Get in touch with your inner zen in Hongcheon county, located in Gangwon Province. South Koreans visit this region for healing of the body and mind with spa therapies, invigorating outdoor activities, and healthy food.
Ginseng—used for centuries for its healing properties—thrives in Hongcheon’s fresh water and air. Wander through the Ginkgo Forest to see the ground cast in a golden carpet of fallen leaves. The swathe of brilliant trees were planted by a husband concerned about his wife’s health.
Unwind in a wellness center tucked below soaring mountains and embraced by tranquil nature. Hot springs bubble with water believed to soothe eczema, hypertension, arthritis, and fatigue. Soak in a bath infused with fragrant herbs. Your skin will feel silky as though some kind of mysterious anti-aging process has begun. Feel your worries melt away with a soothing massage. Sweat away stress in a sauna. Detach from the world you left behind with a digital detox program to relax body and brain. Nibble on one (or two) tasty and equally healthy brown rice cookies. Buckwheat noodles are not only flavorful, but packed with sustenance.
Hongcheon is a natural wonderland year-round. In the cooler months, crowds bundle up and gather around the Hongcheon River for ice fishing. Sled down the hills at Vivaldi Park Snow World and see the shiny ice sculptures. In the warmer months bright azaleas bloom, in the fall the foliage transform into a vivid blaze of color, and in the winter snow drapes the landscape. The mist-shrouded mountains of Saneum National Recreational Forest are a patchwork of organized trails surrounded by lofty pine, oak, and maple trees. During a hike, try to imagine the peak of Gongjaksan Mountain looking like outstretched peacock wings.
The hilly crests and tranquil woods are ideal for moments of solitude. It’s easy to slip into a state of peace at the Sutasa Temple, built by Monk Wonhyo in 708 A.D. Let your eyes relish the sight of delicately-painted traditional pillars and walls draped by a gabled roof. The temple’s bronze bell has been hanging here for centuries. See the biography of Buddha, considered a national treasure, preserved inside. This place compels the faithful to come pray at this tranquil temple, nestled among pine colonies and glassy ponds.
Despite the bright colors adorning Hongcheon’s pagodas, it is actually the color black that was once revered. Visit the gallery and workshop of a local known as the “alchemist of flame” to see how he studies fire and soil to determine how white porcelain can be transformed into dark, bringing back to life a ceramic art form that was once popular during the Goryeo dynasty. You can even try your hand at making the metallic-looking pottery, followed by a tea ceremony with the artists’ daughters.
Hongcheon’s is a gentle introduction to South Korea’s spiritual and serene side.