On Walkabout On: Godaesan Mountain, South Korea

A really nice day hike in a very rural area of Korea that provides some fantastic views of the infamous Iron Triangle from the Korean War as well as North Korea is Godaesan Mountain. To reach the start of the trail to this peak, visitors have to travel to South Korea’s northern most train station in the tiny village of Shintan-ri:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

My brother-in-law and myself took the Gyeongwon Line train north from the Seoul suburb of Uijongbu to this small village in order to climb this isolated peak:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

The train ride from Uijongbu is about an hour and a half to  include stops in Dongducheon, Jeongok, and Yecheon along the way.  The train station at Shintan-ri is typical of older train stations found in Korea:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

From this train station the Gyeongwon line once ran all the way to the major industrial port city of Wonsan in North Korea.  However, the division of the country has caused this line to be severed here at Shintan-ri.  Shintan-ri is home to only a few hundred people and a very rural area surrounded by some beautiful, green scenery:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

Shintan-ri is just a really pleasant to place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Korea’s busy cities and experience some peace and quiet and fresh air in rural Korea.  As my brother-in-law and I walked from the train station towards the trail head, the 832 meter Godaesan Mountain was easily visible in front of us:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

At the start of the trail head there is a large map that shows the variety of trails to the top of Mt. Godaesan:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

Most of the trails to the summit are 4 kilometers long which was the length of the route my brother-in-law were taking to the summit of the mountain.  The trails to the summit are estimated to take about three hours to get the top of the mountain.  My brother-in-law and myself were in good shape so we figured it would probably take about two hours to get up the mountain.  As we started up the trail the first thing that really stands out about Mt. Godae is how lush and thick the forest that covers this mountain is:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

The forest was really pleasant to walk through, but before we knew it we ascended above the lush forest below on the steep trail.  This gain in elevation eventually rewarded us with great view looking down on Shintan-ri where we began our hike:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

The mountains you actually see in the far background are actually in North Korea since this village is so close to the DMZ.  From the opening in the foliage we also had a view back down the scenic valley towards Dongducheon that the train travels up to reach Shintan-ni:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

From this opening in the foliage the trail quickly is absorbed by the thick bush once again obscuring all views.  Something that the bush didn’t obscure was the lone bit of wildlife we saw during our entire hike, which was this lizard:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

After little less then 2 hours of hiking we both emerged above the tree line and made the short walk up a ridge line to the summit of the mountain.  The summit of Godaesan has some spectacular views of Korea’s Northern Gyeongi-do province.  Here is the view of the steep and rugged mountains to the south of the mountain:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

Way off in the distance I could actually make out the shape of Soyo Mountain near Dongducheon, which is one of my favorite mountains to go hiking at in Korea.  Godaesan is actually even more scenic then Mt. Soyo.  To the north, the summit provides a spectacular view of the Iron Triangle area of the DMZ:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

This large farming valley is where the major regional city of Shin-Cheolwon in Gangwon Province is located.  The original city of Cheolwon was completely destroyed by the Korean War and only some ruins of the city remains today.  With such a good viewpoint of the Iron Triangle, it is no surprise that a small South Korean Army installation is located on one of the peaks of the mountain:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain

From the summit of Mt. Godae the most striking landmark of the Iron Triangle is the memorial that commemorates the Battle of White Horse Hill, which was a ferocious fight between the South Korean Army and the Chinese during the Korean War:

Picture from Goedaesan Mountain, South Korea

White Horse Hil is actually the land mass in front of the hill that the memorial sits on, but it is still hard to believe that the fight to control that little hill was worth the lives of over 10,000 people combined who perished on both sides.

Anyway after checking out the summit and enjoying the fresh air my brother-in-law and I proceeded to head back down the mountain, which only took us about an hour to do.  All in all we spent about 5 hours on the mountain before getting something to eat at a restaurant tent near the trail head.  For whatever reason some of the best food I find in Korea is in these tent restaurants usually in the middle of nowhere like this place.  My brother-in-law and I had some excellent Korean BBQ bacon called “samgeopsal” and more then our fair share of rice wine called “makeoli”.

It is days like this one that really make me love Korea.

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On Walkabout On: South Korea’s Highway 56

South Korea has many great mountain drives for people who love the high peaks of this country to experience.  One of the remotest of those can be found just outside of Soraksan National Park.  If you have a day to spare while visiting the park then I highly recommend you take a drive up the little traveled Highway 56 in Gangwon province:

This country highway spirals up and down than many high peaks of Gangwon province and features a great distant view of Daecheon Peak, the highest of peak of Soraksan National Park:

Along the road you will get a chance to see plenty of wildlife, trees, mountain scenery, and country villages. The villages along this road are so remote that I felt like I was going back into time watching this farmer plow his field manually with oxen:

This trip is not only a great day trip from Soraksan National Park but is also a great way to travel from Soraksan to Odaesan National Park if this park is also on your itinerary. A back entrance to Odaesan can be reached by turning off at the Odaesan park entrance on highway 446.

