We spent a day walking in the Duryunsan Provincial Park, a couple of short bus rides away from Mihwangsa. There’s a temple near the entrance to the park, where we sat in a tea house before we started the climb into the hills. As we’ve seen elsewhere, piling rocks into cairns in and around temples, or onto ledges of statues, seems to be the thing to do.
The climb takes you through the trees. It’s near the end of September but it’s still very hot and there are plenty of mosquitos around, making any stop a mixed blessing. Our first objective is the Bukmireukam Hermitage high above the main temple complex, and with a big Buddha statue carved into the rock as the focus.
A few minutes after reaching Bukmireukam, we’re standing on a huge rock and taking in the view. Above us on one side there’s a ridge with outcrops of rock sticking above the trees. In the other direction, the land falls away to the rice paddies and then the sea. It’s a real treat: Here we are in Jeollanam Province in the very south-west of Korea, in a place I didn’t know existed until very recently, and it’s glorious.
Some of the best travel experiences are unexpected. A Korean family joined us on the rock and asked us to join them for lunch. So, we sit down and the family start to unpack a feast from their backpacks. There’s rice, kimchi, chilli pastes, vegetables, garlic, dried fish and lots more. It tastes great and is far more substantial than the rather inadequate convenience-store cake we’d packed. The only English speaker in the family says it’s a Korean tradition to share food with others. We’re very grateful.
Well fed, we climbed up to the peak, looking down to the coast line to the east and the west. The higher part of the climb is over big boulders, and there are ropes, chains and metal plates fixed to the rocks to help the climber. It’s only 700 metres at the top, but it’s a challenge. It would have been much more so had it not been for the meal provided by complete strangers.