Songnisan National Park

Last week I went on a hiking day trip with some friends to Songnisan National Park here in South Korea.  This was an incredible hike with well maintained trails, gorgeous scenery, challenging terrain, and a breathtaking view at the top.  We were lucky enough to have perfect weather all day with fantastic visibility!

This park covers one of central Korea’s finest scenic areas with forested mountains and rocky granite outcrops. Its name means ‘Remote from the Ordinary World Mountain’.  The large temple complex of Beopjusa at the base of the mountain dates back to AD 553, but has often been rebuilt.  The huge, 33m bronze standing Buddha weighs 160 tons and was completed in 1990 at a cost of US$4 million.  Beyond the temple, hiking trails extend up to a series of 1000m-high peaks.

There is a small tourist village just outside the entrance to the park that has a nice variety of stores, restaurants, and a few hotels.  We loaded up with some snacks and drinks before starting the hike.  Inside the park entrance is the Beopjusa Temple with a giant bronze standing Buddha, beautiful pagodas, rock carvings, and ancient relics.

From the entrance, there was almost 2 miles of paved pathway with a little cafe at the end that serves great makgeolli.  Even if you can't or don't want to hike up the mountain, this paved walk and the temple still make it a great place to visit.  When the path changed to dirt, the hike turned into a challenging uphill workout.  There were many steps carved into the rock and some staircases and railings as well.

Hiking under some fun rock formations!

Amazing views!

With my hiking partners :)

Stone carvings at a mountain-top temple

We walked past these rocks a couple times before realizing they were carved into a turtle and a dragon!

Elevation marker at the top of the peak: 1,058m

I have an awesome app on my iPhone called 360 Panorama that records the 360 view all around you.  The top of this peak was the perfect place to use it!

Click on this picture for an interactive 360 view!

Flat view:

"Getting to the top is optional.  Getting down is mandatory."
~Ed Viesturs

Memorial Day - Some Gave All

It has been nearly 15 years to the week that I graduated high school and two weeks later went off to basic training at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to begin my career in the Air Force. Since that time I have had the unique opportunity to experience some incredible adventures, see places all over the world, and accomplish my dream of flying. The most incredible aspect of being in the military though is the people that you work with every day. In the military you have the chance to work alongside people from many different backgrounds, from every corner of the country and the world. All of them are bonded by a sense of pride, not just pride in the country and it's freedoms, but also pride in the job that needs to be done and pride in the people that work together to accomplish that mission. You work nights, you work days. You work outside and indoors. You work in the rain, the snow, and the heat. You work weekdays, you work weekends, and you work holidays. You work at home, and you work overseas. You work with all the best tools and technology, but more often you work with what you have and still make it happen. And through it all, no matter how hard it gets, the people you have at your side will help you along, and sometimes it's that one joke that someone can crack when it gets really bad that makes you want to keep going, because you know that it will be over and you will move on to the next day.

Every Memorial Day I think about those that were not able to move on to the next day. Those that have died serving their country, they have faced all that were given them, and unfortunately met their time. I have known more than a few over the past 15 years that have passed, some close friends, some were those that I had the honor of working with for a short period of time. I always keep them in my thoughts, their death reminds me to make every day count because when it comes down to it, living life to the fullest is what's really important so that in our last moments there are no regrets.

In my travels I have had the chance to visit many different war memorials and military cemeteries. I have had the chance to participate in missing man formations and flyovers honoring those that have fallen. I appreciate every sacrifice that those in uniform make every day and honor all those that have died serving their country, as well as those around them. - Johnnie

American Cemetery - Normandy, France

Plaque near Ground Zero, New York City.

Clark Cemetery outside the former Clark Air Base, Philippines.

Memorial to the Bataan Death March that went through Luzon, Philippines.

Gettysburg National Military Park

War Memorial outside Dubuque, IA

"Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death"
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Korean Folk Village - Part 2 of 2

The Korean Folk Village features over 250 traditional houses and buildings on many acres of land.  You could easily spend most of the day walking through the village.  Just inside the main gate, there is a collection of restaurants and gift shops selling all of the classic Korean souvenir items and a few unique, locally made things.  Walk through this area and the village becomes a beautiful, natural-looking environment with numerous houses, gardens, trees, flowers, animals, demonstrations, and performances.  The village employees are all dressed in traditional clothing and there are even a couple places where you can try on some of the clothing yourself for pictures.  The village appeared to a popular place for both tourists and Korean nationals to visit.

A field ready for planting.

This man was handweaving straw sandals which you could purchase at some of the gift shops.

Johnnie tries out an old bucket carrying system.

Not sure that broom would clean anything, especially dirt floors :)

A traditional Korean "top hat"

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."

At the far end of the village is the Bazaar area.  Here there is a large food court with many different options for Korean food and drinks with lots of seating areas.  There are also more gift shops and vendors.

We found this mannequin leaning over the railing, must have had a rough night :)

Hopping along the stepping stones to cross the river.

There were old punishment and torture devices on display at the Government Office that you could try.  This particular one was used for beating the person tied to it with sticks.

There is a Buddhist temple on the side of the village you can visit.

"A people without the knowledge of their past history,
origin, and culture is like a tree without roots."
~ Marcus Garvey 

Korean Folk Village - Part 1 of 2

The Korean Folk Village, located near the city of Suwon, is a living museum that highlights Korea's traditional folk culture and shows how Koreans lived in the past.  There is a section of the village called "Family Park" that has some rides, a 4D theatre, museums, game room, and even a sledding field for when it snows.  When purchasing your entrance ticket, you have a choice to purchase one for only seeing the Folk Village or adding the Family Park pass for an additional cost.

While Johnnie's sister was visiting, we spent an afternoon at the Folk Village.  This post will highlight the entertainment and tomorrow's post will show what else the village has to offer.  There are performances that occur twice each day at scheduled times and are worth watching.

Acrobatics on Tight-Rope  ~  This older gentleman had incredible balance and a crotch of steel.  He made the audience gasp often as he would take a few steps, fall into a seated position, and return to standing within seconds flat.  Sometimes he straddled the rope (thus the crotch of steel), sometimes sitting, and sometimes kneeling.  He was quick and graceful, holding only a large fan for balance.

Farmer's Dance  ~  This dance is one of the oldest dance forms in Korea.  It was traditionally performed during planting and harvesting, stemming from early records of farmers working to the beat of percussion instruments.  It is characterized by fast-paced music and gravity-defying acrobatic movements.  Dancers have long white streamers attached to their hats which they twirl in beat with the music.

Equestrian Feats  ~  These guys on horseback were fun to watch.  The horses galloped around the small circular arena while the men on their backs hung off the sides of the saddle, did handstands, shot arrows, and did multiple other feats that require amazing balance and physical strength.

Traditional Wedding Ceremony  ~  The intricate outfits and elaborate setup made this very interesting to watch.  The bride and groom each have two attendants who help them throughout the ceremony.  There is a lot of kneeling, standing, and bowing in this very methodical and beautiful ceremony.

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"A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people."
~Mohandis Gandhi