Along the way to Mt. Odaesan the rising highway provides incredible views of Korea’s Taebak Mountains:


The high peaks of Mt. Odaesan loom in the distance:


If you have no plans of visiting Odaesan National Park then just stay on the highway which will eventually allow you to connect to Interstate 50 via highway 31 which will take you back to Seoul.

To get to this highway from Soraksan National Park just travel south on Highway 7 from Sokcho to the city of Yangyang. At Yangyang travel west on Highway 44 for about 10 miles before turning at the intersection on to Highway 56 heading South. It is a great ride that shouldn’t be missed for those already visiting the area.

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On Walkabout At: Baekdam Temple, South Korea

All across Korea is a variety of Buddhist temples that are popular by both locals and foreign tourists to visit. Most temples are easy to get to and readily accessible to the public. However some temples are located in extremely remote areas that makes visiting them difficult which can also make them some of the best temples to visit because of being located in extremely scenic areas and having a minimal amount of visitors. Of of the finest examples of one of these remote temples is Baekdam-sa located in Gangwon-do’s, scenic Soraksan National Park:

The temple is located in the Inner Sorak area of the park which is mostly wild, natural, and untouched by man. For anyone looking for unspoiled wilderness in Korea this is the place. The small village of Yongdae-ri is the access point for the temple. From Yongdae-ri a short bus ride takes visitors to the temple located seven kilometers up a twisting and winding road that traverses the Baekdam Valley:

A better option is to avoid the bus and hike up the valley instead which is what I did. The walk to the temple is only seven kilometers which takes about an hour to complete and I was rewarded with incredible views I could better appreciate compared to being crunched into a bus with dozens of oversized visor wearing local women known as “ajummas”.

The road to the temple follows a beautiful flowing river that twists and turns through the valley:

The water was crystal clear and I made sure to take a drink from it to see if it has any mineral content like other waters that flow through Soraksan National Park. The water had no mineral taste to it and just had a cool, fresh water taste to it:

All around me I was surrounded by rugged, steep hillsides that slowly increased in altitude the further up the valley and closer to Mt. Sorak I went:

Most of the hills were just steep and thickly forested, but occasionally one of the granite rock formations that Soraksan National Park is famous for would make an appearance:

The views most of the way though was just steep rolling hills and the gently flowing river below:

Eventually the valley opens up a bit and the river widens significantly. I can only imagine what a spectacular sight this river must be during the monsoon season when the river reaches its maximum flow:

Eventually the road reaches a pedestrian bridge that takes visitors into the Baekdam-sa Temple:

Immediately across the bridge visitors are welcomed by Buddhist deities located in a small gate:

Once into the compound the temple is actually in appearance very similar to other temples in Korea. It has long wooden and colorful buildings:

It has a big bronze bell and drum:

As well as plenty of Buddhas for visitors to take photographs of:

However, what makes this temple different is the interesting history this temple has seen over the years. This temple was founded in 647 during the Shilla Dynasty by a well respected monk at the time by the name of Jajang who named the temple Hangye-sa. The temple wasn’t always located at its present location because the monks over the years had to move the temple multiple times due to fire.

It has been at its present location for about a thousand years and was called Baekdam-sa when monk had a vision to climb Mt. Sorak and count the number of pools between the mountain and the temple. If he did this, it would protect the temple from fire. The monk climbed Mt. Sorak, walked back to the temple, and counted 100 pools along the way. After his walk it was decided the temple would be called Baekdam-sa meaning the 100 pools temple.

The name of the temple may have protected the temple from being destroyed by fires for about 500 years but it couldn’t save it from war.  The current structures at Baekdam Temple today only date from 1957 because the temple was completely destroyed during the Korean War due to its close proximity to the border between North and South Korea.

The isolated location of Baekdam-sa has caused the temple over the centuries to be highly sought after for Buddhist monks seeking enlightenment.   One of the most famous residents of the temple was Buddhist scholar Manhae Han Yong-un who was an independence activist during the Japanese colonial period of the Korean peninsula.


Manhae Han Yong-un

Han Yong-un was famous for his works of poetry that he wrote during the years he spent at Baekdam-sa.  His most famous work published in 1926 was Nimui Chimmuk which advocated for the importance of equality and freedom, which led to a passive resistance movement against the Japanese colonization of the peninsula.

