Although there was much to look forward to during this trip, I have to say that I looked forward to visiting Seoraksan National Park the most. I was initially nervous about it though. I spent the days leading up to our day-trip obsessively checking social media to see if any recent photos were geotagged to the place. I desperately wanted to know the extent of autumn’s arrival at Seoraksan and whether it would live up to my expectations. I’ve seen photos. I’ve formed these images in my mind. I did not want to go home disappointed.
I was not. Not even a little bit.
We booked this trip to Seoraksan through KKDay, and it’s a package that includes a cable car ride to the top of the mountain, where the Gwongeumseong Fortress is located. It also includes a trip to the picture-perfect Hongcheon Gingko Forest. (More on these two locations in part II!) Unfortunately I can no longer find the specific link for this tour, but maybe it’ll be available again in the future.
If you’re coming from Seoul, I feel it will be more convenient to join this type of tour, at least for ease of transport. Seoraksan National Park is located in Gangwon Province, a place I hope to explore in the future. It’s about 3 hours away from Seoul by car, so technically not that far in case you want to travel on your own. Whatever route you take, you definitely should not miss this place if you’re in Seoul during the autumn season.
It’s easy to see why Seoraksan is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the country. Whatever fatigue you get walking and hiking up this mountain will be instantly erased by the landscape. It’s that stunning. I love being outside (when it’s not too hot) because I’m an active person but I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore outdoorsy type, however I could honestly stay here all day long just wandering around. It would be hard to fully explore Seoraksan National Park in one go since it spans four cities and counties (!!), but I’d gladly take what I can get. It’s incredibly nice.
You can always tell when a national park is well-protected because it always seems to have some extra magic tucked away, even in its smallest pockets. I’ve mostly been to national parks in the States, but never during the fall, so maybe I’m biased when I say Seoraksan National Park has shot up to the top spot of my favorites list. It’s the combination of the red-orange hues and the landscape! I probably wouldn’t have this strong a reaction if all I saw was green. My words will never be enough to describe this place so I’ll let my photos (and the vlog at the bottom of this post) do most of the talking for me.
Seoraksan National Park has been a UNESCO Biosphere Protection site since 1982. It’s home to over 1,000 species of plants and over 1,500 species of animals, many of which are rare. There are Asian black bears lurking here, which is kind of scary if you think about it, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing one from a distance lol. One of the best things about national parks is getting to witness Nature in its original state, at full force, and I for one feel profoundly lucky to be able to quietly appreciate all of this beauty at Seoraksan. Just breathing in the fresh air makes me feel grateful that places like this exist.
Now I wish I could give you an extensive guide to Seoraksan National Park like this one from Trazy, but since we came with a tour group, we didn’t have control over time and movement. I do feel confident that we got to see the highlight locations though, and everything we saw in here made my autumn-loving heart feel very satisfied.
We made a stop at the Sinheungsa Temple, the highlight of which is arguably the Great Unification Buddha or the Tongil Daebul. It’s an impressive 48-foot, 108 ton gilt-bronze Buddha statue that sits atop a 15-foot high pedestal. The Buddha sits cross-legged, with eyes half-closed in meditation. Over 300,000 temple visitors anonymously donated to the 3.8 billion won that was ultimately raised to build the Buddha.
You have probably guessed what this Buddha represents based on its name, and indeed, it symbolizes the hope for a peaceful reunification between North and South Korea. I’m not here to argue about whether every citizen shares the same desire, but it is a fact that this Buddha represents that.
The Sinheungsa Temple is the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, an order which originated during the Silla Dynasty, much like the origin story of this temple. According to what I read during my research, the Sinheungsa Temple was originally built on another site, but during the Joseon Dynasty, it was rebuilt here at Seoraksan. You can read more about the history of the temple here.
These days, the temple is a favorite among those who want to experience temple-stays. I can see the charm– considering where the temple is located. Perhaps the only thing that could distract you is the beauty of Seoraksan itself. You do not have to be a Buddhist to participate in a temple-stay, by the way. The whole point of it is to provide a deeper look into the meaning of Buddhism by showing what day-to-day life in a Buddhist temple is like, not necessarily to convert. At the very least, it’ll be a lesson on how to meditate and find peace inside the fast-paced and hectic lives most of us live.
If you’re considering that as part of your own Seoraksan experience, you may want to read this post. From what I gathered, while actual practitioners of Buddhism will find more meaning in a temple-stay, non-Buddhists will definitely have takeaways too. (A temple-stay is in my bucket list as well! Maybe I’ll end up doing it here– who knows?)
After our little trip to the temple, we stopped for lunch at the cafe inside the park. You can bring food into the park with the understanding that you will not litter, but I highly recommend stopping here to sit and grab a hot meal before continuing with your exploration. You’ll need the energy! Also, it just prevents any accidental trash. We ordered pajeon and ate the gimbap we brought in.
In Part II of my Seoraksan post, we’ll be riding up the cable car to the peak!
To see what else we were up to in Seoul in October 2019, check out this video:
Other posts in the SEOUL AUTUMN 2019 SERIES:
- Bukchon Hanok Village, Gyeongbokgung, & Cheonggyecheon
- Halloween at EVERLAND South Korea
- The breathtaking Haneul Park
- Stunning Seoraksan (Part II) & Hongcheon Gingko Forest
- Gwangjang Market & Mangwon Market
- 7 Places To Visit To Enjoy Fall in Seoul
- 8 Food experiences I loved during Autumn in Seoul 2019
All images and videos on this blog are owned by The Tummy Train and Clarisse Panuelos. Unauthorized use of content, removal of watermark, or edit and reupload is prohibited and will constitute theft.