Another road trip!!
After all the Thanksgiving festivities we spent the long weekend exploring the Eastern part of Korea. We loaded the car and drove to the are around Taebaek with the idea of seeing a cave and maybe something mountainous. And with three days to do it, we found plenty more!
Taebaek is a small coal-mining / ski town. It’s like a cute, kinda dirty Park City. The scenery around it is gorgeous with typically super-steep, but quite huge, Korean mountains and river valleys. Plus, it’s not far from the coast where the East sea roughly pounds against the cliffs and inlet beaches.
Our first stop, though, was the Emart outside of Taebaek for a nice warm lunch. The weather was rainy and chilly, but not super cold – like in the 50’s. In town we grabbed a tourist map at the info center and found plenty on it that piqued our interest!
Out of town we visited Hwanseolgul cave first. It was enormous, and beautiful. As a bonus there is a cool inclined monorail to take you up to the entrance. It’s a very active wet cave, so the water comes in almost too fast for skinny stalactites, but it makes up for that with shear size and a river with many waterfalls. All in the cave. Typically Korean, it’s a walk-on-your-own cave with a metal sidewalk to guide you. Such a nice way to visit a cave; safe, but not on an irritating guided tour like we’ve experienced at big caves in the states. We took our time, saw all the formations, and enjoyed the bridges over the creepily deep pit called “Lake of Hell”.
We drove south to see the sites along the coast. One thing that is always fascinating, especially for Bryan, is the mountains along the shore. He grew up seeing only flat eastern US beaches, so it’s super unique to have giant steep mountains and cliffs falling into the see. Also unique: an emergency helicopter landing beside a tiny windy road. Once we tired of the sea view we turned inland to the mountains and got out to see a cool helicopter.
Our next destination, from the map, was Pongookri. Since it was not raining today, but warmish in the 50s and overcast we decided to try for a hike. This valley is known for being quite beautiful and has lots of little waterfalls. The drive back the valley was quite pretty. It’s a very steep valley, almost a canyon, with the rocky walls and trees perched on the edge of cliffs.
Up the hike was pretty as we followed the gushing river. After stopping for a snack lunch, Avi and I continued a bit up the trail to the first BIG waterfall. Well, the trail went through the water and required me to perch along the edge of the sheer walls around a corner to see the falls. Avi was intent on going so we braved it. He did so well hopping over stones and holding onto the rope and not fall in the water!! On the way back I just took off my shoes and socks, rolled my pants, and carried him on my shoulders. Almost slipped once!! It was a great noonday hike.
From there we followed mountain roads up and back to Taebaek. The drive was incredible with huge views and super steep mountains. This park of Korea is so much less populated it almost feels like a different country. There are lots of old traditional homes. We even, SHOCKING! saw DEER!!! For serious, actual WILD deer in a field. It was incredible. I didn’t think they actually existed here.
From our hike we looped back up to the outskirts of Taebake to visit the Taebaek Paleozoic Museum which ended up being wonderful! It had lots and lots of fossils, and walked us through time to see how Korea was in prehistoric time. We always love dino’s and the creatures that came before the dino’s are cool as well. Another fun surprise was their visiting Xian terra cotta warrior display. A bit out of place, but cool. The best part was it was only 4,000 for all of us…that $4.
We stayed in the town of Taebaek for the evening. It was cute, but sadly there was a karaoke bar nearby which we heard deep into the night. sigh!
In the morning we drove over to the Coal Museum…another surprise we found on the tourist map. There was also a cool little old coal town with lots of murals on it. No amount of looking up could’ve prepared us for the quality of museums and stuff in Taebaek. This museum was all about coal, and GEMS! (which was awesome), and then coal mining. It made it surprisingly interesting. Not to bash coal, but I was sort of curious how they could make an entire museum about it. The best was the elevator ride down the “shaft” to the “mine” below. It was a big recreation, and super fun. Well, it was great and cheap. Only 6,000 ($6) for parking and the entry. Love that!
We headed home after that, but the LONG way, past an area where Bryan does practice flying and target practice. It’s called Pilsung range. We also went driving up through the mountains looking for some other stuff for his work. This got us off the road and onto some actual dirt roads and off-the-beaten track Korea. It was reminiscent of our old US car trips. Then, we drove home…hours and hours… home.