Han Yang-un may be the temples most famous resident, but without a doubt the most infamous resident of the temple was former Korean President Chun Doo-hwan.  Chun rose to power in a military coup in 1980 and is known as the “Butcher of Gwangju” for his role in authorizing the killing of Korean civilians in the city.   Chun is also known for being notoriously corrupt with his embezzling of millions of dollars from the nation’s coffers.

After leaving office, in November 1988 Chun and his wife voluntarily went into exile at Baekdam-sa for two years.  During his time at Baekdam-sa Chun lived in seclusion so visitors could not see him.  He did have daily chores he was responsible for completing such as sweeping floors in the various buildings every morning.

Currently Baekdam-sa no longer has any famous or infamous residents but it is still a great place to visit for those spending multiple days in the area.  The temple is truly a hidden gem in the crown of Korea’s national park system, Soraksan National Park.

Visitor information for the park can be found below:

Local Transportation 1. Bus
? At Inje Terminal,take a bus to Wontong or Jinburyeong and get off at Yongdae-ri. (40 minute interval, Runs 20 times a day)
? From Yongdae-ri, walk for about 15 minutes. and at the bus stop, take a shuttle bus(Fare: 1,000 won) for 3.5 km.
? Get off the town bus and walk 3km following milestones to the ticket box of Baedamsa Temple.
* Take Local Bus (7 a.m.~ 6 p.m., 15~20-minute interval, 20-minute ride) at Baekdamsa Temple Ticket Box.
2. Taxi
Taxi takes 20 minutes from Wontong to Yongdae-ri. Follow sequences above.

Inquiries: Mt.Seoraksan National Park Administration Office (Baekdam Branch)
Tel. +82-33-462-2554 (Korean) / Travel Phone +82-33-1330 (Eng, Kor, Jpn, Chn)
Admission: Mt.Seoraksan National Park Administration Office, Baekdam Branch(Fee for Cutural Monument Included)
- Adult (Age 19 or over) : 3,200 won
- Teenager (Age 13 to 18) : 1,200 won
- Children (12 or under) : 600 won
(Group of 30 or more people: 3,000 / 1,000 / 500 won respetively.)

“For a great selection of places to stay with discount prices visit Korea Hotels for more information.

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On Walkabout At: Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Stream

The Cheonggyecheon Stream in downtown Seoul was a controversial project when it was first proposed, but I would think just about everyone would have to agree it is now a winner. The Cheonggyecheon wasn’t always a winner though.

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Since Seoul is surrounded by mountains there are a number of streams that rush down the side of these mountains to drain rain water into the mighty Han River. One of these streams is the Cheonggyecheon. The Cheonggyecheon only tended to be full of water during the summer monsoon season and dry the rest of the year. However, occasionally during periods of heavy rain fall the stream would jump its banks and flood the downtown Seoul area.

old cheongyecheon

To solve the problem with flooding, the Korean monarchy in 1406 under the reign of King Taejong, ordered the construction of a drainage system for the stream to prevent flooding. Workers labored for two years to dredge and expand the stream in order to flood proof the stream. In 1411 more work was done on the stream with up to 53,000 workers building stone embankments and stone bridges across the stream.  However, as Seoul expanded the Cheonggyecheon took on another purpose besides being used for flood prevention, it also became the city sewer. Residents would dump their excrement and trash into the stream so it could all be washed down the stream to the Han River and eventually out to sea. However since water didn’t continuously flow through the stream often the excrement and garbage would just sit in the stream bed. It is easy to imagine how bad Seoul must have smell not to long ago when the local sewer was the Cheonggyecheon that ran right through the center of town. Here is a picture of the Cheonggyecheon right after World War II in September 1945:

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With the end of the Japanese occupation Korean leaders would look to develop the Cheonggyecheon area. In the 1959 South Korean President Syngman Rhee had the Cheonggyecheon covered over with concrete. In 1968 an elevated highway was built over the concrete covered stream in order to relieve traffic congestion in the city:

highwayconstruction

Well now you can see the Cheonggyecheon again and you don’t have to worry about it stinking either because it is no longer a sewer but a city park. The decision to revert the Cheonggyecheon back into a stream was the brain child of former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak who is now the President of South Korea. The then Mayor Lee wanted to use the Cheonggyecheon project to jump start urban renewal in Seoul. The urban renewal did not come cheap though:

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The construction of the Cheonggyecheon began in July 2003 and concluded to much fanfare in September 2005. The total budget was a whopping 386,739 million won and just like any construction project in Korea it had it’s own corruption scandal as well.  Despite the costs and scandals the Cheonggyecheon has become one of the signature landmarks of Seoul that is enjoyed by people of all ages. Visitors to the Cheonggyecheon can explore the stream by following a couple of recommended walking courses:

