The Saejae Bicycle Path is one of the shortest (100 km) certification paths. However, it offers plenty of scenic mountain vistas and historic treasures.
First, this hilly outcrop, bedecked with oversized stones and pines, attracted the famed musician Ureuk (우륵). He would perch upon a bolder, gaze out into the South Han River and strum his gayageum (가야금), a traditional stringed Korean instrument, plucked like a zither.
During the time of the Three Kingdoms, Ureuk foresaw the overthrow of the Goguryeo (고구려; 37 BCE ~ 668 ACE) and the ascension of the Kingdom of Silla. The Silla king, therefore, recognized Ureuk as the preeminent musician of the land.
Sin Rip’s Twelve Trips
From Busan in the southeast, the imperial army stormed north, wiping out all villages and settlements. After crossing the Mungyeong Saejae Pass, they landed in Chungju City (충주시), in the middle of the peninsula.
On June 7, 1592, Korea’s decimated southern army met with northern reinforcements on the Chungju plains, today’s downtown Chungju City. The succeeding battle was to be their last stand. If they fell, the Japanese army had a clear path to Hanyang (Seoul), the Joseon capital.
Korea’s commanding general, Sin Rip (신립), station himself on a Daemun Mountain cliff in Tangeumdae Park. Overlooking the battle, he cheered on his troops and fired his longbow into the enemy invaders.
To improve his accuracy, Sin Rip sprinted up and down the cliff-side and soaked his bow strings in the South Han’s waters.
Japan’s experienced army and superior artillery defeated Korea’s battle fatigued troops. Sin Rip lost almost all of his 8,000 men. In disgrace, he drowned himself in the South Han.
Inside the park today, find a statue dedicated to Sin Rip and the cliff where he sprinted up and down, now called Yeoldudae (열두대) or “twelve,” the number of trips Sin Rip made.
Tangeumdae also holds a cultural museum, sculpture park, sport facilities, and more.
Picnickers have long visited the gravel beach before Sujupal to eat a roll of gimbap, drink tea, and watch the Dal Stream burst through the rock wall and spill down Kal Rock Falls (칼바위폭포).
Other nearby attractions include:
Since the Kingdom of Goryeo (고려; 918 BCE ~ 1392 ACE), visitors dropped by this mountain outpost along the Sobaek Mountain Range and bathed in the 53°C (127°F) hot springs. Bathers believed the mineral infused water, gushing from 250 meters below, arrested the hands of father time.
Beginning in the 1800s, and reaching its peak in the 1980s, entrepreneurs have snatched up prime spots where the heated springs boil up and built hotels and spas snatched on top.
Not the resort type? Drop by Multang Park (물탕공원) near the Suanbo Oncheon Certification Center (수안보온천인증센터). There, find a free foot bath (낙안정). Soak your footsies in the mineral rich water and test out the fountain-of-youth claims.
In the late 1700s, Western powers and religions arrived at Korea’s doorstep. At first, the Joseon Dynasty tolerated Catholic missionaries. But as more Koreans began adopting foreign ideas and disregarding customary Confucian practices, Joseon leaders began a series of persecutions in the 1800s that martyred thousands of priests and converts.
During these persecutions, many Catholic teachers fled Seoul and Gyeonggi Province and hid in the Sobaek Mountains. However, the central government caught up with most of these missionaries and executed them.
- Catholic preachers quietly held mass there.
- Japanese occupiers used it as an office from 1910 to 1945.
- And it was the site of Catholic persecutions in the 1800s.
Near the old hanok, builders found three “hyeong-gu-dol” stone (형구돌), torso-sized rocks with a hole in the middle. Created to kill Catholics, Joseon executioners would stick a rope through stone and over the convert, then, like a tourniquet, tighten the rope until death.
Over the years, Catholic donors and believers erected a series of monuments to commemorate the martyrs.
The largest memorial was a Cathedral completed in 2016 commemorate Hwang Seok-du (황석두). A Yeonpung Town native, he was killed in the Byeongin Persecution (병인박해) of 1866 and became one of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints.
Here is what you can find in Yeonpung Holy Land:
- 200th Anniversary Hwang Seok-du Cathedral — a 1,200 square meter church with red brick walls, vaulted wooden ceilings, and stained glass windows.
- Yeonpung Hyangcheong — an old hanok house that was once a make-shift church and government office.
- Four “hyeong-gu-dol” stones on pedestals which were once used to martyr Catholics.
- The tomb and a statue of Hwang Seok-du (황석두).
- Statues of five prominent saints killed during the Byeongin Persecution.
- An 8.5 meter Crucifix perched over walking paths.
Ihwa Pass Tunnel (이화령터널), which crowns the summit, lets sightseers switch between two municipalities, each with their own viewing platform.
Crowding this summit, find some notables:
The provincial park also includes an innumerable chest of historic and contemporary treasures, including:
- Mungyeong Saejae Open Set Studio (문경새재 오픈 세트장) — where several historical TV dramas were shot.
- Museum of Old Roads (옛길박물관) — containing exhibits and background of the Great Yeongnam and more ancient Korean roads.
- Mungyeong Saejae Youth Hostel (문경새재유스호스텔)
- Five temples, three mineral springs and waterfalls, and mountain trails.
Gomo Mountain Fortress
The Kingdom of Silla (신라; 57 BCE ~ 935 ACE) built Gomo Mountain Fortress (고모산성) in the 5th century. Perched in the mountains northwest of Jinnamgyoban Area, it protected the main pathway connecting the Han River to the southeast Yeongnam Region during the Three Kingdoms period.
Builders constructed the fortress’s 1.3 kilometer stone walls, measuring between 10 to 20-meters tall, along Gomo Mountain’s cliffs for extra protection.
Climb to the top of Gomo Mountain Fortress’s southern wall and catch a panoramic view of Mungyeong Road (문경대로) shoot through a cliff-face and over the horseshoe riverbend.
Tokkibiri Cliffside Road
Part of the ancient Great Yeongnam Road that linked Seoul to Busan, when Goguryeo’s conquering armies marched southward in the 500s, they came upon this treacherous stretch and thought it a dead-end. Just then, a Gogoreyeo General spotted a rabbit hopping along the mountainside rocks, leading the way. Hence the name “Rabbit Road.”
Mungyeong Omija Theme Tunnel
Mungyeong Omija Theme Tunnel (문경오미자테마터널) burrows through the mountains north of the Jinnamgyoban Area. Once named Seokhyeon Tunnel, it was a part of the Mungyeong Line, transporting coal loaded trains between Mungyeong Town and Jeomchon.
Mungyeong City transformed this disused bit of infrastructure into a tourist trap. Inside the tunnel, find a wine store and photo-zones adorned with cartoon murals and colored lights.
However, years of low interest led operators to close this section down. Now the railbike travels 3.6 kilometers between Gurangri Station (구랑리역) and Jinnam Station (진남역), which lies on the northwest tip of the Jinnamgyoban Area.
Builders used Yeong River rocks to build Buljeong Station’s main building in 1954. It closed in 1993, two years before the industrial train line shuttered operations.
The local government transformed a few old train cars into a pension (vacation home). They tried using the old tracks, which wind around Jinnamgyoban’s horseshoe river bend, to launch the Mungyeong Rail Bike. However, because of the remote location, both the pension and railbike section stopped in the mid-2010s.