Yangyang (Gangwon-do)

I didn’t get very far today. But what a wonderful day full of activity that it was.
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I started my day with a gentle 5km (3 mile) descent to the base of the mountains I was descending when I stopped last night. What a contrast starting the day descending makes to starting with an ascent. Ah the wind in what little hair I have left (through my helmet because the road was relatively busy) and the sight of mountains becoming smaller as I traveled east. The lake at the base of the mountains was a pretty sight and I can imagine it would be amazing to camp here a night.
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I had heard Yangyang was having their annual Mushroom Festival this weekend but had no idea that it would be a big deal. At first I felt a little lost entering a big city after a short slightly scary ride along the highway. I wanted to get straight out as quickly as possible. Until I stopped, ate a packet of Oreo cookies (you get three for the price of two at one of the shops here and I do love Oreo cookies) and wandered through the main street. My first win was having a bike mechanic adjust my disc brake for free (a good thing because I had no front brake descending the mountain yesterday). I still need new pads but he didn’t have any and I couldn’t work out how to ask him to switch me over from disks to V-brakes (I have V-brake mounts on the front fork and have decided to retain the existing disc wheel but use V-brakes instead because pads are easier to buy than disc pads. My rear wheel is already a V-brake). Anyway, it didn’t take me long to find the mushroom festival and that was it for riding today.
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What’s not to love about a festival: even one to celebrate something as random as mushrooms. There’s always good food to be bought including these massive sweet crispy apples that are about the size of a children’s soccker ball.
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There’s always my favourite: the person dressed up as some sort of cartoon character. It just makes me need a photo with them.
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Speaking of photos with people. This drag performer’s wife pushed me onto the “stage” to have a photo with her husband. She was very proud of him. I don’t know whether his singing was any good but it was real.
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The military were at the festival doing some public relations work. There were displays of cut open bombs and missiles, artifacts that have been dug up from the war and North Korean military items. Young soldiers made balloon animals for children, painted children’s faces and served military chow.
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You could even have your picture taken in a real South Korean military uniform. I now have four small polaroid passport sized photos of me exactly like this. They were even free. That’s the great thing about Korea. Many touristy things are free or very cheap. Not quite sure the Australian passports office would accept the photos for my next passport though.
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I probably spent a good two hours exploring the market and another hour in Yangyang proper before I set off along a riverside cycleway towards the beach. This is another great thing about Korea: they have proper off-road cycleways and my experience is that they are usually located along rivers and creeks. This path kept me off the busy highway 7 and gave me lovely views of parklands and the beach.
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Once at the beach the cycleway split into a boardwalk over the sand …
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… and a pathway between the trees. I rode both, taking in the full beachfront cycling experience.
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The experience included watching locals hire quad bikes and ride them along the wide sandy beach. This is part of the playful side of Korea that I have fallen in love with. This ability to just do something for fun with seemingly little concern for what others might think. I mean … if you are a grandmother with a six or seven year old son wouldn’t you want to let him drive you around the beach on a quad bike? Perhaps what I am enjoying is the contrast between this type of behaviour and the nanny state in which I live at home where this type of fun would never be allowed.
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What tourist location experience would be complete without horse drawn carriages? But here this kitschy experience is taken to a whole new level: the carriages are lit up and play music. What a sight to make me smile. If I was here with friends or someone special I would so take a ride because I would probably not stop smiling.
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It’s not all fun and games. Nearby fishermen were working hard mending nets and preparing for their next trips to sea.
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I rode past the fishing boats and up the short steep hill to Naksansa (temple). A lot of Koreans were also here taking advantage of the public holiday to see the temple. I paid my KRW3,000 ($AU/US3) entry and wandered in.
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There were peaceful pagodas and amazing ocean views.
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A massive statue stood in pride of place at the top of a cliffside hill. There is a big story about it but I didn’t really pay attention because I was just soaking up the atmosphere.
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Temple buildings that had probably seen thousands of visitors just today alone felt tranquil and calm as tourists mingled with the faithful who had come here for prayer.
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The whole experience was peaceful and calming, which I needed after a bit of a mishap with my credit card and the loss of the sunglasses that were at the centre of said mishap. A vendor at a shop unintentionally charged me KRW200,000 instead of KRW20,000. It’s an easy mistake but I don’t know whether he knew how to reverse the transaction. He said he cancelled it and tore up both copies of the receipt (I hope he doesn’t think that equates to canceling it) and there was a language barrier at play. I phoned my bank who have registered the dispute but have to wait until the vendor reconciles his transactions. To add insult to injury, it was very windy today and said sunglasses blew off my head within an hour of my buying them. So, as I explored the temple grounds I reminded myself of the Buddhist teaching of impermanence and the reality that everything will be okay. Besides: I am in Korea having a wonderful time and it’s not like the guy intentionally ripped me off. He was so apologetic and polite about the whole thing.
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And so I came to my favourite place in the temple. It wasn’t anywhere special or signed. Just a grassy field between the lake and main building where some small lanterns stood guard. People walked along nearby paths but the lanterns drew my attention away from the crowds and into that place we all find sometimes when everything will be okay.
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And okay it will be. For this morning I had no idea where I would sleep tonight but now this is the view from my tent at a campground right on the beach just a short ride from the festival or a quick walk to seafood restaurants. The fee is KRW30,000 a night for up to four people but I snagged a site for KRW15,000 because I insisted on “what about if only 1 person”. I probably could have gotten away with a free camp in a park by the river but this way I can leave my tent to explore the bright lights of Yangyang: a fabulous town that has made me smile for all the right reasons.

(Total cycled 30km)

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5 thoughts on “Yangyang (Gangwon-do)

    • I just said to Dad in an email that you and he should definitely come here. You will love it. I think you could just hire a car because driving would be easy. The roads are excellent and places are signed in English (though little else is). You could drive from one national park to the next going bushwalking and then stop at other places along the way too. The people are so friendly and it’s incredibly safe. I have never felt threatened in any way here. Oh and bring your little tent because Koreans LOVE to camp. And you will enjoy watching Koreans do camping too (oh and I know what the blow torch is for now … you use it to light the coals on the bbq while still sitting back comfortably in your chair instead of getting a face full of coal smoke)

    • Thank you for visiting my blog Paul 🙂 Yes, I am definitely soaking this place up. I went to China in 2009 and loved it despite the many frustrations of traveling there. It was my favourite place that I had traveled … until now. Korea is all that is wonderful about China without the frustrations. Oh, and Korean people must be one of the most lovely and welcoming cultures in the world. I love the playfulness and the scenery. It’s the perfect combination. Tonight as I walked from dinner to camp I came across adults playing on the swings at the beach. Not just sitting there chatting but actually swinging. I thought I was the only person who did that but nope … Korean adults do it too.

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