Ruby Ramblings

Ganghwa Island
August 16, 2009, 4:25 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Korea, Travel

My three day weekends are dwindling. I’m fairly certain that the wonderful four day work week was just my prize for being one of the “newbies,” and that in two weeks I’ll be back to a five or six day work week. It has been great to have to have long weekends to explore Korea, and this weekend we took the bike out again and headed to the nearby Ganghwa Island. Ganghwa, and several of its neighboring islands are all part of the Metropolitan City of Incheon, even though like Buypeong, they have their own city offices as well. I’m not clear on how municipalities work here.

Ganghwa and Seokmo Islands make great day trips. There is a lot of cultural stuff to be seen, and true to seaside towns everywhere, there is a certain relaxed air along with the cool breeze.

The north side of Ganghwa island is spotted with dolmens, archaeological features made out of gigantic rocks stacked in various shapes. The most common in this area are table dolmens, two to four large rocks form a foundation, and a huge cap stone is placed on top. These rocks cover underground burials.

Table Dolmen

Table Dolmen

We took a road around the island, and headed south.  The island is dotted with military checkpoints, and at one point we took a wrong turn, the soldiers quickly turned us around, looked at our map like they’d never seen one before, and pointed us in a vaguely different direction.

We ended up at Oepo, which we didn’t realize until the next day.  Everytime we showed someone our map, first they acted really confused as to how or why we didn’t know where we were, and then they would flip through the atlas looking for something familiar, but it became pretty clear that map reading is not something many folks are exposed to here.  I suppose that’s true just about everywhere, especially in places where people tend to lead fairly localized lives.

Oepo is a sea town famous for it’s raw fish restaurants.  Neither Jim or I are really big on that, but I talked Jim into being more adventurous about food and we picked one.  After much gesturing and getting nowhere, the waiter finally just dragged us over to the fish tank and motioned for us to pick one.  There were conchs, which we tried one, flat brown spotted fish, and then regular looking long chubby fish.  We tried on of those, having no idea if it was going to be cooked, prepared, or just served whole on a platter.  Here’s what came out first:

Side dishes at the raw fish market

Side dishes at the raw fish market

A seaweed salad, the conch – which was really weird, slimy, salty and slightly bitter, some sort of snail that tasted like clams and we had to fish them out of the shell with toothpicks, the ever-present side of peppers, garlic, and chili sauce, fried shrimp (complete with shells and heads), a fillet of small relatively tasteless fish, some cooked whole shrimp, and basket of greens.

The fish we ordered came out raw on a pile of clear “noodles” cut into delicate little pieces with side of slightly different chili sauce.

DSCN0938It was really good, and then a soup with the head and the tail of the fish in it was brought out.  The soup was fantastic, but really, really spicy.  We managed to avoid the head of the fish, I never knew that fish eyeballs turn completely white when boiled, until the waitress came out and cut up the head with a pair of scissors, releasing the bones, scales and who knows what else into the broth.  It was kind of sad.

Unfortunately, I felt like most everything except our large fish tasted vagely of dirty ocean water, but we got out of the culinary adventure relatively unscathed.

The next morning we hopped a ferry to Seokmo Island, where the very famous Bomunsa temple is nestled on a cliff-side of one of the interior mountains.  It was a lovely area, with a huge, gorgeous temple.  It was the hottest I’ve felt yet this summer, but the place was still teeming with people.

DSCN0955It is a holy site that has several components that have all been combined into one temple.  There is a cave temple that was built around the year 635.  I didn’t get a good shot of it, but in this shot from above the cave looking down on the buildings you can see the top of the rock that is the temple.  Cave temples are one of the things I am really interested in regarding Mongolian archaeology.  Buddhism has been persecuted many times as a religion, particularly in North Eastern Asia. In Korea many of the monks took refuge in the mountains and in Mongolia they went into hiding in caves.  This part of Korea used to be the capitol of the country, and was invaded by Mongols in the mid 1200s.




Also at this site is a 32 foot carving on a cliff face of Buddha constructed in 1928.  It was a difficult and really hot climb up the side of the mountain, but we got to talk with some students whose parents were eager to have the money they spent on English lessons put to use.  We talked for a while with a college student who gave us some information on the area and was really friendly, until it became clear his father was upset his son was spending time talking to us instead of praying.


Hot and exhausted we caught the ferry back to Ganghwa and did a tour around the south end of the island, which was a huge mistake.  There was an enormous sea of people going to the beach that day, and between people trying to park along the road and all the folks walking, it was impossible to get anywhere.  The beach wasn’t a sandy beach like we think of it, it was low tide, and a giant mud flat where people were digging for shellfish, rolling around in the healthy benefits of sea mud, and generally getting sun baked.  Who needs mudfest?  Folks can come to the beaches and get covered in mud anytime.

We finally made it through and made a pit stop at one more temple before riding home.  I was so tired at this point, even I couldn’t find much to be excited about.  Jeondeungsa temple seemed very new to me, and in fact several new temple buildings were under construction.  People were buying slate roof tiles and writing things on them that I assume where going to be blessed and then used on the roofs of the new buildings.

I did like this temple that had “guards” in the doors.  I wasn’t sure if they were there to keep evil spirits out, or to bonk lazy practitioners such as myself on the head as people walk in.


We finally headed back to the Incheon mainland, feeling culturally fulfilled.  We got quite lost, and a really generous Korean man in a car saw us scratching our heads and looking at street signs.  He was trying to give us directions, but then just decided to go out of his way and drive us to the intersection we needed.  It was such a great ending to the day to have someone go so much out of their way.

As we were following him, we noticed he was driving a Ford.

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’m very much culinary adventurous but you know reading about slimy snail it really doesn’t sound attractive whatsoever. Of course I would probably eat it.
That story reminded me on “The Devil’s Picnic” by Taras Grescoe. Have you read it? If not you should. I’m sure you’d like it very much indeed.

Comment by Milan

We get so excited about dolmen in Europe, and here they are in Korea!

Comment by Book Bird Dog

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