advertisement

A traditional farming and fishing region, the county and city of Uljin have seen growth since the 1980s, thanks to its nuclear power plant. Being on the coast, it has some nice sandy beaches with fresh seafood restaurants and natural hot springs. Major attractions are all accessible by bus, which runs along the main street in town.

Uljin's most famous tourist attraction is the limestone cave, Seongnyu-gul, which got its name (meaning "the cave where the holy Buddha stayed") because it was the hiding place of an important Buddha statue during the Imjin Waeran. Although it's not the most spectacular of South Korea's caves, it may be the most famous due to the fact that it was the first one opened to tourists in 1963. The area surrounding the cave is blanketed with juniper trees, and a riverside walkway leads to the entrance. Inside, they've lit up the strange formations and columns with colored lights and given them all amusement park-like names. With a cool, humid interior, be aware that there are a couple of low points, which may be difficult if you're tall. There are also a couple of narrow passageways, one especially where you'll have to waddle a bit to squeeze through. Short bus rides are available from Uljin. The cave is open daily from April to October, 8am to 6pm, until 5pm November to March. Entrance costs W2,200 for adults, W1,100 for youth.

The coastal road from the town of Uljin to Bonghwa twists and turns through Bukyeong Valley, which has some spectacular scenery in all four seasons. Be aware that if you visit the area during high tourist season in the summer (July-Aug), you'll have to pay a small admission fee to the Bukyeong Valley County Park.

Hidden inside the valley at the upper part of the park is Bulyeongsa, the "Buddha Shadow Temple." Originally built in 651 by Uisang (its original name was Guryongsa, or "Nine Dragons Temple"), the temple casts a shadow on the lake below that resembles the shape of the Buddha (hence its new name). A well-kept temple on the hillside, it takes 30 minutes by bus from Uljin.

If you continue north, you'll come upon Deokgu Valley, which stretches across Buk-myeon. This valley starts a couple of kilometers from Eungbongsan to Bugu-li and its nuclear power plant. A thick forest, the most beautiful spot in the valley, is home to Deokgu Hot Spring, the country's only natural open-air spa. The spa was discovered by hunters about 600 years ago while they were out hunting wild pig. Unfortunately, the people who run the hot spring have ruined the view with a shiny insulated pipe that runs down the valley, bringing the hot water down to the bathhouse. It's popular in the winter as people soak in the 105°F (41°C) water while surrounded by the snowy landscape. Winter is also a great time to enjoy the local snow crabs while they are in season.

The other oncheon (hot spring) in the area is the Baekam Hot Spring in Onjeong. This was found by a monk named Baekam during the Shilla period. Here, at one of the best known oncheon in the country, the water is about 109°F (43°C) and has a high concentration of sulfur.

After you're done with all this soaking around, be sure to stop by the Wolsong-jeong, built in 1326, during the Joseon period. The pavilion is located a few kilometers north of Pyeonghae, a small farming community, and offers great views of the surrounding mountains.

Also in the county is Mangyang-jeong, a pavilion originally built at the foot of Hyunjongsan in 1858. It was later moved to its current site and expanded in 1958. The name mangyang means "boundless ocean" due to the view that stretches out far into the East Sea.

Uljin's Tourism Office can be reached at tel. 054/782-1501. There is also a tourist info office at the Baekam Hot Springs (tel. 054/789-5480).