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For this posting I decided to walk Course 1 from Dongdaemun to downtown Seoul. Here is where I began my walk in the Dongdaemun area of Seoul:

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Compare the above picture of the Cheonggyecheon now to what it was just a few short years ago:

elevated highway

I definitely prefer the stream over the highway that is for sure. Anyway as I continued down the stream I noticed this huge statue on one of the bridges near Dongdaemun:

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This statue is of a garment worker Chon Tae-il who set himself on fire on November 13, 1970 in protest of the poor worker’s conditions at the time.  Continuing down the stream it is quite obvious the kids love walking across the various stone paths across the stream:

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Here is the view back towards the Dongdaemun shopping area:

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Here is one of the various bridges that crosses the Cheonggyecheon:

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Every bridge across the Cheonggyecheon is drastically different from each other with the above brick bridge being one of the more tamer bridges. From this bridge I started following the path adjacent to the stream and was able to get some pictures of the fish that live in the stream:

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Here is another picture of a child with his parent walking on one of the stone paths across the stream:

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Here is a waterfall that cascades off of one of the vehicle bridges and into the stream:

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Here is a picture of a young kid playing with the fish in the stream:

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This is one of the things I love about the Cheonggyecheon because a lot of kids in Seoul may have never seen fish in a some what natural setting as this. All throughout my walk I saw kids running towards the stream and pointing out fish to their parents. I think giving kids such an experience is a great return investment for the citizens of Seoul who funded the project.

Besides having different themed bridges the stream also has walls with different themes as well:

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The picture above is a replication of old Koguryeo kingdom paintings while the picture below is a wall with a waterfall:

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One thing you can’t help but see when walking down the Cheonggyecheon are all the drab and ugly buildings of Seoul:

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There can’t be a building uglier than the Jongno Tower though, that seems to loom over Seoul no matter where you are like the all seeing eye of Sauron’s Tower in Mordor:

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Seriously how many buildings out there are more gaudy than the Jongno Tower? Not many. However, something that isn’t to gaudy is this Joseon era bridge that was uncovered during the reclamation of the stream:

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The Gwangtonggyo Bridge was first constructed in 1410 and was the largest bridge in the old Joseon capital of Seoul. The bridge was used by foreign envoys to pass across while visiting Seoul. While passing underneath the bridge you will see inscription on the pillars that describe the repair and maintenance history of the bridge:

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What is most interesting about this bridge is that some of the stone blocks used to construct the bridge has elaborate engravings in them:

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These engravings exist because some of the blocks used to construct the bridge are left over from the construction of the royal tomb of Sindeokwanghu who was the second wife of King Taejo. It is amazing that such cultural history was buried underneath asphalt back in 1959 only to be uncovered again with the opening of the stream in 2005. This is another benefit of the stream, that it is helping to reclaim Seoul’s cultural history.

Continuing down the stream not to far from Gwangtonggyo Bridge is the beginning of the Cheonggyecheon at this large waterfall and fountain:

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This is located in the center of the city and not to far from City Hall. You will know you have reached the beginning of the Cheonggyecheon because you cannot miss the most God awful public sculpture I have ever seen:

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Not only is this sculpture ugly, but it was expensive as well costing the South Korean taxpayer $4 million dollars. The artists who made this monstrosity found it to be so ugly they haven’t even come to Seoul to see it. Personally, I have always thought it looks like Mr. Hanky mixed with food coloring.

I can honestly say despite the costs and scandals the Cheonggyecheon that runs through Seoul today is a huge improvement in the quality of life for the citizens of Seoul. The Cheonggyecheon may not be the San Antonio River Walk, but it is still a step in the right direction in the greening of Seoul.

Most importantly it is one of the few places in the city and the only place in the downtown area where all the citizens of the city can congregate together. You see kids playing with their parents, young couples walking hand and hand, old grandmas sitting on the park benches, and even the rich business elite eating lunch in the shade underneath one of the bridges. It is truly a place for all the citizens of Seoul to enjoy.

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On Walkabout At: Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress in the city of Suwon is a must see tourist site for anyone visiting South Korea.  Suwon is located about 45 minutes south of Seoul and the city’s fortress walls is definitely the most famous feature of this otherwise typical Seoul commuter city.

The impressive fortress walls surround the entire old city of Suwon and are a registered UNESCO World Heritage site:

The fortress is not only impressive to look at, but also features an interesting history:

The idea to build the fortress was first conceived by the Korea’s King Jeongjo (1776-1800). This period of Korean history featured much intrigue within the ruling Yangban class, which ultimately caused King Jeongjo’s father to be murdered. King Jeongjo felt that creating a new, fortified capitol would strengthen the monarchy and dilute the power of the Yangban class. He chose the city of Suwon just south of Seoul to be his new capitol. He moved the tomb of his father to Suwon and began construction of his great fortress in 1794.  Considering that construction began in 1794 by Korean standards the fortress is actually quite new.

