Ulsan City Tour: Historical Exploration Course
Travelling in Ulsan can get a bit difficult because tourist sights are spread out and local buses aren’t as frequent. The tourism department has a city tour bus that covers different themes — on different days of the week. Most of the tours need to be booked a day prior to your tour day. We booked our tour at the Ulsan KTX Station with the help of a friendly tourism officer. Alternatively, you can make a booking on the Ulsan City Tour website or call the help desk.
Ulsan Lotte Plaza is the meeting point for the tour. We had to assemble before 9:45 a.m. and the ticket payment (10,000 W per person) had to be made to the bus driver. The tour is primarily in Korean, but the guide spoke broken English whenever possible. If you’d like to explore on your own, the Ulsan Tour website is pretty helpful with directions.
We were the only foreigners along with a family of 3 Chinese tourists. All other passengers were Koreans who probably lived in Ulsan.
KTX Ulsan Station
KTX Ulsan Station was the first stop in the tour. There were few ancient relics encased in a glass case. There weren’t any English signboards and it was hard to figure out the importance of these relics.
Ulsan Petroglyph Museum
It takes about 30 minutes to get to Ulsan Petroglyph Museum from KTX Ulsan Station. The guide gave a steady commentary on the places we’d visit, their history, and the schedule of the tour. Occasionally, she’d add a line or two in English and struggle with Mandarin for the Chinese tourists.
Into the Forest
The Petroglyphs of Bangudae Terrace are around 2 km from the Petroglyph Museum and parking lot. We had a group of tiny tots (accompanied by their mums) and an adorable couple — probably in their eighties. It was hard to match the enthusiasm or pace of both groups.
In April, the trees had just got a fresh coat of leaves and the whole scenery looked stunning. A narrow rivulet cut through mountains and birds brought music to the verdant landscape.
Bagundae gets its name from the undulating highs and lows that dominate the rocky outline of the mountain — before it joins the river at the base. It’s believed to resemble a resting turtle. This stunning landscape has been the source of inspiration for famous Korean poets and writers. It’s hard to capture the beauty and tranquility of this location in a photograph.
The famous Korean artist, Jeong Seon, in the Joseon Dynasty, immortalised the scenic views of Bangudae’s landscape in his work (above).
Jipchungjung was built, in 1713, for writers, intellectuals, and artists who wanted to learn writing and have discussions. Currently, the pavilion is used for tea ceremonies and for learning etiquette.
TIP: The surrounding landscape will look stunning in the autumnal months when the leaves turn yellow, orange, and bright red.
It’s not very hard to see why Bangudae would have attracted dinosaurs, neolithic humans, and even intellectuals from the Joseon Dynasty. The diversity of the landscape is fascinating and can only be captured by a drone. We tried to photograph parts of the meandering river (I almost got it confused with an oxbow lake) and got lucky with the panorama shot.
The Bango/Bangu Academy was built, in 1712, to honour three noted Korean Confucian scholars. We weren’t allowed to enter the gates of the academy because of a private ceremony.
Spotting Dinosaur Footprints
Daegokcheon River has some interesting geological (as seen above) formations along its course. Somewhere along the route, our guide showed us two rocks with dinosaur footprints. I struggled to find a footprint in the rocks.
The walk through the forest trail had many interesting detours and you can spend an entire day in this surrounding. There are signboards at regular intervals and it’s quite easy as long as you stick to the main route.
The Bridge over the Wetland
The trail diverges from the dirt road and joins a wooden bridge over a gorgeous wetland. Willow spindle trees and alder trees created a dreamy setting. We couldn’t click pictures of the wetland because branches blocked our view.
I’m surprised by the number of bamboo groves that we’ve come across in Korea. Most of them aren’t even listed on popular tourist sites. It was also the first time that I saw a board with a warning sign about snakes. I always assumed that Korea didn’t have snakes.
The tour (like most tours) operates on a strict itinerary. We would have liked to explore the dinosaur tracksite, but our guide walked towards the petroglyphs. It would have been amazing to observe dinosaur tracks outside a museum.
It got warmer as we walked through the forest trail. It’s hard to imagine a place like this in Korea. The topography was very different from anything we’d seen before.
Cherry blossoms and autumnal colours are truly gorgeous in Korea. But, I also love the first coat of green that starts just before summer.
Petroglyphs of Bangudae Terrace
We finally reached the Petroglyphs of Bangudae Terrace. I was a little disappointed because the petroglyphs were really far from us and it wasn’t easy to point the binoculars at the exact spot on the rock. Our guide pointed her finger and described what we should be looking for. Sadly, we couldn’t spot anything.
