“…You fear to go into those mines… You know what they awoke in the darkness…”
That was the warning given to Gandalf by Saruman as the two discussed how the Fellowship would get the Ring to Mordor. I have a feeling that, if they’d been talking about Hwaam Cave (화암동굴) near Jeongseong, the same words would have been uttured, but for vastly different reasons.
Used commercially as a gold mine during the first half of the 20th century, Hwaam Cave is now a popular tourist destination. Visitors can hike a short path up the side of the mountain (it’s a little steep, but not too bad) or pay to ride up in the cave monorail.
Once we stepped inside the tunnel, the temperature plunged. Before entering, we’d been dripping sweat from hiking up during the heat of a mid-August afternoon. Within minutes, our skin cooled and goosebumps rose on our arms.
The tunnel leading into the mountain was lined with recreated scenes from the mine’s operation. Miners worked on a vein of gold, pulled rocks off each others’ legs after a cave-in, and downed bowls of makgeolli (rice wine).
Soon, we came to an illuminated stairway which spiraled down, down, down, into the bowels of the mountain. It was a bit disorienting to descend. As more flights revealed themselves, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was walking into a bottomless abyss. If I were to stumble…
After walking through several caverns, we came to that thing which Saruman talked about–the thing woken under the mountain. In Moria, it was the Balrog. In Hwaam Cave, it was the adorable goblins of ‘Fantasy Land’.
True to Korean form, these goblins were far from the creep-tastic, slimy abominations in the Lord of the Rings. They were cute, colorful and ridiculous as they mined dazzling jewels from the ground.
After the strange, acid trip which was Fantasy Land, we were floored by the final showcase of Hwaam: a massive cavern traversed by lamp-lit paths and filled with marvelous stalactites.
We walked around the frigid cavern, gawking at each ancient formation from the confines of the path. One, a towering stalactite formation with an outgrowth resembling a small Buddha, was easily my favorite.
Further along, two huge pillars loomed just off the path.
Looking closely at the glistening formations and thinking about just how long it took for them to form was a great reminder of how awesome this planet is.
Finally, we emerged blinking and shivering from the side of the mountain. Looking back, all we could see was the unassuming slope of the mountain. Nothing but the small exit hinted at the cavern and treasures inside.
The Jeongseong area has become one of my favorite parts of Korea. Check back for another post about staying in the lovely Morebul Pension in Auraji (아우라지).
- Hiking to Refugio Frey and Beyond - January 20, 2020
- Christmas Letter 2019 - December 18, 2019
- My Walk Out of the Woods - June 30, 2019
Your pictures are beautiful! I love that you always give us a little bit of history :). Definitely adding you on Instagram today! Great post.
And yet another adventure to add to my bucketlist, thanks to you! Your dark lighting photography is beautiful. This place looks so intriguing. Can’t wait to go.
Leave it to Korea to put some strange figures inside a cave. I would expect nothing less!
This cave looks as awesome as Hwanseongul cave in Samcheok, maybe even better because of the miners and the goblins.
The cold chill you mentioned was one of the ‘cooler’ parts for me. Then when you get back to the bottom its hot again!
I see what you did there 😉 Super cool. haha
You know, I would have definitely fallen down those stairs, being the most un-agile human on my feet. Per the usual, loved your post! While I´m not a hiker, I LOVE caves. This reminded me of all the caves my parents took us to when I was little. Those stalactites are amazing, and you´re totally right, this planet is nuts with what it has and can do. Loved your pictures too!
Thanks, Danielle! I know Matt Inman did a post on a massive cave a while back, I think it was in Gangwon-do. If you haven’t read it already, it might provide some more inspiration 😉
Thanks for the shout man! Yeah, I definitely recommend a trip to any of these caves. Such a cool experience!
Evan and Rachel
I love reading about all these lesser know places you often go to! Your blog has given me a lot of ideas. That picture of the stairs really tripped me out! I’d be nervous too. Thanks for sharing!
Very, very cool! It is my goal to discover amazing adventure like these during my time here! Thanks for sharing!
Lara // the passage
I love how you were able to capture all of the dramatic lighting in your photographs…The descending stairwell looks particularly daunting, and a bit like an M.C. Escher drawing! Jeongseong is a bit of a jaunt from where I live, but it sounds like a perfect place to escape to during the sweltering South Korean summer months…Onto my list it goes!
Not gonna lie. Had to get up and check out Jeongseong’s location. This place seems right up my alley for a nice weekend battling goblins and watching Lord of the Rings to prepare for line recitations. I love that shot of the stairway, btw. Really brought out the lights there.
Haha I’m sure that will be an epic weekend. Try and work a “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” in at some point 😉
I love heading down into caves! These look so fascinating (trust the Koreans to have strange/cute goblins down there).
I love caves! And these are no exceptions. I really like the recreations of miners drinking makgeolli. Quick copy editing note: before your last picture it says “who awesome this planet is.” I’m assuming you mean ‘how’ 😉
Thank you! That one slipped by me >.<
I had no idea places like this existed in Korea. Also watsup with those creepy goblins? Also, those stairs are a bit nerve wrecking, especially in the dark. I have seen awesome stalactites in South Africa but if I ever make my way back to gangwondo I’d like to check out these too for comparison 😉
I have been itching to get out of Busan and explore new parts of Korea. Thanks Nathan for an option I would NEVER have considered! The pic of the staircase gave me shivers and then more shiver on seeing the cute goblins; they’re cute but still creepy!