There are a variety of old cannons located along the wall.

The fortress was designed by Jeong Yakyong (1762-1836) who was known nationally as one of Korea’s greatest scholars. He envisioned a fortress that balanced the needs of commerce, the welfare of the people, and military defense. The work force he employed to build the fortress was quite extensive. 642 masons, 335 carpenters, 295 plasterers and 11,820 painters and tilers were used. In total an average of 70,000 laborers were used to work on the fortress every year until completion. Jeong also did something that was unusual for this period, he actually paid his workers for their work instead of conscripting forced laborers to build the fortress.


You can see that the day I visited the fortress it was quite overcast, which is not unusual in Korea.

Large rocks and bricks harden the outside portion of the wall and the interior side of the wall is composed of packed dirt.

When construction was completed, the walls averaged a height of nine meters and featured many watch towers, cannons, secret gates, and other fortifications. The total length of the walls is 5 kilometers long. The fortress was the first construction project in Korea to use advanced technology such as cranes to move dirt and blocks into place. It took a total of over 2 years to build the fortress.


I can just imagine the archers shooting arrows on the flanks of any enemy trying to breach these walls.

Beautiful Korean artwork.

Over the years more improvements were made to the fortress, but even these great walls couldn’t save Korea from the bickering and ineffective leadership of the Yangban class that would ultimately lead to the annexation of Korea by Japan nearly a hundred years later. Due to the aftermath of the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War, the walls were heavily damaged. In the 1970?s the Korean government decided to restore the walls to their past glory.

The outer wall that sticks out like a claw around the main entrance gate allows defenders to attack anyone trying to breach the gate from their rear.

Today looking at this great fortress one cannot help but imagine the amount of work that went into creating such a massive project. Though the walls never saw any great climatic battles, they still are impressive to see and good way to spend an afternoon in Korea. To walk around the fortress will take approximately 4 hours. The walk up Paldal Mountain is steep so expect to get a good amount of exercise if you choose to walk up the mountain. From the top of Paldal Mountain you can get a bird’s eye view of Suwon and the surrounding area.

Path up Paldal Mountain.
Secret entrance along the wall.
View of Suwon

My only complaint about the area, if you can call it that, was that I think the city of Suwon can do more with this park. IMHO I think the city should try to give incentives to home owners adjacent to the wall in old Suwon to fix up their houses to look more aesthetic and dare I say more traditionally Korean instead of the many drab buildings adjacent to the fortress now. If the city inside the walls is known as the old city of Suwon shouldn’t it look that way?

Watchtower on top of Paldal Hill.

However, as I said before make sure you check out the Suwon Fortress at least once while here in Korea. The crowds amazingly enough are not very large even on weekends. Reaching Suwon is easy as well; just take the Seoul city subway to Suwon Station and then have a taxi take you to the fortress. It’s that easy. Now getting up Paldal Mountain and around the entire fortress, that’s a different story.

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On Walkabout At: The Taskforce Smith Memorial In South Korea

This week is the 60th anniversary of the first US military engagement against the invading North Korean forces during the Korean War.  The hastily deployed US Army unit from Japan was called Taskforce Smith after their commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Smith.  Taskforce Smith fought bravely, but were ultimately overwhelmed by the superior North Korean men and equipment.  This first US battle of the Korean War would be a precursor of things to come as the US military fought for 3 and a half years on the Korean peninsula.   Today just north of  the South Korean city of Suwon the battle site can be visited.  On the hill the Taskforce Smith soldiers garrisoned back on July 5, 1950 a large memorial constructed by the Korean government stands to commemorate the battle that introduced the first US soldiers to combat in Korea.

The front of the memorial is lined with the flags of all the United Nations countries that provided troops during the Korean War:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Something I have seen quite often at memorials commemorating a US action during the Korean War is that they are called UN actions instead of American actions:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Yes, technically the Korean War was a UN action, but Taskforce Smith just like the bulk of the UN fighting in Korea was handled by American soldiers. If you look at tourist brochures or signs in Osan the memorial is also labeled a UN site as well. Click on the image below to enlarge it and take a look for yourself:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

It may seem like a trivial point, but why then are memorials to battles during the Korean War by the ROK Army not called a UN memorial site as well? Call me paranoid, but it seems like just another subtle way to down play the involvement of the US military during the Korean War, which I have seem plenty of in Korea.

