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Geumsan

Geumsan is a small country town in the hills just south of Daejeon. Well known for its insam, this little town is responsible for about 70% of Korea's ginseng production. If you happen to be visiting in the fall, don't miss the annual Geumsan Insam Festival, which includes traditional folk performances, ginseng cooking contests, and all things ginseng, of course.

Buses from Seoul's Express Bus Terminal go to Geumsan about every 1 1/2 to 2 hours, daily from 6:30am to 6:30pm. Bus fares range from the regular W10,100 to W16,200 for a fancier bus.

You can also make a stop in Daejeon and transfer to a Geumsan-bound bus from there. You can take buses or trains to Daejeon from Seoul or any number of major cities. Buses from Daejeon run about every 30 minutes to Geumsan.

To get to the Geumsan Ginseng and Medicinal Herb Market, just walk about 5 minutes from the Geumsan Bus Terminal (follow the signs on the main drag). The best time to come is when the ginseng has been freshly harvested in the fall. The marketplace consists of a large alleyway lined with shops selling the root as well as a variety of other medicinal herbs. The Susam Center (which sells the root fresh), the Ginseng Agricultural Cooperative, and the Ginseng Shopping Center are all located in the area. Try the insam makgeolli (milky rice wine made with ginseng) or deep-fried ginseng for only W1,000 from one of the street vendors here. You might not want to buy any dry roots to arouse the suspicions of Customs officers, but you can get a bag of red ginseng candy as a souvenir.

If you're in the area for more than a day, you might want to try a hike in Daedunsan Provincial Park, which is reachable via local bus from Geumsan. Although the peaks aren't very high, the hike will still give you a workout and you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the craggy rocks and the valley below. The easiest way to the top is by taking the cable car, W5,000 round-trip, W3,000 one-way. About a 10-minute walk from the cable car station is the best part of the mountains, the Geumgang Gureum (Cloud Bridge), a suspension bridge built across a crevasse 81m (266 ft.) high. Another 10-minute walk from the bridge brings you to a metal staircase that leads to the top and a wonderful view. Entrance to the park is W1,300.

Geumsan is a small village with no large hotels, but there are a handful of older motels in the downtown area. One economical option is the Hwanggeumjang Motel, 429 Jungdo-li, Geumsan-eup, Geumsan-gun, Chungcheongnam-do (tel. 041/753-2828). Although the owners only speak Korean, they're friendly and will give you a standard room for W25,000. The hotel is just about a 5-minute walk from the bus station.

Boryeong & Daecheon

A small seaside village on the coast of Chungcheongnam-do, Boryeong is known for its beaches. Its most famous beach, Daecheon Beach, is the site of the annual Boryeong Mud Festival (tel. 041/930-3820 or -3822; www.mudfestival.or.kr), which is hugely popular with foreigners living in South Korea and happens every year in July. The mud from the area's beaches is sold throughout the country for its healthful and cosmetic properties. A bunch of small rural islands lie off its coast in the Yellow Sea, some of which can be reached by ferry from Daecheon Port.

Boryeong is on the Jung-ang Rail Line, which connects to Seoul via the Gyeongbu Line. From Seoul, take a train to Yeongdeungpo Station and transfer to a train to Daecheon Station.

The Seohaean Expressway (15) connects Boryeong, Seoul, Jeolla-do, and nearby coastal towns. Trains and buses run more frequently from Seoul (with travel time doubled on the roads) during high season, from early July to late August. From the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, take a bus headed for Daecheon. Buses run daily from 6:40am to 5:50pm, taking about 3 hours. From Seoul's Express Bus Terminal, buses headed for Daecheon run daily from 6am to 9:50pm, taking about 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Other than the tourist info booth (tel. 041/932-2023) in front of Daecheon Station, there is a tourist information center (tel. 041/933-7051) inside the Mud House in Daecheon Beach, open 9am to 6pm daily.

The best beach on the west coast is Daecheon Beach, located about 12km (7 1/2 miles) west of Boryeong. The shallow beach and warm waters make this an ideal beach for swimming. If you come during the popular summer months, you'll think that most of South Korea had pretty much the same idea that you did. The mud from this beach is supposed to have astringent qualities and benefit the skin, yielding mud packs, mud soaps, and other beauty products. The southern end of the beach is usually more quiet, with private homes. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the beach's noise and tourist attractions. At this veritable playground for Koreans, there are plenty of bars, nightclubs, noraebang (karaoke rooms), billiard rooms, cafes, and hwae (raw fish) restaurants.

