In the mountains, height is not always everything. At only 685 meters, Maisan Mountain, located in Jianan-gun, Jeollabuk-do, may not be very high, but it offers magnificent views of nearby peaks and unique topography. From its summit, the view of Tapsa Temple, with its mysterious 80-stone pagodas, is alone worth the leisurely climb.
A 2 hour drive from Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Force Base, Maisan is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city that offers great hiking.
Many visitors visit the mountain several times a year, as its landscape changes with the season and, to match, so does its name.
Maisan means “horse ear mountain”, since its peaks resemble a horse’s ear. In the spring it is called “dotdaebongmeaning “mast peaks”, as it resembles the mast of a boat floating on the ocean as the spring mist lifts. Her summer name is “Yonggakbongwhich means “dragon horn peaks”, as the peaks sticking out against the sky and the green wood surrounding it look very much like a dragon and its horn. In the fall, it’s called “maibongor “horse’s ear” because in the glow of autumn leaves the woodpeckers look like horse’s ears. Ultimately, “munpilbong“, its winter name, means “ink brush peaks”, since the peaks that cut through the snow are shaped like brushes dipped in black ink.
There are many hiking trails on the mountain, but for a trail of moderate difficulty, try a 3-hour detour around Tapsa Temple (2000KRW, or $1.73, for temple and hiking trail admission) with easy access to the temple.
Most tourists visit this area for the temple, so from the trailhead near the south parking lot (2000KRW, or $1.73 for parking) it’s an easy walk and gives direct access. Expecting a harder trail, I brought hiking poles, which I didn’t need at all.
Before arriving at Tapsa Temple ticket office, stop to have a look at Geumdangsa Temple, which is free. In this temple, visitors can take a look at a 300-year-old Buddha portrait.
After passing the ticket office, the path is lined for about two kilometers with cherry blossom trees providing lovely shade and, in the spring, a great place to view the pale pink blossoms.
Tapsa’s scenery is so different from anything I’ve seen at other temples in Korea. When you reach the main temple area, you will feel like you have entered a different world. There are many pagodas to catch your eye with Ammaibong Peak providing a beautiful backdrop. Although it is said that there were over 120 hand-built stone pagodas of all shapes and sizes at one time, today only 80 remain. These 80 pagodas still manage to give to the temple an aura of mystery.
According to local history, the towers were erected in the early 1900s by layman Lee Gap Yong, who lived from 1860 to 1957. Lee spent several decades there developing his spirit and praying for the redemption of the non- believers as he built the stone pagodas. .
Although the story that he built the structures alone is still told to this day, adding to the mysterious atmosphere of this temple, the current belief is that he had an assistant. These pagodas built from native rock look fragile to the eye, but they have stood for over 100 years and have even survived many typhoons over the years.
The tallest twin pagodas, called “Cheonjitap”, are behind the temple and many believers and tourists bow to them as they are believed to hold supernatural power.
If the initial hike to the temple doesn’t tire you, hike up the trail with access to the summit of Ammaibong Peak. There you will see a third temple, Eunsusa, at the foot of the mountain. The hike to the top is a little steep, but there are steel guardrails to help hikers. This stone peak has a distinct surface due to “taponi”, a topographical phenomenon that makes the stone look like a honeycomb.
Visit Maisain Mountain several times to admire the changing landscape. It’s a great place for a relaxing walk through Korean history.
Things to know
Address: 30, Maisan-ro, Jinan-eup, Jinan-gun, Jeollabuk-do
Hours: 9am – 6pm (Mar – Oct), 9am – 5pm (Nov – Feb)
Admission fee: 1000 to 3000 KRW
Parking fees: 2000 to 3000 KRW
Do you like mountain hiking?
Where is the trail?
Deung-san-loneun eodie innayo?
Let’s go camping next weekend!
Da-eum ju-mare kaemping-gayo!
Where can I buy camping gear?
Kaemping jangbi-neun eodiseo sal su isseoyo?
There’s a sporting goods store I like in Seoul.
Seoul-e naega joh-a-ha-neun yong-pum-jeom-i isseoyo.
What supplies do I need? You will need a tent, sleeping bag, backpack, hiking shoes, flashlight and a warm jacket.
Eotteon junbimuri piryohalkkayo? Tenteu, chimnang, baenang, deungsanhwa, sonjeondeung, ttatteutan jakesi piryohal geoeyo.
How long does it take to climb to the top?
Jeongsangkkaji ol-la-ga-neun-de eol-ma-na geol-lyeo-yo?
The landscape is so beautiful!
Punggyeongi neomu yeppeoyo!
Will we have a picnic? Yes, let’s buy lunch and snacks at the grocery store to eat on the trail.
Uri so-pung ganeun geoyeyo? Ne, super-e-seo deung-san-gaseo meogeul jeomsim-irang gansik jom gachi sayo.
Rejuvenate with bibimbap with wild vegetables from the region and fried ginseng
After the hike to Tapsa Temple, I strolled down the restaurant lane down to the parking lot to assuage my hunger for the local specialty. Many traditional Korean restaurants specializing in wild vegetable and herb dishes lined the path leading to the temple entrance. I thought I should try my luck by just walking into the first restaurant that caught my eye.
As I walked towards Chogajeongdam, I noticed the impressive ink and wash paintings of Mount Maisan hanging on the walls. The dining room was clean and spacious, but I chose a spot on the patio to cool off in the mountain breeze.
Chogajeongdam mainly serves wild vegetable bibimbap and various traditional Korean dishes. I chose the basic wild herb bibimbap with a refreshing soybean paste soup sprinkled with dried prawns.
Unlike the standard bibimbap, white rice topped with vegetables and gochujang (chilli paste, soy sauce), the bibimbap here came with all the ingredients in a separate dish. Another difference was the lack of colored ingredients. Instead, eight different ingredients – ragwort, mulberry leaves, acanthopanax, thistle, fern, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms and black mushrooms – and a variety of textures provided a combination of savory and delicate flavors, making it the best mountain delicacy.
Each bite offered a mouthful of bursting flavor and the seasoning was perfect. It wasn’t salty at all, nor too spicy. Even the Kimchi that accompanies the bibimbap was not too salty, which makes it easier to appreciate the flavors.
Root of the case
Ginseng, a root of plants of the genus Panax, is a specialty of this region. Try the fried ginseng (2,500 KRW, or $2.16 each) at a small restaurant near the Chogajeongdam. Although the restaurant has no name, you can easily find it, just keep an eye out for the sign with a ginseng root illustration. The lovely golden fried roots are also on display outside the restaurant.
Basically, ginseng tastes bitter, but the fried ginseng I bit into had a different flavor than I’ve ever had before! The restaurant owner said that when ginseng is fried with vegetables like onions and carrots, it becomes a delicacy. It was really a good way to recover my strength after a hike.
Things to know
Address: 60-1, Dongchon-ri, Maryeong-myeon, Jinan-gun, Jeollabuk-do
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.