Imagine waking up to the view above every morning. We did, for three mornings, when we visited the Naejangsan National Park for Chuseok this year.
Wait a minute, back up: What is Chuseok (추석)? Only one of the most important traditional holidays in Korea! Running from 14 to 18 September this year, Chuseok is a time when families get together to honour the ancestors, eat food, participate in traditional games and activities and celebrate the autumn harvest.
Before the holiday, I asked my students what they were planning on doing for Chuseok. Many of them told me that they would mow the lawn around the ancestral tombs and make songpyeon: a traditional Korean rice cake filled with anything from red bean paste to chocolate.
For Native English Teachers, Chuseok means vacation time! My husband and I took to the mountains, where we spent three days in an exquisite landscape in the Jeollabuk-do province of Korea.
We stayed at the Eunhye Hotel, right next to the Baekyangsa Temple. Before our trip, my co-teacher told me that “Eunhye” means “blessing”, and indeed it was a gift to stay with the marvelous elderly couple who made us feel so welcome and special in their beautiful home among the mountains and the forest.
I can only attempt to describe the feeling when you first wake up and the only sound you hear is the chirping of birds in the tree tops. Then you look outside, and you just see mountains and forest for miles and miles. It was spectacular.
The best time to visit Baekyangsa is later in autumn, between October and November, when the maple trees change colour and the entire valley is a shining red beacon of beauty. We were impatient though, and wanted to spend Chuseok there, so we didn’t get to see the red trees.
No matter, the experience was still fantastic. We went hiking up the mountain trails on the first day, and we took a walk through the forest (in the rain!) on the second. Unfortunately, a typhoon decided to come along so we went home to Daegu on the third. During our hike we came across a group of locals, who shared their fruit and homemade wine with us. It was awesome!
The forest smelled of nutmeg and citronella and we could see tiny little frogs frolicking in the foliage.
Truly, a wondrous three days.
Practical tips for visiting Baekyangsa:
- How to get there: Take any express bus or KTX to Gwangju (광주). From there, take the express bus to Baekyangsa.
- Best time to visit: Between October and November
- Things to do: Visiting the temple, hiking, walking in the forest, Baekyang Autumn Tints Festival, Oxygen Festival, temple stay, and so much more. Visit www.baekyangsa.or.kr for more.
- Where to stay: Eunhye Hotel (linked in story), Baegyang Tourist Hotel, Servill Hotel – Goodstay or camping
- Packing essentials: Mosquito repellent, hiking gear, extra socks, a hat. The restaurants around there are really great but if you don’t feel like Korean food for breakfast, I’d suggest some long life milk and cereal.