We boarded Bus 3000, outside Hongik University Station, at around 8 am. It takes about an hour and half to reach Ganghwa Bus Terminal. From here, you can take a bus to Cheongryeonsa Temple (청련사) or Baengnyeonsa Temple (백련사). It’s good to know the route before your hike. I had shortlisted the Cheongryeonsa Temple Trail because it was shorter. Back then, I didn’t know it was a steep route that cuts through a dusty forest path. On the other hand, the Baengnyeonsa Temple Trail is a longer route (very long actually) with an advantage of a smooth road for most of the trail. During the Goryeosan Azalea Festival, you can ask for help at the ticket counter. The festival brochure was printed only in Korean, but I picked one — just in case. We missed Bus 14 bound for Cheongryeonsa Temple and had to wait for 20 minutes for the next (Imshi) bus. It’s hard to find anything printed in English here, so we followed everyone else.
The Main Entrance
The bus stopped about 900 m from Cheongryeonsa Temple. The main entrance was buzzing with activity. It was 10:15 a.m. and it wouldn’t be easy to beat the crowd now. The entrance is also lined with food stalls. Since we already had a bite to eat before — we started climbing.
An Idyllic Village
Cherry blossoms were now in full bloom here. This sleepy village was in sharp contrast to life in Seoul. It was hard to believe that we were only 2 hours away from the city.
Route to Cheongruensa Temple
It doesn’t take very long to reach the temple. We wanted to take a look around, but continued climbing. We didn’t follow the same route back and missed exploring this beautiful temple.
Through the Forest
A signage pointed towards the entry point of the trail that lead to the azalea habitat. We followed other hikers. There were hiking groups (dressed in similar clothing), young couples, solo hikers, and even some families with kids. Despite the crowd and two-way traffic; there was no pushing or shoving. Everyone seemed to be in high spirits and happy to be there. The sun was out now and it was very hot. At one point, I thought of going back. But looking at how steep it was, I preferred to continue climbing and figure out another trail to descend.
It didn’t take too long to spot azaleas. They didn’t look as stunning as the pictures on the website, but when you’re panting — with dust on your face and in your mouth — you’d make do with anything. Once again, it was interesting to observe how different people react to beauty. Some preferred solitude while others preferred to preserve that moment in time. And one lady even plucked a flower and ate it.
Melon Ice Cream Inspiration
On a hike, you never know when or where your next inspiration — to keep going — may come from. I had seen some hikers (on their way down) with a melon ice cream. And that’s what kept me going. I think, melon ice cream is a fantastic Korean invention. The ice cream man had to be fit to climb here every day.
And the Climbing Continues…
The trail flattens after a while and it’s nice to walk with azaleas on either side. It distracted me from the heat.
The last stretch is pretty steep and we had to hold a rope to hoist ourselves up. Strangely, after that, the mud trail joins a boardwalk. It’s good to pay attention to the boards (printed in Korean only) now and follow the sign 고려산 (Goryeosan) at the intersection. As I struggled to read the board, an elderly hiker poked me in the arm and pointed towards the mountain. The boardwalk had a lot of people walking on a narrow path. Basil saw a deer in the mountain whilst I was busy negotiating my footwork. The boardwalk leads to a makeshift meal place and further on to a viewing point.
Love at First Sight
We struggled to get a view of the mountain at the viewing point. Everyone was armed with their cameras and wanted a piece of the background. I didn’t care because the view made it worth it.
The Route to the Azalea Festival
It had taken an hour and half to reach here. It was nearing noon and I was quite hungry. We decided to eat pajeon (Korean pancake), for lunch, at the makeshift stall after coming back. We continued walking towards the bed of azaleas.
The view kept getting better as we inched closer to the main site. It’s best to keep walking, even if it seems like a long way.
Don’t Give Up
The boardwalk doesn’t take too much time once you set your pace and avoid stopping for the view.
Somewhere along the way
The other side of the mountain is equally gorgeous and we did took a small break to soak in the view.
The heat was excruciating at the tip of the flower bed. There were people everywhere. The mountain was stunning and the flowers looked pink in the sun.
The Route to the Base
There is a trail that seemed to cut directly below. We saw some Korean hikers take that route. But we didn’t know where that lead and we decided to take the route through Baengnyeonsa Temple. I was pleased with my ability to read basic Korean.
Can’t Get Enough…
The road to Baengnyeonsa Temple is built for vehicular traffic. But there were fewer cars and more people walking down. There’s a small spring after the viewing point. This mountain has a strong army presence and avoid clicking pictures of anything behind military gates.
We saw another signboard point towards Baengnyeonsa Temple. At this point, I asked a Korean hiker if we could continue walking along the road, instead of taking the forest path. Turns out it was an easier (slightly longer) route than the forest trail.
The smooth road might not seem like an ideal trail for a hiker, but it offers some splendid views of the mountains (hidden in the forest trail).
Time to take a Turn
We could have kept waking along the road, but decided to turn at the yellow signage. Once again, I checked with another Korean hiker, if the route goes to the temple. It’s actually a very short walk from here.
Baengnyeonsa Temple (백련사)
The temple is a gem tucked in the mountains. We entered the main hall and tried to meditate. This temple is also know for its autumnal hues.
The route from the temple to the base is very long. I felt sorry for all the people (many parents with young kids) who were climbing up this route. The heat was unbearable and I was happy — I wasn’t walking in their shoes. Basil and I played the guessing game, wondering how many would reach the top. Many kids were showing signs of giving in to fatigue. A Korean girl (climbing up) screamed, “masitda ” (Delicious) when she saw me eating a melon ice cream. My heart melted.
Time to take Another Turn
Finally, we came to another intersection and we didn’t know where to go. We used Naver Maps (for Korean navigation) and turned right from the clown.
The Village Exit
This route lead us to a farming village. I wish we had more time to explore. It was getting too hot and we tried to take in as many sights as we could. We kept following the crowd and reached a bus stop. We boarded Bus 30 to Gangwa Terminal.