▲ While the massive bulk of Sangbangsan looms over the southwestern vistas of Jeju, the smaller, and lumpier, Dansan makes for an interesting day hike. Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
There are few things Jeju residents love doing more than hiking the glorious countryside in the sun, but in summertime you could find more company than you bargained for. Jeju still has many secret treasures away from the coach loads, but you’ll need to throw away your tourist map and trust your natural instincts.
Dansan is one such secret treasure. Located in the south west corner of the island, in Inseong-ri, Daejeong-eup, it defends its aura in the shadow of the more famed Sanbangsan. Some might say Sanbangsan has grown a little arrogant as a ‘must see’ for visitors to Jeju, but this is to the advantage of the lesser known oreum, Dansan. It has a more humble air but no less wisdom to impart.
▲ East face of Dansan Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
▲ Dansan is surrounded by farming fileds. Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
Perservance needed to find trail
Travelers on Road 1135 from Jeju-si are struck by the majesty of Sanbangsan, which overbears the smaller horned escarpment to its west. Somewhat inconspicuous, it demands closer inspection. At Inseong-ri take a road to the south towards the outcrop. A little intrepidness is definitely the order of the day, if not to find the path, then to survive attack by the vicious poodle, resident-in-chief at the village motel. From here it is a case of making straight for Dansan, as instinct takes you.
The joy of finding your own little secluded spot is one of the reasons Jeju holds such mystique for the thousands of visitors every year. Hidden landscapes, which change with each of the famed four seasons, are never too far away. Dansan is just meters from a major artery, yet in its shadow the tour buses are silent and distant waves lapping in rhythm to the breeze.
At the foot of Dansan perseverance is needed to find the rubber path typical of many Jeju hikes. Don’t be deterred, as only the uninitiated stay true to this path, skirting the bat-like outcrop. Nose in the bushes for a clearing and make for the brow, through thick bush, breaking into moor-like clearings. The bowled inner sanctum is a joy in itself and visitors can be seen enjoying a picnic in this seemingly purpose-built natural fortress.
▲ Hikers approach Dansan, with Sangbangsan in the near background. Photos by Kim Gyong Ho
Caves reveal dark past
In many ways this was a fortress. Blackened tunnels search deep into the heart of Dansan, revealed by torch-lit Indiana Jones-style escapades. Dug to hide arms during the Japanese colonial period, exploration of these 3 ft by 3 ft tunnels, which penetrate the width of the crag, is not for the soft-skulled. Following the path on, the first of the twin summits is reached. A trickle of visitors meet and greet and share stories on the sharp brow, the reward for the 30-minute hike. Commanding views are enjoyed across the coast to the southeast and Sanbangsan, to Yong-meori and the fraternal islands of Hyeong-je Seom.
Visitors have one more treasure to chance upon, as they make their descent down pine-needled Dansan. The aroma of natural fruit and flowers and the constant whirr of spring life make light work of the south-facing descent. Through the bushes, the small Jeju farms dot their way to the ocean, but they are contrasted to an ancient temple-like building nestled into the foot of Dansan.
The old, unmistakeably Korean, walled-structure flies the Korean flag and boasts ancient trees. Its stained wooden gates are perpetually open and invite visitors in. Met by an immaculate lawn and a four building structure, the benches offer a perfect opportunity to rest tired limbs and soak up the atmosphere. Only tweeting birds from Dansan pierce the silence. This is Daejeong Hyanggyo, a traditional school house from the Joseon Dynasty. Sit down and enjoy a moment of tranquillity to finish a hike that is often missed on the tourist trail.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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