Petroglyphs are drawings or carvings that are made on rock surfaces with a sharp instrument. The petroglyphs of Bangudae were discovered, in 1970, by a research team from Dongguk University Museum. A local villager was instrumental in the discovery of these petroglyphs. The petroglyphs depict some of the earliest whaling techniques used in Korea. Relics of whale bones, found at the coast of Ulsan, corroborate these ancient hunting techniques. These petroglyphs are dated between 7000 and 3,500 of the Neolithic Period.
I read Jurassic Park when I was 15 and was more amazed by fractal theory than genetic engineering or dinosaurs. Although, I do remember having nightmares of being eaten by a pack of Procompsognathus (just like John Hammond) — for the next couple of nights. The movie paled in comparison with the book, even if it brought Crichton’s vivid imagination to life and effectively played on our need to feel fear. These vast landscapes of Bangudae gave me goosebumps, when I tried to imagine: how would it be to live here when dinosaurs ruled this place? How did the first humans survive the cold Korean winter and hot summers? How and why did they document their hunting techniques for a human in the 21st Century. What will we leave behind?
Love and Travel
Halmonee and hal-aboji (grandma and grandpa) left us all behind. When no one looked, halmonee held hal-aboji’s hand and smiled. She’d quickly leave it when the rest of the group joined them. Hal-aboji carried halmonee’s pink backpack and would give her water or snacks whenever she required hydration. It’s the love story that inspires me. I hope, Basil and I continue travelling and walking down the long road — no matter how life treats us.
Ulsan Petroglyph Museum
The Ulsan Petroglyph Museum is modelled on the shape of a sperm whale. Most of us were tired and hungry when we reached the parking lot of the museum. Our guide gave us 15 minutes to browse through the museum.
We should have started our tour at the museum. It was quite informative and gives a brief introduction to petroglyphs around the globe and Korea. A life-size exhibit of the petroglyphs of Bangudae gives a clear view of what we missed. Carvings of whales, land animals, and hunting scenes dominate the rock surface.
The tour was perfectly synced with the distances between tourist sights and interval for lunch. We saw a part of the old city wall that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty.
Lunch (not included in tour cost) was a typical Korean meal of rice, soup, veggies, and fish.
The scenery at Cheonjeonri is equally fascinating. There are multiple trails leading to dinosaur tracksites, but we had to stick with the guided tour — focussing on the petroglyphs.
The sun was out and shining brightly. People were getting tired. Thankfully, the petroglyphs are located at a short distance from the parking lot.
The Petroglyphs of Cheonjeonri were discovered in 1970. These petroglyphs also depict animals, dragons, royal processions, and names of officials from the Shilla Dynasty. Quite naturally, these markings are believed to date back to the Shilla Dynasty. The rock surface also has geometrical drawings which may have been made in the middle bronze age and bear resemblance to the markings found in Siberia and China.
We were tempted to leave the group and explore the dinosaur tracks. We chose to stay with the group because it would have been difficult to know how long those trails were.
A group of school kids were attending a field trip with their mums. Their mums made notes while the kids squirmed and played. As we walked towards the parking lot, a local tourist from our group approached me. He asked if I understood Korean. I nodded and said that I understood a little Korean and the guide was kind enough to explain some parts in English. He shook his head and said that I needed to understand the significance of the location. I knew what he meant, because I understand how important it is to represent history and culture — especially when so much of it has been lost. I picked up as many brochures as I could and hoped I could write and do justice to the sights we saw.
Ulsan Dangok Museum
This was the last stop for the day. Most of us were sapped and wanted to take a break from the information overload. The museum guide gave a brief introduction (in Korean only) before we could explore the museum on our own.
There are some interesting relics encased outside the museum. It was too hot to stay outside for a long time and most of us skipped this part.
The relics inside the museum were spread across the ground and upper floor of the museum. We quickly skimmed through most of them and waited for the rest at the entrance.
There’s a small activity centre at the entrance of the museum. We made these cute paper balls and the guide showed us how to play with them. It takes some practice and skill to kick this paper ball, multiple times, before it hits the floor.
Butterfly & Azaleas
I spotted a beautiful butterfly (as big as a small bird) fluttering around bright azaleas. After stalking it for 5 minutes, I got some pictures of its gorgeous wings. It was the prefect way to end a fantastic tour.