We called a cab to pick us from the chocolate museum (post coming soon) after learning that the next bus wouldn’t come for four hours. Island time…
Our destination was Sanbangsan (산방산), and we each had wildly different ideas about what would happen there. I was absolutely set on hiking it, while Alisha was more interested in the lava cave hollowed out of the mountainside. As things turned out, we were both in for a surprise.
The cabbie let us off in the parking area, and we got out to find ourselves in front of the beautiful Bomunsa temple (보문사) snuggled against the jagged side of the mountain.
There’s a very cool legend behind how Sanbangsan came into being. According to the legend, a bow-hunter tried to shoot a rare white deer near Hallasan (Jeju’s main mountain). He missed his shot, and the errant arrow struck the spirit of Hallasan instead. Furious, the mountain god ripped off the entire top of Hallasan and hurled it at the hunter, crushing the unfortunate mortal to death. The massive stone came to rest near the sea, where Sanbangsan sits to this day. The crater in Hallasan is said to be the right size and shape for Sanbangsan to fit inside.
Bomunsa is famous for two things. One is the massive golden Buddha seated at the back of the temple complex. Golden prayer wheels line the approach; the mountain looms on one side and the coast stretches along the other.
The second reason for Bomunsa’s popularity is a small shrine called Sanbanggulsa (산방굴사) in Sanbangsan Grotto. A large opening gapes in the side of the mountain. Inside, steps lead up to a small Buddha. Overhead, fresh water drips from the honeycombed ceiling, falling into small pools where pilgrims quaff cool draughts in the dark quiet of the cave.
We hesitated going up at first, but–when a woman told us we were allowed to ascend–our hesitation evaporated, and we climbed the steps to see the view back through the mouth of the cave.
While we didn’t find the trail up the mountain or the lava tubes we’d been told about, we both enjoyed exploring Bomunsa. However, after gazing out on Yongmeori Coast, we decided some beach time was in order.
We descended the stairs and headed for the coast. On the way, we stumbled across the Yeondae (연대) signal beacon. Formerly used as part of a warning system against invasions, it is now a popular stop for tourists on the path down to the coast.
The Yongmeori (용머리) coastal walk was closed, but we found a path leading down to a deserted beach. Waves crashed on the silky, black sand in front of us; they surged and foamed against the rocky outcroppings to our right.
Just visible on one such outcropping, a fisherman cast his line into the sea.
We gingerly worked our way around the rocks, timing our leaps and lunges to the rhythm of the waves.
Suddenly, we found ourselves unable to go further. The rock wall was sheer. Behind us, however, a tumble of boulders filled a massive crevice. Climbing just a bit, we worked our way under and through the jumbled stones, emerging into a small clearing on the other side.
It was filled with junk, washed in by the sea and trapped by the rocks. Just out of reach, I spotted an opening in the cavern wall. Climbing up, I peeked through and found something awesome.
A hidden cove lay before us–apparently more accessible from the other direction, as there was a group of ajummas across the water swilling makgeolli like the Prohibition just ended.
After enjoying the scenery for a spell, we made our way back and discovered one last gem. On the other side of the rocky cove, an old ship lay at rest. Reconstructed in memory of Hendrick Hamel’s Dutch trading ship, which crashed on the coast of Jeju in 1653, it is actually a small museum. Walking through was free. The exhibits provided insight into an exciting moment in history: when the West first encountered Joseon-era Korea.
Exhausted, we caught a bus towards our next destination. But that’s for the next post. Don’t miss it, the pictures will make you want to book a ticket to Jeju immediately!