If you want to experience a mud bath, the Boryeong Mud House (tel. 041/931-4022) offers a mud bath, sauna, and "aroma spa" for only W3,000. Massages and mud packs cost extra and you can get a number of mud products (including mud shampoo) to take home with you.

South of Boryeong is the small Muchangpo Beach, the first beach opened to the public on the west coast (in 1928). Although it's not very populous or favored by tourists, if you time your visit right, you can see the "Moses Miracle" parting of the sea on a smaller scale but similar to Jin-do. In the middle and end of each lunar month, the water recedes and reveals the mud and rock below. There you can join the locals in catching baby octopus, sea cucumbers, and various shellfish that normally live underwater. From Daecheon, the city bus takes about 40 minutes.

There are plenty of places to sleep in the Daecheon Beach area. If you don't mind sleeping on the floor, there are dozens of minbak. Doubles are W30,000 on off-season weekdays, W50,000 on weekends. They charge an extra W5,000 per person for up to four. High season, rooms go up to W80,000, with an additional W10,000 for each extra person. Motels prices are just a bit higher during high season (comparable in low season), but you'll have a firm bed to sleep on.

The Ocean of Fantasy Motel, 945-15 Sinheuk-dong, Boryeong-si (tel. 041/931-1111; www.oceanoffantasy.com), is a good option if you want a small kitchen. Don't let the name fool you. It's not a love motel but rather good for families (sleeping four, six, or eight). There are motel, condo, or pension-style rooms, all with kitchenettes (the condo rooms have the smallest ones). Their bathrooms are a bit small with only a shower head and no tub, but they're clean and functional. Ask for a room with a balcony on an upper floor to get the best ocean views. Motel-style rooms are the cheapest with off-season weekdays starting at W30,000.

Unless you absolutely have to stay overnight, I'd recommend making Daecheon Beach a day trip from elsewhere, especially during the summer months.

If you visit Boryeong in the winter, you can enjoy the Cheonbuk Oyster Festival, which happens usually in early December. Apparently, the geographic climate of the area and, of course, their much-touted mud help create the best climate for tasty oysters. In the winter, the little devils are grilled over open flames, making their shells pop open and baking the soft meat inside. They are savory, slightly salty, and chewy. You can just have the grilled oysters with some local soju, or try some of the other dishes like raw gul (oysters), pork ribs cooked with oysters, gul bap (rice mixed with oysters), and gul jeon (oyster flatcakes).

If you're feeling more adventurous, another local seafood delicacy is small pen shells. Boryeong accounts for 60% of domestic production for this shellfish and winter is the peak season. Locals eat their myeok gook (seaweed soup) and jook (porridge) with these little shellfish. Another type of seafood that is best in the winter is the ganjaemi, a fish that looks like a small stingray but tastes very similar to skate. Ganjaemi is the most tender in the winter, before their bones get harder and flesh thickens when the water warms. Since it's so soft, locals eat the fish raw, either dipped in a seasoned gochujang or cooked in a maeuntahng.

Seonsan

Located on the end of the Taean peninsula, Seosan is a quiet little fishing town with some interesting historical remains. The most famous is the Seosanmaae Samjong Bulsang (the "Seosan Buddha Triad"; tel. 041/660-2538), located in the hills east of town in Yonghyeon-li, Unsan-myeon. Created during the Baekje era, this bas relief carved on the face of stone cliffs depicts a smiling central Buddha figure with a bodhisattva to the right and a meditating Maitreya to the left. The mountain where these figures are located, Unsan, served as the main thoroughfare of the Taean peninsula and the major passageway from Buyeo to boats heading to China during the Baekje period. This is a prime example of the cultural influence of China at that time. About a kilometer up the road, you'll chance upon Bowonsaji, a former temple site. From the Seosan Bus Terminal, take a bus headed for Unsan, which runs every 10 to 15 minutes and takes about 30 to 40 minutes.

The most important temple in the area is Gaeshimsa, Shinchang-li, Unsan-myeon, Seosan (tel. 041/688-2256), located in the northern part of Deoksan Provincial Park. Founded by Monk Hyegam in A.D. 651, during the 14th year of the reign of Baekje King Uija, it was rebuilt by Monk Cheonueung in the 2nd year of Goryeo King Chungjeong. It was burned down in the 1470s and rebuilt again a decade later. The temple is especially nice during the spring when the valley comes alive with cherry blossoms. From the Seosan Bus Terminal, take a bus bound for Gaeshimsa.

