Korea’s breathtaking beauty can sometimes sneak up on a foreigner. The people of Korea however, sometimes have the beauty of their country down to a science. Naejangsan National Park just north of Gwangju is well-known throughout Korea for its vast expanse of trails lined with Japanese maple trees. These maples put on a display of shades – reds, oranges, yellows, and burgundies – every Autumn, and Koreans know exactly when to take in this annual ritual.
The weekend of November 6-7 was not a festival – it was simply the best weekend to see Naejangsan in all its glory. Considering that Korea is a country only as big as Indiana, yet containing more people than all of California and Indiana combined, that more than 70% of people live in apartments, and that there are only so many places to go outside of one’s apartment, you’ll should believe the next statement. On Saturday, more than 80,000 people visited Naejangsan.
As Warren so deftly put it, “Americans watch football on the weekends; Koreans go to mountains.”
That’s twice as many people as can attend a sold-out Boston Red Sox game. Warren and I drove to Naejangsan at the peak time, and ended up parking in Parking Lot 4 out of 5, which was more than 2 km away from the entrance of the park. It was seemingly absurd how many tour buses from Seoul, Busan, and Gwangju we saw in the parking lots of this National Park. I repeat, this was not a festival. This was not an event. There were no celebrity appearances. The celebrities were the leaves of the trees. The stages were two Buddhist hermitages, and two temples.
So, if you come to Korea in the Fall and want to experience a unique facet of the Korean culture, then ask somebody the best time to go to Naejangsan. If it’s a weekend in the Fall (probably November), then go, and experience the masses. But if you prefer a more exclusive experience, then visit Naejangsan in the Winter after a snowfall. Either way, Naejangsan is worth a visit.
For more photos check out my Flickr album.