Sanbangsan, Jeju, South Korea
As I glanced about, I could see two birds lazily sunning themselves on the outskirts of the trail, unmindful of the silk green forest draped upon them. The leaves were in every shade of green and continued, it seemed at times, as far as the eye could see. Any holes in the greenery allowed for views of the blue hued ocean or the town below. I had heard rumors that when I reached the cave at the top of the path, views of Marado Island and Dragon Head Coast were available, in addition to the sight of the Buddhist temple located inside the tiny cubbyhole of the 10 meter cave. Sighing, I knew this spot was one of uninterruptible beauty. At that moment, melodious chords of “Baby, One More Time” gently floated up the mountain to reach my ears from the amusement ride below. Oops. Perhaps it wasn’t uninterruptible.
395 meters of jutting rock
I had come to Sanbangsan Oreum for solitude and beauty. I should’ve known I could only get one, for the oreum is crowded with visitors every day of the week, including weekdays. They come to see the 395 meters of jutting rock. Instead of gently sloping upwards like most oreums on the island, it simply juts outs in the middle of flat grassland, leaving for a breathtaking view of sheer rock. On the rock are green trees, frolicking animals, and innumerable flowers. In fact, Sanbangsan is the only location on the island where boxwoods can naturally be found, earning it the distinction of UNESCO Natural World Monument No. 376.
The legends of Sanbangsan
Legend has it that Sanbangsan was created when an inept hunter accidentally shot a mythical character in the buttox. The character, enraged at the indignity, broke off the top of Mt. Halla to throw at the retreating hunter. When the mass of land which formerly resided at Mt. Halla crashed down, it became Sanbangsan. The top of Mt. Halla had become a crater where water collected, eventually becoming Lake Baekrokho. This legend neatly explains how Sanbangsan came to be jutting out of nowhere, why it has no crater (unlike many of the oreums on Jeju), and why Mt. Halla does.
It doesn’t, however, explain the shallow pools of freshwater located inside the cave of Sanbangsan. Another legend explains that phenomenon. As that legend goes, there was once a male being in love with a female being. Unfortunately for their love, the male was mortal and the female was not. In fact, the female spirit resided in Sanbangsan. One day, a male spirit fell in love with the female spirit and realized he had to compete for her affections. So, he had the mortal sent away to the front line of a war where his life quickly ended. The male spirit then tried to shack up with the female spirit, but to no avail. She remained faithful to her dead lover, weeping continuously over his tragic ending. Her tears are what form the shallow pools in the cave.
In the Goryeo period of Korea, Monk Hye-II took up residence inside the cave, placing a shrine of Buddha in it with him. With the addition of the shrine of Buddha (facing east, overlooking the forest to the daily sun’s rising above the sea), the cave officially became a temple, thus earning the name of Sanbanggulsi (gulsi = temple) and becoming one of the only cave temples in South Korea.
Nowadays, the trail leading up to the cave also contains two other caves at the entrance: Gwanmeyong-sa (on the left) and Bomun-sa (on the right). Both are refreshing stops which contain unique paintings of Buddha. In addition, other sites can be enjoyed from Sanbangsan, such as an exhibition of Hamel’s Boat. Inside the boat replica is information regarding the accidental encounter of the first Europeans with Korean soil, as well as information regarding the tremendous challenges facing the Korean World Cup team.
Closer to the ocean is Yeongmeori Coast, a rock outcropping into the sea with easily visible lines of sediment that were formed from high wave movements for tens of millions of years.
What else is there to see? Ah, yes. The pop-music blaring Viking ride.
Cost: 2,500 for adults (Jeju residents are entitled to a discount)
How to get there: If driving, follow 1135 until you see signs advertising Sanbangsan. Then, follow the signs. If taking a bus from Jeju-si, simply go to the bus terminal and ask the attendant for a ticket to “Sanbangsan”. The bus stops in front of the Oreum.
Hours: Officially, the site is open from approximately sunrise to sunset, though the trail and the coast can be walked upon at any time.
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