About 12km (7 1/2 miles) southeast of the town is Haemi, home of the former Haemi Fortress, 16, Eumnae-li, Haemi-myeon, Seosan-si, Chungcheongnam-do (tel. 041/660-2540). Built in 1421, during the third year of King Sejo, it was originally built as a prison for captured Japanese invaders. From 1414 to 1651, Haemi served as a center and occasional training spot for the military. In 1866, about 1,000 Catholics were executed here for their beliefs during the Byeonin Persecution. There is a monument for those martyrs near the west gate. The south gate (Nammun) is still in its original form, while the west (Seomun) and east (Dongmun) were renovated in 1974.

An older but similar fortress lies in Hongseong, which is located about midway between Boryeong and Seosan. The Hongseong Simgeumseong was originally made of mud, but later reconstructed with stone. Located behind city hall, the fortress was largely destroyed in an earthquake during the 1970s, but parts of it were rebuilt in 1982. There isn't much left but a restored magistrate's office (from the Joseon Dynasty), a pavilion, and a front gate, but it's still a pleasant walk around its perimeter. Train service is provided from Cheonan and Yongsan Station in Seoul (the ride takes about 2 hr.). Buses run from Seoul's Gangnam Station, Cheonan, and Daejeon.

Cheonan

Cheonan is the second-largest city in Chungcheongnam-do. Cheonan and its neighboring city Asan share a station on the KTX train line and a train from Seoul takes only about half an hour. It is located on the Geongbu Rail Line and it is where the Jung-ang Rail Line branches off, making its way down the province's west side. There is a tourist information center (tel. 041/551-2011; daily 9am-6pm) at the KTX station, where you can get maps, but the staff here only speak Korean.

A few kilometers from the center of town is Taejosan Park, on whose mountain sits one of the largest seated bronze Buddhas in all of Asia, inside the temple Gakwonsa (tel. 041/561-3545). The 15m-high (49-ft.) statue weighs 60 tons and took 2 years to make (1975-77). It was built in hopes of unifying the two Koreas. You will have to walk up 203 stairs (the number represents merit and virtue in the Buddhist religion) to reach it, but you'll be rewarded with a nice view of the city below. Buses run to Gakwonsa regularly from downtown Cheonan.

Located about 15 minutes' ride from the temple is one of the best contemporary art galleries in South Korea, the Arario Gallery, 354-1 Shinbu-dong, Cheonan-si, Chungcheongnam-do (tel. 041/551-5100 or -5101; www.arariogallery.co.kr). With locations in Seoul and Beijing, it represents Korean artists as well as well-known international artists like Antony Gormley, Anselm Kiefer, and Gilbert & George.

The city is most famous to Koreans for having been the birthplace of Korean independence heroine Yu Gwan-Soon, a 17-year-old student who rallied against the repressive Japanese Occupation and was killed for participating in a student uprising in 1919. Independence Hall, 230 Namhwa-li, Mokcheon-eup, Cheonan-si (tel. 041/560-0014; www.i815.or.kr), was built here to memorialize Korea's fight for independence from the Japanese who controlled Korea's fate from the 1870s to 1945. The largest museum in the country, it is even more nationalistic than other Korean museums, which are busting with national pride already. Admission is W2,000 adults, W1,100 teens, W700 children. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 9:30am to 6pm March through October, and until 5pm November to February, with last admissions an hour before closing (open Mon on national holidays). Local bus nos. 320, 350, 352, 380, 381, 382, 390, 400, 410, and 420 go to the museum (the 400-series buses are "seated" buses).

If you're looking for a place to sleep, just cross the street from the bus terminal and walk straight for 1 block and turn right. There you'll find a handful of motels, including Joatel, 455-8 Sinbu-dong, Cheonan-si (tel. 041/622-7942), which opened in 2004. There are PCs, Internet access, and good bathtubs and showers with rooms going for W40,000 to W60,000, with an additional charge of W10,000 on weekends. The only unusual thing is that they won't give you a key, but the owners speak enough English and there's always someone there to let you in.

A more upscale option is the Cheonan Metro Tourist Hotel, 57-9, Daeheung-dong, Cheonan-si (tel. 041/622-8211), an 11-story hotel conveniently located within walking distance from Cheonan Station. Local bus nos. 100, 230, 330, 420, and 900 also stop at the hotel. Their on-site restaurant is affordable and convenient but nothing to write home about. There are standard rooms for W130,000 and suites starting at W210,000.

