We recently had a long weekend here in Korea so I took the opportunity to head back to Gangwon province for more ocean air. This time I travelled farther down the eastern coastline to the southern city of Samcheok.
One of the main attractions of Samcheok city is Hwanseon Gul (“gul” means cave). Ever since visiting the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, I’ve fallen in love with caves and the ancient secrets that line their cool stone walls.
Hwanseon Cave is famous because of its age and size. It’s the largest limestone cave in Korea and one of the largest caves in all of Asia. It’s 6.5km long but many believe there is an added 1.5km of uncharted territory further in. Hwanseon Gul is said to be 530 million years old so you can imagine the scope of critters this cave has housed.
It holds the usual cave features such as stalagmites and stalactites but it also has waterfalls and little lakes running through it which adds to the beauty of this cavern.
The tourist path is only 1.6km of the cave as other parts are too narrow or unsafe for civilian passage. The walking path is made of steel bridges and stairs instead of a path on the stone floor which I think is great for the cave’s ecosystem preservation. You can see in the photo below how long the cave is and how much is actually open to the public (the area in blue).
Tickets to the cave cost 4,000 won (approx. $4.40 CAD) for one adult and 2,000 won (approx. $2.20 CAD) for children. Once tickets are obtained you can walk up the steep mountainside for a 30 minute hike to the cave entrance, or take the monorail instead. The monorail fee is another 4,000 won one way and 7,000 for round-trip. The ride itself only takes about 5 minutes but the line to get on the monorail is the killer.
We decided to hoof it and dang what a hike! We were sweaty and tired by the time we reached the top so the cool cavern air was a welcome relief.
Once at the cave’s entrance we descended into darkness on our steel footpath. Most pictures didn’t turn out as it was too dark in the depths of cave, but I will share with you the few that did.
Hell Bridge was particularly terrifying, considering the bridge swung to and fro with every step we took. We had barely regained composure from the first little bridge and were tackling the second half actually called “Hell Bridge” when Sarah said quietly from behind, “Don’t look down.” Of course we did exactly that and immediately wished we hadn’t. The bridge was suspended above a terribly high and narrow drop. It looked like a knife-cut split between two enormous slabs of mountain wall, joined at the bottom by a crystal pool of water far, far below. I managed to get a picture on the first bridge and you can see by my expression that I was ready to die at any moment.
Once safely outside and back on solid ground, we began our descent back down the mountain trail.
After waiting for the bus to take us back to the downtown area, it was off to find nourishment then hit the showers. We had an amazing 5-course meal at a place called Steak88 in the neighbouring town of Donghae, which was were we stayed.
If you’re heading to Samcheok or Donghae and would like to know more, please leave a comment in the comment section below. If you live in Korea, try downloading the “kobus” application on your phone to book bus tickets. You’ll need to read Korean for this so you may need a hand. Online, go here for bus information in English. You can check schedules and fares, but booking will take you to a Korean page so again, you may need some translation help. If it’s not a busy travel time or you get to the Express Bus Terminal (Seoul Metro line 3, 7 or 9) early enough, you can always just buy bus tickets at the station.
Next week I’ll be talking about Haesingdang Park in Samcheok, a park like no other in the world! Stay tuned.