Travel Report: Maisan Mountain, South Korea.
April 2019. Wherever you’re travelling from, getting to South Korea’s Maisan Mountain is not a straightforward affair. Especially if you’re trying to do it as a day trip. I set off from the city of Jeonju with my brother Cory and his fiancée Kaley one sunny April afternoon. The first leg of our adventure involved a 25 minute walk to the intercity bus terminal, where we caught a one hour service to the inconsequential town of Jinan. From there, we understood, a further bus to the mountain itself awaited.
The journey took us deep into the mostly unspoiled countryside of Jeollabuk-do Province, which provided some great views from the bus window. After a bit of confusion, we ended up jumping off the bus a few stops before Jinan. Swiftly realising we had absolutely no idea where we were, Cory got his maps app on the case. Hence we set off on a forty minute hike just to reach Maisan Provincial Park, the gateway to Maisan Mountain.
We’d already worked up quite a sweat by the time the three of us arrived at Maisan Provincial Park. Passing through a parking lot and a tourist information centre, we made our way down the so-called Tourist Village, home to roast pork restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. Desperate for some caffeine, I insisted we sought out a place that could whip me up a creamy, reenergising latte.
The resulting coffee really hit the spot, while the woman who made it was super friendly. In fact, she never once stopped babbling away in Korean. Not at all put off, it seemed, by the fact that we clearly couldn’t understand anything she was saying.
From the village it was another fifteen minutes on foot to the entrance of Maisan Mountain. The route took us through an exceptionally lovely garden, where bright pink and purple flowers blossomed among twisting fir trees.
We also saw signs related to the park’s other attractions, including Jinan Scissors Museum. Oh how Cory begged us to scrap our mountain plan for a dose of scissors-related education. But we had to be firm with him. He’s still trying to come to terms with it.
Further on, we crossed a wooden footbridge overlooking a giant reservoir. For the first time the mountain’s signature horse ear peaks came clearly into view and I could see why many Koreans refer to the place as Horse Ear Mountain. In fact, “Mai” means ear in Korean, while “San” (yes you guessed it) translates as mountain.
As mountains go, this certainly wasn’t the highest trek I’ve done, not by a long shot. Nevertheless, the 685 metre trail comprises of several gravelly inclines and a couple of monster wooden staircases. One of these is a 600-step ordeal called The Saddle.
Horse Ear Mountain.
Scaling The Saddle was a real workout! Thus we found ourselves regularly stopping to drink water and catch our communal breath. It also gave me the opportunity to look back on how far we’d come and, depressingly, how many steps we still had to go. The colours were gorgeous that day and the walk proved highly atmospheric, thanks in no small part to a drumming monk, whose soft, consistent beats echoed through the treetops.
At the top of The Saddle there was another almighty staircase to negotiate, although this time the going was at least downhill. Here, the foot traffic got a little busier, with groups of Koreans streaming past us with their hiking poles and North Face jackets.
“Hello!” “How are you?!” cried a few of the men as we passed. The older women, meanwhile, just glared at me as if I had perhaps invaded their private garden. I was well used to this after four years in China. Grandmother Syndrome, as a few of my teaching colleagues and I called it.
Finally, we arrived at a large crossroads platform located right between the towering horse ear peaks. According to the giant map board, a variety of hiking trails branch off in several directions.
We continued straight down, until we arrived in a valley containing Eunsusa Temple, a Buddhist, Joseon Dynasty structure located at the foot of one of the horse ears.
Apparently, the modest little temple went through a number of names, until King Taejo of Joseon paid it a visit and commented that the surrounding streams and waterfalls were “as clean and smooth as pure silver”. From that day forward, the temple was known as Eunsusa, which means Silver Water Temple.
It had already been quite a day. But actually, everything we’d experienced so far had been a mere prelude to the main reason we’d come all this way. To find out about the next part of our adventure, don’t miss my travel report from Tapsa Temple.
Like this? Take a look at more of my pieces from around South Korea.
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