At least this map of the battle identifies the US forces:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Anyway the statue on the memorial like most memorial statues in Korea is quite good:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Koreans for whatever reason really excel at making some really good, detailed memorial statues. After checking out the memorial you can actually follow a trail and walk up the hill behind the statue and see what the terrain was like that the soldiers of Taskforce Smith found themselves on that fateful day 60 years ago:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Before entering the tree line make sure you take a look back towards the road:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Across the street you can see the adjacent hill that also garrisoned soldiers of Taskforce Smith. Along the side of the hill you can see another memorial marker:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

This memorial marker commemorates the first UN soldier killed in the Korean War. The soldier’s name was PVT Kenneth Shadrick, 20, of Wyoming, WV who died by machine gun fire along the side of the road engaging a North Korean tank with a bazooka. The monument was across the street thus I would be risking my life trying to get over there with the speeding traffic on the highway that runs between the two hills. A pedestrian overpass would be a most addition here.

As I entered into the woods there was very little I could see due to the thick underbrush:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Along the way though I was still able to make out old bunkers that were garrisoned by soldiers during the Korean War:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Additionally some of the old trench lines that run on the hillside are still maintained for use by the ROK Army today:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

Due to the thick underbrush there is no view from the top of the hill. However, during the Korean War the soldiers of Taskforce Smith would have had a commanding view of the northern farming plain in front of them. Here is the best view I could get which on the mid-slope of the hill of the view towards the north:

Picture from the Taskforce Smith Memorial In Korea

There are still some rice paddies, but most of the plain to the north has now been covered over with buildings. However, during the Korean War the soldiers of Taskforce Smith would have been able to see the North Korean army coming from quite some distance. I can’t help but wonder what those guys must have been thinking seeing thousands of North Korean soldiers advancing with tanks leading the way coming right for their one single battalion?

The memorial can be found on the side of the northbound lane of Highway 1 between Osan and Suwon. You cannot reach the memorial from the southbound lane, you must take the northbound lane. The site is not marked in English and the best landmark to spot it is to use the KTX tracks. When you pass underneath the KTX tracks you will start climbing up the hill and then keep a sharp look out for the memorial and the parking lot to your right. Make sure you don’t miss it because like I said you cannot reach it from the southbound lane which means you would have to turn around twice to reach the memorial. This is not an easy thing to do on Highway 1.

Definitely give this place a visit if you are in the area.

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On Walkabout On: Kamak Mountain, South Korea

Besides being the 59th anniversary of the Battle of the Kapyong, this week is also the anniversary of the Battle of the Imjim, which is best known by the last stand of the Glorious Glosters on Hill 235.  The British Gloucestershire Battalion held Hill 235 over 4 days before finally being defeated by the numerically superior Chinese force.  However, the stand of the Glosters on Hill 235 allowed the United Nations Forces time to regroup and repel the Chinese’s 1951 spring offensive:

Here is how Hill 235 & Kamaksan Mountain looks today when viewed from Google Earth:

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As good as Google Earth is to see a battlefield it is still best to visit the battlefield yourself, which below are pictures I took while visiting Korea such as this picture of Hill 235 where the British made their ill fated last stand:

The Battle of Solma-ri - Hill 235

Here is the memorial to the Battle of Solma-ri at the base of Hill 235:

Gloster Memorial in Korea

However, the best place to get an overview of the terrain that was fought over during the Battle of the Imjim is to climb the highest peak in the area, which is Kamaksan Mountain at 675 meters:

Korea's Kamaksan Mountain

Kamaksan during the Battle of the Imjim was controlled by the Chinese during the battle.  Later on in this posting you will see how much of a piece of key terrain this mountain is that the Chinese controlled during almost the entirety of the battle.  This picture below shows how the elevation of the mountain easily exceeds all the other hills in the area around the Imjim River:

Kamaksan Mountain Viewed from Hill 205

The trailhead up Kamaksan mountain is across the street and a short walk from the Gloster Memorial.  The person working the ticket gate at the memorial is who pointed out to me where the trail up Kamaksan begins.  The fact that Kamaksan is a piece of key terrain is still evident today with the variety of bunkers that line the sides of the trail up the mountain that are still used by the modern day Korean military:

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Most of the trail up the mountain is surrounded by a thick cover of forest.  About half way up the mountain I got my first look down towards Hill 235 where the Glosters made their last stand as well as a view over the nearby village of Jeokseong:

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Further up the mountain I could see the ridgeline that during the Battle of Solma-ri that some Gloster soldiers decided to try and run across towards the 1st ROK Division lines:

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These soldiers were met with heavy machine gun fire from the Chinese the minute they exposed themselves on the saddle, which as the above image shows the ridgeline was easily visible from the Chinese held Kamaksan Mountain. These soldiers were ompletely surrounded and being fired at from above so they laid down their weapons and surrendered to the Chinese. Some other soldiers would leave the column to try and escape on their own but they to would eventually be rounded up and captured as well.