One of Cheonan's most famous foods is hodo gwaja (walnut cookies), a round, walnut-shaped dough mixed with crushed walnuts and sweet red bean in the middle. Walnuts were first brought to Korea by local Monk Yu Cheongsin, who brought a young tree from China. Since then, Gwangdeoksa has been the largest walnut-producing site in the country. The original walnut tree, which is over 400 years old, still lives at the temple today. All the bakeries in town sell these fun and inexpensive treats. One place near the train station is Cheonandang (tel. 041/555-5111).

Another delicacy of the region is the Byeongcheon soondae, a special kind of Korean blood sausage created here about 50 years ago. Because a pork and ham factory was created in Byeongcheon-myeon, the people used the ox blood and vegetables instead of the usual kimchi and japchae (sweet potato noodles) inside the sausages. The result was a richer sausage that became popular with locals and visitors alike. If you head over to Byeongcheon-li, you'll find a bunch of soondae restaurants located here. The oldest one is Cheonghwajib (tel. 041/564-1558), which sells a bowl of soondae gook (sausage stew) for W5,000 and a plate of soondae for W8,000, which is large enough to share with a friend.

Asan

Asan is located about an hour's drive south of Seoul off the Seoul-Busan Expressway. A small town, it's a popular honeymoon spot for native Koreans because of the Onyang Hot Springs, which Asan has incorporated into its town. It shares a KTX station, the Cheonan-Asan Station, with its neighbor, and the train ride from Seoul takes just about 30 minutes. The city's website is www.asan.go.kr.

The most famous historical site is Hyeonchungsa (tel. 041/539-4600), a shrine built in honor of General Lee Shin-Shin of Turtle Ship fame. Hours are Wednesday to Monday 9am to 6pm (until 5pm Nov-Feb), the last entry is 1 hour before closing. Admission is W500 for adults, W300 for youth, free for children 5 and under and seniors 65 and over. From either the Cheonan Bus Terminal or the train station, take bus no. 900, 910, 920, or any bus heading for Hyeonchungsa. Buses run frequently and it's about an hour's ride. From the Onyang Bus Terminal, take bus no. 900, 910, 920, or any bus headed for the shrine. The ride takes about 15 to 20 minutes.

More fun and relaxing is the Asan Spavis (tel. 041/539-2000; 288-6 Sinsu-li, Ombung-myeon, Asan-si; www.spavis.co.kr), a popular spa and water park located in the Geumho Resort complex. It has a huge wave pool that can fit up to 1,000 people (and I think I've seen that many here during a hot Aug day). The spa is open on weekdays 8am to 10pm, from 7am to 11pm on weekends or holidays; the "bade" pool opens from 9am to 7pm weekdays and 8am to 8pm weekends. The oncheon pool is open 10am to 6pm weekdays, 9am to 7pm weekends; and the water park opens 10am to 6pm daily. For a soak in the oncheon, it's W8,000 for adults, W6,000 for children, but I recommend splurging for the oncheon plus spa (which gives you access to the bade pool and everything else) for W29,000 for adults, W22,000 for kids on weekdays, and W33,000 for adults, W24,000 for children on weekends and holidays. From the Onyang Bus Terminal, cross the street and take bus no. 512 or 980 to Asan Oncheon. The buses run every hour and it's about a 30-minute ride. (A taxi from there will cost about W10,000.) From the Cheonan Bus Terminal, take bus no. 980 to Asan Oncheon. The buses run every hour and take about 45 minutes.

Deoksungsan

Located in Yesan County, the Deoksung mountain ranges are known for their unusual shapes, which locals say look like people or ferocious beasts. The nice thing about Deoksungsan is that it's beautiful but has gentle slopes, which give it good hiking trails for even the less fit. A good hiking course starts from Sudeoksa up to the mountain's peak and then around past Jeonghyesa and back to Sudeoksa. For those looking for a nice soak after a day of hiking, the Duksan Spa Castle (tel. 041/330-8000; 361, Sadong-li, Deosan-myeon, Yesan-gun), which uses water from the 600-year-old Duksan oncheon, is located conveniently nearby.

Sudeoksa (tel. 041/337-6565; 20-beonji, Sacheon-li, Deoksin-myeon, Yesan-gun), the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, is located on the southern slopes. It was one of the few temples not destroyed during the Imjin Waeran (1592-98). Its main hall is one of South Korea's oldest wooden buildings, having been built in 1308 during the Goryeo Dynasty.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.