Written and photographed by Stephanie and Ryan Hedger
Located in the mountains of North Chungcheong Province, in the serene valley created between Woraksan and Sobaeksan National Parks, lies the town of Danyang. With Chungju and Yeongju being the nearest cities of any repute, it’s little wonder most people have never been to Danyang County, but this isolation is absolutely one of the area’s selling points. As visitors are immediately transported to a part of South Korea where populations dwindle, nature takes its place at center stage. This area is not devoid of intrigue and activity, however, and a trip to Danyang is certainly worthwhile for those hikers looking for stunning nature and unique experiences.
Ondal Culture Park
Mixing mountains and powerful rivers is the perfect recipe for creating caves, of which Danyang is the home to many. Two of the most famous sites are the heavily trafficked Ondal Cave and the Ondal Mountain Fortress, which are both often used for filming Korean historical dramas. Tourists are welcome to try traditional Korean games and tour the grounds, but the real prize of Ondal is the cave at the back of the property. Millions of years old, this cave extends nearly 800 meters into the mountain and houses a meter-deep river. While dark and seemingly inhospitable, fish and insects supposedly live in this mysterious location among the stalagmites and stalactites.
Rivers and Valleys
Once people exit the modernity of South Korea’s cities for the countryside, they’re often irreversibly drawn to these natural wonders. Through Danyang County flows the impressive, yet ambiguously named, Namhangang (South Korea River); carving the valley into the wonder of nature that it is today. In a place like this, it’s no wonder that camping, fishing, hang gliding, spelunking, and more activities are at your fingertips. Camping along the river for a weekend of fishing and Danyang exploration is the recipe for an incredible weekend or holiday vacation.
Guinsa – Korea’s Most Beautiful Temple
Probably the most remarkable aspect of Danyang is Guin Temple. This stunning departure from standard temple design and decoration creates a dynamic and awe-inspiring experience. The first thing visitors will notice as they climb to the top of the gate tower is the towering structures that defy traditional Korean Buddhist architecture and tower above all but the surrounding mountains. Surrounded on all sides by towering precipices and rock formations, these buildings flank one another at converging angles reminiscent of nothing else to be found in Korea. While not the largest temple complex in South Korea, Guinsa has a unique gift for making its visitors feel very small. The temple’s painted buildings climb their way up the valley toward a massive golden temple and offer a stunning view back down on the complex itself. It’s clear why the oft-repeated trope among temple-goers of “you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all” is certainly untrue at this gem of Danyang.
More Than Meets the Eye
The fact of the matter is that Danyang is rarely celebrated for the wonder it contains. What may seem like an out-of-the-way, small town amidst large, national parks is actually an opportunity to get away from the normal rigors of Korea and experience something remarkably different. Whether you’re looking for natural beauty, culture, or thrill-seeking adventures, Danyang has a little bit of everything. Sitting on a riverbank with a fishing rod in hand, tent behind you, and hang gliders floating over the nearby apple orchards, it’s easy to see why this slice of heaven has been kept as such a closely guarded secret for so long.