able to conceive were able to conceive boys.

  , Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park The pine tree has deep "V" shaped cut in it, just to the right of the top edge of the sign.  The local citizens were forced to do this in the last years of the occupation (1943-45) by the Japanese army, to collect pine resins for them to use as fuel.
  Juhul-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Juhul-gwan, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Juhul-gwan, the 1st gate. It was fortified by King Sukjong (r 1674-1720) in 1708.  Unfortunately, this was more than 110 years after the Japanese had already stormed through on their way to Seoul.
  pavilion, Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park Pavilion near Juhul-gwan in Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park.

It was only between the parking lot and Juhul-gwan that we encounter a lot of people.  Ironically, in this the most heavily used part of the park, there was a pretty steady stream of motor vehicles on the roadway, chasing the pedestrians off to the bushes or at least the very sides of the road. Theoretically, the road was closed to traffic and everyone was suppose to park in large parking lots further down.  Somehow a lot of vehicles were getting exemptions, but there wasn't a clear pattern.

Return to allowed route past Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park.

     
 

Chungju Mungyeong

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