The defile in the above picture is also where the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) led by Lieutenant Colonel Dionisio Ojeda tried to break through the Chinese lines to rescue the Glosters, but ultimately failed.  The Chinese by controlling Kamaksan mountain could see everything going on around the Imjim region and always had the high ground during any engagements.

After about a couple of hours of hiking I made it to the summit of the mountain.  The walk up was really quite pleasant with very few people on the trail.  I saw about 8 people all day on the trail.  Anyone who does a lot of hiking in Korea can tell you that often times a trail can be filled with people, especially trails near Seoul.  However, Kamaksan had few hikers on it despite its proximity to Seoul.  The summit of the mountain is capped with a ROK Army watchtower which provides an incredible view across the Imjim region.  Here is the view looking towards the west and the Imjim River:

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The south side of the Imjim River in the above photo would have been a full scale battle zone during the Battle of the Imjim, which is today just peaceful farming land.  Here is the view looking northwest across the Imjim River and into North Korea in the distance:

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Everything just looks so beautiful and peaceful when viewed from the summit of this mountain that it is hard to believe that the most heavily fortified border in the world along with the world’s most repressive regime North Korea, is just a short distance across the Imjim River.

Here is the view looking towards the north and upper reaches of the Imjim River in South Korea:

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Here is the view towards the northeast that shows the rift valley running north from the city of Dongducheon towards the Cheolwon Valley:

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Along the slopes of the mountain you can see the radio relay facilities used by the Korean and US armies.  Here is the view looking towards the east where the US military installation Camp Casey is tucked away into the slopes below Soyo Mountain:

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Here is another view towards the east where the city of Dongducheon can be seen stretching south away from Camp Casey:

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The growth of Dongducheon is just incredible when viewed from above for those of us who have seen it grow over the years.  Probably the most odd thing to see on the summit of Kamaksan is a large statue of the Virgin Mary:

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This surprising statue looks towards North Korea and was put here as a religious beacon offering hope towards the impoverished people of North Korea:

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Finally here is the prominent rock face on Kamak Mountain that drops off from the summit and can be seen from all around the Imjim region:

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That concludes my profile of Kamak Mountain.  For those wanting to visit the site themselves there are buses that run to Jeokseong from the downtown Uijongbu bus terminal.  The Gloster Memorial can actually be walked to from Jeokseong, but you could always take a cab as well.  Even if you are not into Korean War history, Kamak Mountain is still a great place to go hiking since it is one of the most scenic mountains in Gyeongi-do province.  I just think any visit to the mountain is just enhanced by understanding the tactical importance of this mountain during the Korean War and the heroic efforts of the British soldiers who died on the slopes below it in their efforts to defend South Korea from communist aggression during the Korean War.

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On Walkabout In: Korea’s Gapyong Valley

There was plenty of pivotal battles during the Korean War, which defeat for the United Nations Forces could have meant the loss of the entire war. The Battle of  Gapyong (also spelled Kapyong) was one of these pivotal battles.  This battle occurred between 22-25 April, 1951 when the British 27th Commonwealth brigade reinforced with New Zealand, Canadian, & Australian soldiers plus a US tank company fought this heroic pitched battle against the communist Chinese forces:

To the North of Kapyong the Kapyong river goes to the base of the 1200 foot Myeongji-san mountains. It is in these mountains that the Commonwealth Brigade held off the Chinese for two days allowing rear UN forces to retreat without being destroyed.  In honor of the 59th anniversary of this battle I figured I would post a profile of pictures of the monuments and battle sites in the valley that I took while visiting Korea:

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At the southern end of the valley is the actual village of Gapyong where the British Commonwealth Korean War Memorial is located:

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What I find most interesting about this memorial is that it is located no where near where the battle took place.  The actual Battle of the Gapyong took place about five miles further up the valley.  Just north of the city of Gapyong the valley is actually quite wide with rice paddies covering the floor of the valley:

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The hills surrounding the valley are not very high, but they are extremely steep:

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Eventually Highway 75, the road that traverses the valley climbs a small hill in the central area of the valley near a bend in the Gapyong River.  This hill is where the British Middlesex Regiment was located at during the Battle of Gapyong:

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Below is the view from the hill overlooking the Gapyong River looking north towards the Canadian and Australian positions:

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By being on the terrain the British held it was easy to understand how tactically important this hill was in controlling the Gapyong Valley.  Here is how the British view from the valley would have looked like back in 1951:

Here is the view on the valley floor along the Gapyong River just north of the British positions:

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Here is the view from the river looking back towards the hill the British occupied during the battle:

