With few urban areas to speak of, it’s bucolic countryside all the way east of Jeonju. Easily accessible on a day-trip from the provincial capital are the wonderful twin peaks of Maisan Provincial Park. Between these lies Tapsa, one of Korea’s most distinctive temples, surrounded by otherworldly spires of stacked rock that, though built without bonding agents and attacked by regular typhoons and snowstorms, continue to stand tall. Pushing on further east you’ll soon hit the slopes of Deogyusan National Park, home to the popular ski resort Muju.
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Maisan Provincial Park
Maisan Provincial Park
Korea’s pine-clad mountain ranges tend to look rather similar to each other. One exception is tiny MAISAN PROVINCIAL PARK (마이산 도립 공원), or “horse-ear Mountains”, so-named after two of its peaks. It’s easy to reach Maisan by bus on a day-trip from Jeonju, via the small town of Jinan (진안). The park is within walking distance of Jinan’s decaying bus terminal, but most opt for taking a taxi along the lake to the main entrance north of the park – the fifteen-minute trip should cost around W4000, though many drivers will try to get you to go to the more distant Tapsa entrance for around three times that price. At the northern entrance are restaurants and a couple of places to stay, and from here steep flights of energy-sapping stairs take you between the horses’ ears and over the scalp, where you’ll probably need a rest. Unfortunately it’s not possible to climb the peaks, which were closed for regeneration at the time of writing; the path up the western ear is due to reopen in 2014. Despite the threat of heavy fines and the fact that hikers stand out like a sore thumb, people still flout the rule.
If you continue between the peaks, you’ll soon come to Unsusa, a dainty temple surrounded by flowers in warmer months, while further down the mountain is the highly popular temple of Tapsa (탑사), Maisan’s real gem, which sits in a surreal clasp of stacked rock. Mildly Gaudíesque in appearance, the near-hundred-strong towers were the work of one monk, Yi Kap-myong (1860–1957), who apparently used no adhesive in their construction, even though some are over 10m high.