Autumn is my favorite season to travel in Korea. It is the time of the year that I don’t want to waste time sitting inside. I want to go out and enjoy the beautiful weather and nature ! Temperatures are milder than in summer, the grey summer sky changes to cobalt blue and nature shows off with its splendid colors displayed by the many trees like ginkgo and the different types of acer or maple tree.
The changing of leaves is called danpoong (단풍) in Korean. Koreans love danpoong and travel en masse all around the country to see the autumn foliage. National and provincial parks are good places to enjoy this beautiful autumn colors. My favorite place to enjoy the changing leaves is undoubtedly NAEJANGSAN national park.
I visited NAEJANGSAN (내장산) for the first time in autumn 2008. Since I love maple trees, the beautiful nature of Naejangsan made a great impression on me. So this year we decided to visit Naejangsan again during the first week of november. On a nice thursday morning around 08.00 am we left with a Saemaul train from Pyeongtaek station direction Jeong-eup city, in Jeollabuk province. In the train we got the idea that many of our fellow travelers had the same destination as us.
2 hours and 30 minutes later we arrived at Jeong-eup station, which is currently expanding. With us, hundreds of people got off at the station. They were all in a hurry to get on the city bus in front of the railway station. When we arrived a full bus just left and at least 100 people were waiting for bus 171 direction Naejangsan park. We decided to take our time and we first visited the nearby Tourist Information centre to pick up a brochure of Jeongeup city. We found out that there’s a nearby busterminal a 5 minutes walk away from the railway station. Here you can get on the intercity bus from Gwangju which goes straight to Naejangsan park.
We bought tickets here and we waited outside. About 10 people were already waiting in a line for the busstop. When the bus arrived we were a bit disappointed since there were no more seats for the 45 mins bus ride. So we had to stand up all the way in a fully packed bus. The first part of the busstop passed easily but when we almost reached the park we ended up in a chaotic traffic jam. Even though it was a weekday it was extremely busy, busier than six years ago when I came here in the same period.
The bus ride took twice as long as planned. Some people wanted to get off the bus but the driver refused to open the door, saying that he didn’t want to get a penalty. So 1 hour and 30 minutes later we were happy to get off the bus nearby the entrance of Naejangsan park. It was lunchtime and restaurants were very crowdy, so it took a while before we got served our vegetable bibimbap.
After lunch we searched our way to the entrance of the national park passing many visitors, merchants, food sellers and entertainers. We just walked in the opposite direction of the stream towards the entrance gate were we paid a 3.000 ₩ entrance fee per person. At the entrance gate you can get on a small shuttle bus that brings you straight to the cable car station nearby the entrance gate of Naejangsa temple. We just continued our way on foot by following the path next to the stream. Right after we got into the park we were already stunned by the dazzling autumn colors displayed by the many different trees, especially maple trees. Many people were trying to take their best shots while others were enjoying their own lunchbox under the trees.
The original name of NAEJANGSAN was actually ‘Yeongeunsan’, named after a temple in the park, which is now known as Naejangsa temple. The name NAEJANGSAN consists of NAE (내), which means inside, while JANG (장) stands for hidden and SAN (산) for mountain. It refers to the fact that there are so many beautiful things to discover in this park, which is located in a valley surrounded by 9 mountains who are all connected to the Baekdudaegan, Korea’s backbone that runs from north to south. And yes, NAEJANGSAN park has a lot to offer from mountains and streams, plants and animals, waterfalls and temples. Walking around here will never make you bored.
This park is especially famous for its breathtaking picturesque sceneries during autumn season. Since it is one of the most beautiful places in Korea people also like to refer to it as ‘Little Geumgang‘ or the ‘Geumgang of Honam‘. The park has a diversity of flora which makes it pretty in every season. But in late autumn, during the last week of October or first two weeks of November, the park reaches its peak of visitors. Around the same time the yearly Maple Tree festival takes place and no need to say that this event brings a lot of people to the park, up to one hundred thousand a day ! We were just two of them …
Maple trees were actually the reason we came here. My wife and I love maple tree and we had some in our garden when we lived in Europe before. The maple tree, also known as ‘Acer’, belongs to the family of Aceraceae. The Acer family has more than 100 types of trees. They mainly grow in Asia but also in North America. The Acers that can be usually seen in Europe are often imported from Asian countries especially Korea. They are quite difficult to maintain in a good condition since they are vulnerable to a large number of fungal diseases. However here in Korea they seem to grow easily without any problems.
We spent a lot of time taking pictures and after almost 2 hours walking (it takes normally 30 to 40 mins) we reached the Iljumun entrance gate of Naejangsa temple. At this gate you can choose whether you go to the Naejangsa temple or follow the path upwards the hill to Byeongnyeom hermitage. Since it was almost 4 pm we just continued our way to Naejangsa temple, following the path with a lot of beautiful matured maple trees.
As soon as we had passed the Gate of the Four Heavenly Kings we found out that something had been changed here, compared to our first visit in 2008. On our right side we saw a new three stone story pagoda and later we when we entered the courtyard we found out that the Main Hall had disappeared because of a fire a couple of years ago. For this reason the three stone story pagoda had been removed.
The temple buildings are not that spectacular but the whole complex is from an exceptional beauty because of the many beautiful surrounding trees like maple and persimmons. One of the most attractive spots to take pictures are the old bridges in front of the complex. We were lucky to see a couple of monks who also enjoyed the beauty of autumn.
After exploring the temple surroundings we went back to the entrance of the park. On our way back we stopped by a kind of basin were a blue roofed pavilion and the surrounding trees reflected beautifully in the water. This spot is a popular photo zone for photographers and you can see this place often on postcards and posters. After a dozen of shots we went back to the entrance of the park. It was already dark when we left the park.
Our stomachs informed us they were hungry and so we looked for a nice restaurant. It was not busy anymore and, as usually in Korea, we were served quite fast. We ended our inspiring autumn day with a delicious pajeon (korean vegetable pancake), muk (acorn jelly) salad and fresh makeolli (rice wine).
Over dinner we decided to stay in a nearby motel so we could visit Byeongnyeom hermitage next day in the early morning. There are 5 or 6 motels around and they are quite expensive compared to motels in less touristic areas in Korea. Because of peak season all hotels and motels were fully booked, beside one.It was actually the same motel were we stayed 6 years ago and they had only one room left …
Look here for more pictures of Naejangsan autumn foliage : FLICKR/K-mood