Last June (2019), we rented a car and travelled around the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. We normally travel, in South Korea, only during public holidays or long weekends. It took us a while to realise that we hadn’t explored so much of the country and we decided to spend our summer holidays in Korea. It would be relatively easy to plan and reasonably challenging to execute. We had explored Jeonju, Gwangju, Damyang, and Yeosu (rented a car) — before reaching Namhae.
Namhae is spread out and transportation can be hard to find. We rarely spotted public buses and I’d recommend hiring a car to explore the island. We had spent the earlier day exploring Namhae’s top scenic and historical spots. Our pension house was located on the northwestern part of the island and we had to drive to other side (southern) for the hike. Google Maps don’t always work in remote parts of Korea. Our car GPS worked on Naver and we also set the course on my phone — just as a backup.
Not many travellers or expats travel to Namhae. Information, in English, is hard to find. I was lucky to find a few blogs (written by intrepid/curious expats) and got a rough idea about the hike. One blogger suggested driving upto the second parking lot because the route is very steep. I thought he was exaggerating.
Honestly, there were a few nervous moments — driving upto the first parking lot itself. Few pilgrims/hikers were walking along the outer edge of the road. The slope gets steeper from the first parking lot to the second parking lot (ticket counter). It’s always better to come early and drive all the way up or the attendant might ask you to park the car at the first parking lot. There’s a third parking lot at the top, but I think it’s reserved for monks and forest officers.
Bear in mind, there’s a different trail entrance to hike Geumsan Mountain (it takes you through another route) and the parking lot is different from this one. I assume: most trails ultimately overlap on the mountain, but if you have a car — your options, to explore, will reduce.
Boriam Hermitage is tucked, in Geumsan Mountain, in Hallyeohaesang National Park. This national park spreads across the shoreline (120 km) of two southern provinces (Jeollanam-do and Gyeonsangnam-do) and we had explored some parts of the park in Yeosu.
The walking route from the ticket counter (trail entrance) is well marked and is an easy uphill climb. In summer, this may seem tougher because of the heat. The forest is a great place to spot birds and insects.
As we approached the temple, we spotted jagged peaks jutting from the green foliage. Openings in the forest bed gave us a vantage view of the valley below.
And finally we saw a shape of a temple — nestled below a towering piece of rock.
The trail reaches a junction: a staircase descends to Boriam Hermitage (below) and a rocky trail takes you higher up. The ascending trail is part of the Geumsan Mountain trail. The descending trail (to Boriam Hermitage) eventually joins the Geumsan Trail — that takes you to the entrance of the mountain hiking trail — on the other side of the mountain. If this sounds confusing, just follow the boards, but make sure you remember your parking lot.
We had reached quite early and since we had time — we decided to explore the ascending trail. Stone steps transform into a wooden staircase that eventually disappears into a muddy path.
Honestly, we didn’t know where we were going and if it made sense to continue climbing through this narrow path. Most Korean visitors had chosen to visit the hermitage. We were the only ones up here.
We stumbled upon these fantastic rock boulders etched with inscriptions on their surface. The first rock is in Hangeul and reads: Namhae Geumsan. We assumed we were on the peak (or one of the peaks) of the mountain.
The remains of an ancient observation tower, Mang Dae, lie on an elevated platform. I was surprised to find boards printed in English — giving a brief history of the tower. Sadly, most of Basil’s pictures (on this hike) were blurred (or dull) and I had to use my phone pictures. I also lost information about the significance of this observation tower.
The observation tower offers a splendid view of the cascading mountains and rocky peaks. We stayed here for a bit: enjoying the mountain breeze and solitude.
It’s a wonderful trail to walk along and most of it is under the shade of trees. It didn’t take us much time to reach the staircase leading to Boriam Hermitage.
The staircase leading to the temple complex is pretty steep and quite long. The temple rooftops look gorgeous — when viewed from the top.
The jagged mountain tops looked stunning from the temple complex. There are some trails (hidden by trees) that lead to some of these peaks. The Geumsan Entrance Trail (Korea National Park Link) also joins these trails.
The main temple was getting renovated during our visit. We walked around and spotted a weathered buddhist bell.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
The mountains looked stunning from every angle and I don’t think a photograph could do justice to their beauty. It was getting hotter. The beauty of the location made me forget the heat.
Another flight of stairs leads to the three-storied stone pagoda. There’s also a towering statue of Buddha. This hermitage was known Bogwangsa Temple before King Taejo prayed at this site. After he founded the Joseon Dynasty, the temple grew in importance and got its present name.
Clay statues of little buddhas were neatly lined on one the rocks. Some pilgrims left behind offerings of coins on the rock surface.
““However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”
― Gautama Buddha
“True change is within; leave the outside as it is.”
― Dalai Lama
Basil wanted to take the route that cut through the forest and joined the Geumsan Mountain Trail. However, it was nearing noon and since it was our last day in Namhae (before proceeding to Tongyeong), we decided to skip this trail. I’d recommend exploring this trail because it has some gorgeous views.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
― Gautama Buddha
The temple complex is constructed along a maze of staircases — nestled on the rocky face of the mountains. It’s quite fascinating and the view is breathtaking. It’s not easy to capture the panoramic views from here.
Each staircase opens into a shrine or small temple. Some temples were closed, but the outer balcony was open to visitors.
We peeked in a couple of temples. The smell of incense filled the air and the wind carried soothing sounds of buddhist chants. Some pilgrims bowed down and did a set of Buddhist prostrations.
“You only lose what you cling to.”
― Gautama Buddha
We climbed up to the main trail and took one last look at those gorgeous peaks. We wanted to stay longer and take in the beauty of our surroundings. But, we also knew it was time to leave and drive back to our next stop for the day.
The drive from the parking lot to the main road wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Cars were driving uphill, but it was a smooth drive to the base.
Lunch at German Village
We hadn’t researched places to eat in Namhae and judging by how deserted the island is, it made sense to make another visit to the German Village. We didn’t have many options to choose from. Most restaurants were closed by the time we reached there and we managed to find one with a view. After lunch, we would drive to Daerangi Village — on the other side of the island.