Longshan Temple – Taipei, Taiwan

Even if you only have a half day in Taipei make sure you get to the Longshan Temple!  Its a stunning Buddhist temple with regular visitors and local parishoners.  Founded in 1738 as a haven for Chinese immigrants from Fujian the settlers built Longshan in honor of Kuan-in the Buddhist goddess of mercy.

Long Shao Temple

How to get to Longshan Temple
MRT Station: Longshan Station
Hours: 6am to 10pm
Fee: Free

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Longshan (alternately spelled Lungshan) was erected in the Manka district of Taipei.  It was dedicated after the Lungshan temple in their home town and aptly named for the root temple.

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Seoraksan in autumn – Seoul Hiking Group

I love Seoraksan National Park, I hate early mornings.  3 am.  “I can do this!” I thought to myself.

Nope.  I give up, you win this round nature.  I closed my eyes. 5 more minutes was all I needed.  Then I would be ready, after all Seoraksan is famous throughout South Korea for its fall foliage.

The bus slowed to a stop and idle movement turned into shambling zombies slowly rising and departing half asleep.  I willed myself to get up, eyes still closed I peeked with my left.  There was Warren.  No wait.  He was on the other bus.  Gotta channel my inner Warren and get people ready to go!

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Dragging myself off the seat I grabbed my bag and headed into the crisp autumn morning.  Wait, this isn’t morning.  We are here well before the asscrack of dawn.  With any luck we’ll see dawn’s beautiful spectacle from the top of Korea’s 3rd highest peak, Daechongbong.  We started off in the darkness only to find hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Koreans with the same idea.  Never have I ever seen such a traffic jam on a hiking trail!

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Slowly the crowd thinned out as some of us ducked, dived, dipped and dodged our way through the line sneaking ahead only to find the crowd grow dense yet again at the next staircase.  Climbing ever higher the wind began whipping through the leafless trees (at this altitude in mid-October the leaves have already fallen).  A purple-orange hue crept over the horizon threatening to emerge moments too soon.   Forgetting the soreness in my legs I pushed ever onward, stopping only for the occasional traffic jam from 3am all the way until up 1708 meters to the top of Daecheongbong by 6:45!

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Crowded sunrise at the top of Daecheongbong

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My German buddy Peter giving the sunrise a hug from 1708 meters

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What a view!  Last time I tried this hike I was too sore and all too slow.  Yeah this was my second time summiting Daecheongbong but there’s something magical about watching sun rise over the ocean from nearly 2 kilometers up.  Slowly more of our 90 person group wandered to the peak.  We had about a dozen of us up here snacking and snapping away; I knew Jungcheong shelter was just a few hundred meters below and decided to skip a big breakfast at the peak in lieu of warmer conditions.

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Descending is a downright pleasant experience after turning it up to full throttle on Daecheongbong’s steep trails.  We strolled among the branches and rocks and were inspired by Dinosaur Ridge to our right when I suddenly became unsure if my knees would hold out for that exhausting finish.

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Pausing for photo breaks, a few snacks and a regular breather we crossed a river and made it to Huiungak shelter by 9:15 (10am was the latest we could leave if we wanted to attempt Dinosaur Ridge).  Warren and a few dozen of our hiking buddies were waiting and snacking when suddenly Warren told everyone to head to the first peak of Dinosaur Ridge for a picnic.  Up there we’ll have a magnificent view and an abundance of sunshine; the only advantage to Huiungak shelter was a water supply and the ability to buy ramen or canned tuna.

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The steep climb to Dinosaur Ridge’s first peak combines 2 series of rope climbs as we scrambled up the rock face.  In between these treacherous paths lies a narrow, flat, stony walkway.  Here we began to catch some glimpses of fall colors before getting to the final set of ropes.  Pulling hand over hand we ascended to a precipice with a handful of (mostly Korean) tourists and a stunning view.

