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(Yonhap Feature) Boryeong suggests easy getaway from city life to nature

All News 09:07 July 27, 2016

(Editor's note: This article is the eighth in our feature series on South Korea's lesser-known tourist spots.)
By Choi Soo-hyang

BORYEONG, South Korea, July 27 (Yonhap) -- On a recent Sunday morning, an express bus departing from a terminal in Seoul was packed with young South Koreans and foreigners who were heading to the country's central city of Boryeong.

Kim Na-yeon, 23, and her two friends were among the passengers, excited about getting muddy at the famous Boryeong Mud Festival in Daecheon Beach, 170 kilometers southwest of Seoul.

"My summer class just ended earlier this week and I thought the festival would be a perfect beginning for my vacation," Kim told Yonhap News Agency. "As a senior in college, I have a lot of things to do, but just a day or two in Boryeong would be a nice getaway for me."

The 10-day event, which wrapped up last Sunday, attracted an estimated 3.9 million visitors, including some 439,000 foreigners, to the beach and proved itself as the most firmly established international festival in South Korea, the city government said.

Accessibility, among other factors, is the greatest strength of the beach as the venue for the festival which marked its 19th event this year and as the best tourist destination in the west coast.

Despite the fact that the country's east coast is more generally preferred by South Koreans for its clean and blue sea view, Daecheon Beach rarely misses out on its position as one of the most visited seaside resorts in the country.

In 2015, more than 14.9 million locals and overseas tourists visited the 3.5 km-long beach, which can be reached in two hours from Seoul by bus, according to the city government.

The coastal city in South Chungcheong Province, though only known for its annual mud festival, offers diverse options for city dwellers who seek an easy weekend getaway and foreigners who are overwhelmed by the fast pace of life in Seoul.

If Seoul is the most tourist-friendly city in the country with cheap and clean public transportation, fully air-conditioned shopping malls and tireless night life, Boryeong has something the bustling city with 10 million population does not have.

The city's sandy beach, forested mountains and small islands are all fairly protected from development.

About a 10-minute ride from the beach lies Jukdo Island, connected to the mainland by a bank.

The entire island is a garden Sanghwawon, named after South Korean novelist Hong Sang-hwa, who developed the area.

"Over the past 20 years, we have made a rough sketch of a Korean-style garden, keeping away from large-scale commercial development and nature destruction," the garden's director and writer's daughter Hong Jeong-wan said on its website.

The garden, which had long been kept private, recently opened to public in April in a bid to share the natural beauty of the island with more people, according to its facilities manager Im Gi-yong.

"Writer Hong started adorning this place after he came here to work on his writing," he said. "Reflecting his taste, there are many benches for visitors to read and write with the West Sea unfolding in front of them."

The 66,000-square-meter garden is comprised of a corridor that goes around the island, a village of restored hanok, or traditional Korean houses, and seaside reading spaces. No commercial facilities, such as a cafe or a convenience store, are located within the garden.

"It is quite surprising that we can enjoy this kind of view, not surrounded by a crowd of people," said a college student Jung Mun-gu, who was on a day-trip with his family from Hongseong, 157 km south of Seoul.

Jung's family is not the only one who opted to visit the city on a single day-trip.

One of the factors that lead so many people to visit Boryeong on day trips is definitely its location and highways that link it with other cities.

Still, it is also true that accommodation is not as tourist-friendly and remains a challenge for the city to take a leap forward as a leading tourist destination.

Especially during the festival period, the cost of a night at an old seaside motel easily soars up to 150,000 won (US$131).

For those who are not willing to spend such money but want to spend another day in the city, a campground in the forest of Mount Seongju could be an answer.

Though it is more friendly for those who have camping equipment, the city-run forest park, located about a 20-minute ride away from the bus terminal, also has cabins up for reservation.

For Choi Suk-ja, who lives in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, it has been the third straight year for her to spend a day off at the forest.

"Every time I come, I spend day time under the shade of trees here and have a seaside stroll at the beach later in the evening," she said.

The highlight of the forest is a grove of some 4,500 cypress trees that can be rarely found in the upper regions of the country due to lower temperature.

"Now that the media always talk about the antibiotic substances generated from the trees, more people, especially from the metropolitan area, are visiting the park," said Lim Yang-bin, a freelance guide at the forest.

Indeed, the cabins and other spaces open for reservation are immediately taken when the booking starts on the first day of every previous month, he said.

For those who want to add some artistic experience on their list, Gaehwa Art Park, located about five-minute away from the forest by car, could be the next stop.

The park is filled with some 280 sculptures created by artists from all across the world.

In 2003, Im Hang-ryeol, who operates a nearby black stone quarry, decided to turn the 83,000 square-meter property into a park. Previously, it had been used to display the quarried stones.

"My father always said it was pitiful that the high-quality stone was all imported and not much was left for Koreans to enjoy," said Im Ho-young, the chief's daughter and manager of a contemporary art museum located within the park.

Along with the opening of the park, the museum started to host an international residency program for about a dozen artists every year, funding all expenses for their month-long stay.

All the sculptures displayed at the park were donated by the artists, according to Im.

"My understanding of art is that it should be something to be enjoyed, touched and experienced, and I believe the park allows our visitors to do that," she said. "Many of them come here for a picnic and to bask in nature, surrounded by artwork."


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