Sanbangsan (Mountain) is situated on the southern tip of Jeju Island. There are many buses that connect Jeju-si (north) to Seogwipo-si (south). We took Bus No. 600 from Jeju International Airport and got off at Changcheon-ri bus stop. In hindsight, it was a mistake to get off at that bus stop. We had missed the connecting bus and were stuck in the middle of nowhere. We walked towards an intersection and hoped for empty taxis to pass by. After 15 minutes, we found a taxi and showed him the location of our pension house near Sanbangsan(산방산).
A better way to reach Sanbangsan (and Yongmeori Coast) would be to catch Bus No. 251 from Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal in Jeju-si. The bus stop is a stone’s throw away from the entrance of Sanbangsan. There’s another bus stop (on the opposite side of the road) for buses headed back to Jeju-si.
TIP: This trip can be covered in a day, but it’s nice to stay the night and soak in the sights of this idyllic coastal village in Jeju.
The Island Life
Our taxi driver had some difficulty finding our pension house after reaching Sanbangsan. Sea and See Pension was located at the end of a narrow village lane. Our taxi driver finally figured out the route and we convinced him to drop us back to the mountain. That’s when things started to get more complicated. We couldn’t find the entrance to the pension and halmoni (grandma) didn’t speak a word of English. In broken Korean I said that I am a door — instead of saying that I was at the door. Strangely, she understood that we had come early and asked the local convenience guy to keep our bags with him till check-in.
We had to let the taxi go and walked back to Sanbangsan Mountain. We passed interesting hotels, pension houses, and eateries. Some of the houses were marked as ‘Geo House’. We didn’t understand the significance of these houses back then. While writing this post, I found an interesting article (VisitJeju) that explains the importance of Geo Houses.
There were direction boards at every intersection and we just kept following the signs. Although, it was hard to miss the towering peak of Sanbangsan.
Love at First Sight
Sanbangsan is popular for its bright yellow canola fields in late March and early April. Most of the canola fields were cultivated in patches. We spotted the first field at the intersection of a busy road. Visitors stopped their rental cars to click selfies with canola flowers. The corner cafe blocked the view of the mountain and it irritated me. Hours later, we’d have our lunch at the same cafe.
Paid Canola Fields
On the opposite side, tourists entered another field and clicked pictures with the mountain as a backdrop. Halmoni (grandma) stopped us before we could enter and asked us to pay a small entry fee. It was a standard fee for entering canola fields in the vicinity. The field owners probably made some money from the tourist frenzy.
Sanbangsan with the Canola
Honestly, it’s hard to get a clear shot of the canola fields and the mountain — without being photobombed. It was around noon and many local tourists had arrived here.
In late March, the canola flowers had just started to bloom. These fields would look gorgeous in a week’s time when the flowers would be in full bloom.
I was quite tired with the adventure of the morning and wasn’t looking forward to climbing Sanbangsan. It’s roughly 395.2 m above sea level and that doesn’t make it a very challenging hike. Sanbangsan gets its name from a cave that’s found at around 150 m (above sea level). There are multiple trails at the base, but we followed the stairway that lead to the cave. This route doesn’t reach the summit.
It was hot despite the occasional mountain breeze. The views kept getting better and there was always an interesting sight to admire.
We spotted our first shrine after climbing a flight of stairs. I stayed back on the main trail and admired the view. Basil explored the shrine for a bit.
There are vantage points scattered at regular intervals. We stopped at one of them and admired the view below. I had forgotten how tired I was and was excited to get to the cave above.
Markers & Description Boards
Description boards and markers dominate the trail. This mountain is steeped in volcanic history and local folklore. Sanbangsan was born roughly 800,000 years ago, when viscous lava — flowing slowly from a vent of bedrock — quickly solidified to form a lava dome.
I wish I had paid more attention to geology in school. Thankfully, there was a detailed board that explained the process of weathering.
The Last Leg
There’s an entry fee for Sanbanggulsa Grotto (Cave Temple). We bought a combined ticket to Sanbanggulsa Grotto and Yongmeori Coast (next post). It’s 10 minutes to the cave from the ticket counter. The view from the top looked stunning and I was happy that I decided to climb up those stairs. It didn’t feel so tough after we reached the cave.
According to local folklore, Sanbangsan was formed when the dome of Hallasan was removed and placed here. The myth might have originated to explain the absence of a crater at the summit of Sanbangsan.
There’s a towering statue of Buddha inside the cave. The temperature drops drastically inside the cave and it was a reward for climbing those stairs. There’s something soothing about Buddhist temples. I’m tempted to believe in inexplicable powers that I would normally doubt. The soothing chants, the cool wind, and that stunning view created a surreal setting. I closed my eyes and felt calm. Basil climbed up and tasted the water from the spring. I’d have believed it was sweet — had he suggested it.
The View from the Cave Temple
The trail splits into two paths at Bomunsa Temple. We followed the sign that lead to Bomunsa (written in Korean only). This temple is closer to the main entrance and it’s possible to visit it before climbing up.
View from Bomunsa Temple
The outer courtyard of Bomunsa has a stunning collection of Buddhas — in different shapes and mudras. Golden prayer wheels are arranged on there outer perimeter. The view from here is equally scenic.
An Ode to the Learned One
The towering golden buddha statue makes quite an impression. The grey sculpted buddhas are noticeably different from the main statue.
Array of Statues
It’s hard to escape legends on this mountain. It’s believed, if you tap your head (thrice) on the statue of this sage and wish for long health — it will be granted.
We spotted this bird pecking berries or some kind of fruit.
Searching for Lunch
We were quite hungry and hoped to find some place to grab a bite to eat. We spotted few restaurants, but there were hardly any signs in English. We walked further and reached another dense canola field. This field also had an entry fee and we decided to skip it.
Route to Cafe (after Yongmeori)
We spent the next few hours exploring the stunning coast of Yongmeori (next post). We were quite hungry after our exploration and hoped to find some place to eat. We followed a path that cut across crop fields.
At the Cafe
With no other restaurant in sight, we had to go to the corner cafe that blocked the view of the mountain. We ordered a bagel and smoothies. The location of this cafe was its main attraction for its visitors. The view from the first floor was stunning.
The sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds again. It was getting windy and we were tired after a long day of walking. After checking the timing for the bus (next day), we walked back to our pension house.