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The bend in the Gapyong River creates a low lying circular flat land on the east side of the river that allows for some productive farm land for rice.  Here is the view from this farm land looking back once again towards the hills the British Middlesex Regiment occupied:

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On the west side of the river just north of the river bend is where the Canadian Korean War Memorial is located:

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Behind the Canadian Korean War Memorial you can see the modern day ridge line that these heroic Canadians defended:

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Just north of the Canadian Memorial the valley widens up again which of course means more productive farming land:

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At the end of the valley is the small farming community of Mokdong:

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All around Mokdong is fields of rice that are watered by the abundant amount of water that flows from the Gapyong River and its various tributaries that meet here:

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Just north of Mokdong is where the ANZAC Korean War Memorial is located.  For those that don’t know, an ANZAC is a soldier from the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps that was first formed to fight in World War I and became renowned for their combat actions on the beaches of Gallipoli.  Probably the only battle that even comes close to rivaling the courage shown by the ANZAC’s in Gallipoli where those that fought in Gapyong.

The Australian portion of memorial is located at the entrance to the site:

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At the back end of the site is the New Zealand portion of the memorial:

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This hillside pictured on the left side of the road is where the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) augmented with the US A Company 72nd Tank Regiment, was located at:

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This picture here further shows some of the hills the 3RAR would have occupied during the battle:

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I was surprised by how low in elevation the ridge line the Australians occupied really was.  By visiting the terrain it only made me appreciate even more how heroic their stand against the Chinese was.  Something else I was surprised to see was that across the street from the ANZAC War Memorial was a French flag flying with a UN and South Korean flag:

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The French had no involvement in the Battle of the Gapyong Valley and I knew of no other battle in this area the French were involved in, so with keen interest I crossed the street to check the site out.

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The memorial had engraved in French, Korean, and English:

For Freedom

December 1951, this bridge was dedicated by the engineers of the US 2nd Infantry Division to Captain Goupil, first commander of the Korean Company of the United Nations French Battalion, killed September 26, 1951 at Heartbreak Ridge.

Heartbreak Ridge was no where near this location, but the French Battalion was part of the 2nd Infantry Division so this is probably why the bridge was named after the French Captain by the 2nd Infantry Division engineers.   Anyway here is a picture of the bridge that was built that I have a hard time believing was a 1951 vintage bridge:

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The stream that ran in front of the memorial that eventually flows into the Gapyong River, was the forward line for the 3RAR and the valley north of this point is where the advancing Chinese forces that surrounded the Australian soldiers and American tanks would have come down:

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From this stream I then went back towards the west and followed the Gapyong River further up into the mountains.  Here is the entrance to the valley that the Chinese soldiers that surrounded the Canadian forces would have stormed down back in April 1951:

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Today the valley is really scenic with a number of hotels and restaurants along the banks of the river:

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There is also a number of old Korean homes with small farms that give the valley a bit of a rustic feeling:

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On hot summer days Korean tourists like to sit out in the waters of the Gapyong River to cool off, which causes the valley to filled with cars parked along the side of the road:

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From the upper reaches of the Gapyong River here is the view looking back towards the Canadian positions:

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This picture shows once again the positions the Canadians would have held, but gives a perspective of how steep the hill sides that the Chinese soldiers would have had to climb to attack the Canadians:

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Seeing the terrain the Australians held gave me an appreciation of the difficult fight they had trying to defend it, while seeing the terrain the Canadians held gave me an appreciation of how difficult it must have been for the Chinese soldiers ordered to charge up these hill sides must have been.  The Chinese may have been the enemy, but seeing the terrain made me admire their bravery as well as the bravery of the lone Canadian battalion that was surrounded one this ridge line by the thousands of Chinese soldiers.

For anyone that has an interest in the Korean War or those of you from countries that make up the British Commonwealth force that fought in the Korean War I highly recommend taking a trip out to see the Gapyong Valley.  The city of Gapyong is easily reached by train or bus from Seoul, but to get to the various memorials and battle sites located through out the valley, your best bet is to hire a taxi in Gapyong if you don’t have your own vehicle to get around with.  It will take up a whole day to see all the sites, but it is well worth it to experience the history enshrined in this scenic Korean valley.

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On Walkabout Featured On Korea.Net

This is pretty cool, if you go over to www.korea.net, the official website of the Korean government, my posting on Hwanseon Cave in Korea’s Gangwon-do province is featured on the front page under the Blogging On Korea section:

You can read my two part posting on the cave below:

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Picture of the Day: Potty Training Japanese Style

This a potty training device for toddlers that is available on the Japanese Amazon site.  For those that haven’t been to Japan before they have a very advanced toilet culture which as this picture shows begins at a very young age.  If you are wondering this potty training device for those interested will only set you back about $1000.

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