CHEONGSONG, South Korea, April 26 (Yonhap) -- To say the remote little agricultural county of Cheongsong, in Korea's southeast, isn't the easiest of destinations to get to would be understating matters somewhat. Bus schedules are sporadic at best, and trains don't run through here. But for those with time on their hands, the rewards far outweigh the lengthy journey.
Cheongsong is arguably one Korea's most revealing little towns in terms of tradition and historical significance. Famous for its apples, pottery and scenery, it's often overlooked by nearby Andong. Yet, whereas Andong is more widely recognized for paying homage to the country's heritage -- the area has one of the oldest hanok villages on display and hosts the famous mask festival every year -- villagers in Cheongsong still live and carry out their lives as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
When visiting, best leave the guidebook at home and get the local insight on what to see. Locals recommend several highlights.
"Be sure to watch the early morning mist among the jagged peaks of Mt. Juwang," one local says proudly. "And make sure to wake early to watch the sunrise over Wanggeoam Peak on Mt. Taehaeng," adds another. Wanggeoam Peak is the highest point of the Mt. Juwang National Park on its northern border, which rises 933.1 meters.
One of many waterfalls nestled in the Jubang Valley (Photos courtesy of Robert Koehler)
Daejonsa set against the soaring peaks of Mt. Juwang
Literally translated as "green pine trees," Cheongsong is situated in the eastern part of North Gyeongsang Province. As the name suggests, the area is surrounded by pine trees and steep, rolling mountains. The protective enclosure has helped preserve the area, making the sleepy village hard to reach, which, in turn, lends a great deal to its mystique.
Given the hilly, and often treacherous landscape, there is no shortage of interest for hikers. Mt. Juwang National Park provides spectacular scenery, particularly during the autumn months. Rising 720 meters above sea level, the park is swarming with tourists during weekends.
But the not-so-avid hikers need not be deterred. The park features a more leisurely alternative: Jubang Valley, which intersects the parks and careens around clear-water streams, crashing waterfalls, cliffs and peaks, offering an equal dose of breathtaking beauty.
The trail also guides one along several notable points of interest, including Daejeonsa (Daejeon Temple), which sits just at the entrance of the Jubang trail. Set flush against the soaring peaks of Mt. Juwang, the surrounding environment adds to its overall mystique. Another place of particular interest is Juwangam, a relatively small hermitage where it is said that Juwang, a nobleman from Tang China and the mountain's namesake, hid following a failed uprising against the Chinese emperor.
The Daejeonsa hiking course is one highlight. The four-hour trek winds around three waterfalls -- the first of which is the Juwangam Hermitage -- before returning to Daejeonsa. There are 65 local buses a day from downtown Cheongsong to Juwangsan. The trip takes about 20 minutes.
If you can get up early, visit the park at the break of dawn when the mountains are shrouded in early morning mist.
Cheongsong is also home to Jusanji Pond, made hugely famous by director Kim Ki-duk's film "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter." Located deep in the heart of Mt. Juwang National Park, Jusanji Pond is a pristine agricultural reservoir, constructed between 1720 and 1721 to provide water for the county's residents.
Bordered by a lush pine forest, the site brings hordes of photographers every summer to capture the infamous, gnarly willow trunks that snake out of the waters in the early morning mist. The reservoir was virtually unknown to outsiders until just a few years ago.
And of course, no trip here would be complete without biting into one of Cheongsong's trademark apples, believed to be uncommonly sweet, crunchy and free of pesticides. The "honey apples" are even said to prevent tooth decay. Just don't ask any local to extrapolate on that theory.
No trip to Cheongsong is complete without sampling the heralded "honey apples" the region is known for.
Visitors will be happy to find farmers practically giving away boxes of the famous fruit along the major roadways in and out of the region. Large boxes go for roughly 10,000 won (US$8.90).
Another option is to stroll through the village of Deokcheon-ri in the early morning hours. The village itself is virtually the same as it was hundreds of years ago, with residents maintaining a traditional lifestyle amongst persimmon trees in the garden of almost every house.
There's a traditional outdoor market, held on dates ending with 4 and 9 near the bus terminal. One can find merchants selling herbs, fruits and vegetables, all hand-picked. It's also a good place to try out apples and rice cakes fresh from the mill.
Getting to Cheongsong
It's best to tackle Cheongsong as a two-day trip. Buses depart from Seoul's Dong Seoul Terminal at 6:20, 8:40, 10:20 and 11:40 in the mornings and at 3 and 4:30 in the afternoons. The trip takes just over four hours. There are direct buses from Dong Seoul to Mt. Juwang National Park, which depart at the same times (4 hours 30 minutes).