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Posing at the top of Dinosaur Ridge’s first peak

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Dino Peak Panorama 2

Click for an awesome panorama from Dinosaur Ridge’s first peak

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Geumsan, Namhae Morning Hike – Seoul Hiking Group

Namhae island sports a beautiful array of forested trails so of course Seoul Hiking Group picked the best one for our sunrise hike!  The bus left our sleeping counterparts at the pension at 6am and we arrived at the base of Geumsan shortly after.  The hike began fairly flat through the woods for the first 30 minutes and was a great way to detox from yesterday’s Namhae Oktoberfest and the Jinju Lantern festival two days prior.

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As we neared the mountain the trail grew steeper before we were surprised with a gorgeous cave! Turning around we were awestruck at sunrise peaking over the islands in the distance.  Beneath us sleepy fishing village slowly began waking up on this Sunday morning as we kept climbing.

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A few moments later we found ourselves at a traditional Buddhist temple where we gladly sipped the freshest mountain water I’ve ever had.  Upon refreshing ourselves some remained at this beautiful scene while another handful of our group continued to a few more minutes up to the peak.

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The views from Guesan reminded me of my first trip with Seoul Hiking Group on the island of Saryangdo.  Blue waters surrounding us with small seafaring communities littered the shoreline.  Fall colors enhanced this scene making it even more beautiful than the March island hike that Saryangdo sported.

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Hesitating a few moments more at the shrines of this gorgeous temple we had to turn back down the mountain to catch the bus or run out of time for sea kayaking!

Busan with Seoul Hiking Group – Yonggungsa Temple

Last week I jumped a midnight bus with Seoul Hiking Group and went to Busan for my first time!  Busan is famous for being a wonderful beach town and also historically important since it was the last stronghold the South had before international (aka USA) forces arrived.  Even though the weather was overcast with spots of rain we still had a blast!

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Arriving at 5am we were dead tired and began our mini-vacation with a nap on Haeundae Beach.  Once everyone was settled we could go our separate ways but I opted to stay with Warren and a small group headed for the Yonggungsa Temple._DSC4662 _DSC4659

Approaching the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple we are greeted with an array of authentic Korean food and goods.  Everything from silk worm larvae to ginger root with buddhas in all shapes and sizes among vast quantities of jewelry and knicknacks lines the narrow paved path.  Eventually the vendors are replaced with stoic guardians from the Chinese Zodiac before we pass through a golden gate.

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Soon we can hear the rolling waves of the magnificent Pacific Ocean when all at once the canopy clears and staring right back at you is the Yonggusngsa Temple.  The ocean’s melody brings in a calming feeling even before Buddhist shrines and prayers provide an aura of peace for everyone present.

 

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We relaxed at the temple for a little over an hour before jumping back in the bus and checking into our hostel.  We took a quick shower/nap break before heading to the famous fish market!  Strolling through the fish market can be overwhelming; and I’m not just talking about the half delicious, half ocean, half dead fish smell.  But those pictures are still under development so you’ll have to check back next time!

 

Hiking Namsan in Gyeongju – Seoul Hiking Group

A few weekends ago I took my second trip with Seoul Hiking Group to Gyeongju.  Our first night we stayed in a Yangdong, a lovely hanok village before moving on to the southern city famous for its ancient history and modern beauty.  A shoutout to Warren, Diana and Breanne for organizing another great event! Gyeongju is a former capital in South Korea and holds a wonderful heritage.  Exploring Yangdong was a great way to get started before heading to Namsan mountain.  (yeah its different from the Namsan in Seoul I saw with my students).  Gyeongju’s Namsan is a great hike boasting wooded pathways, ancient Buddhas and royal tombs. _DSC1150 _DSC1153 _DSC0966 We started out strolling along a path and quickly came to a series 3 royal tombs.  Korean tradition is to build these massive mounds for their ancient rulers and they can be found all over Gwangju. _DSC0970 Back on the trail we walked past ancient sculptures as the path became less obvious.  Flowers were in bloom throughout the mountain providing a colorful spritz to each scene.

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_DSC0988 _DSC0990 After crossing a stream we found the first fork and followed Warren’s advice taking a left quickly discovering an intricate carving.  The Three Buddha carving is famous in the area and hundreds of years old! _DSC0998 _DSC0999 _DSC1007 _DSC1014

 

The path continued and Spring grew ever more evident.  Before long we found our first view of the valley so of course I climbed a boulder and struck a pose!

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