Damyang? people always ask me when I talk about Danyang. It's a more popular area because it has a bamboo forest and although I assume it is very beautiful, Danyang (without the M) is one of my favorite places so far. Maybe because of the one syllable difference, Danyang isn't as well know by the expat community, which is a shame because there is much to see. Lush green mountains with rivers and the biggest lake of Korea, there is enough to keep you occupied a couple of days.
In August 2012 I just arrived in Korea and was bored because I didn't have anything to do yet. That's when I had an idea to go for a trip to Danyang to snap some pictures. Few people in this country speak English and I had a very, very basic understanding of Korean at the time, so my wife arranged everything for me. She had found a hostel and arranged a taxi for me to check out all the sights in two days. Public transport is basically non-existent so you need some other form of transportation to be able to see all the sights. After 1 hour in the subway and a 2.5 hour train ride through beautiful mountain scenery, I arrived at my destination.
The owner of the hostel I was staying at waited for me at the train station. We walked to his car and he opened the tailgate so I could put my bags in the car. I heard 'Hello!' coming from the back seat twice; his two grandsons of no more than 6 to 8 years old looked at me smiling. On the way to the pension, the boys tried all the English words they knew on me and looked proud when I responded. It was more interaction than I had with the owner, because he could only speak Korean and I did not understand most of what he said. I tried a conversation about the weather with the little Korean I did know (I’m such a Dutchie), because it was raining and I have a lot of experience with rain… He made a dismissive gesture with his hand and said something like that it would stop raining soon (or so I thought, not knowing that the whole time I was there it would be one hour dry in total).
After fifteen minutes I arrived at the pension, but I did not have much time because the taxi was already waiting for me to drive me around. I stepped in and said hello. The taxi driver looked at me, responded with a hello as well, turned, and looked through his windshield again. We where silent for at least 2 minutes, while I wondered why he did not start the car and he probably asked himself where my wife was, who he recently talked with on the phone. After those two minutes he asked me: 'Are you alone?' 'Yes,' I replied.'Shall we go then?' I responded with a 'Yes' again.
Thus began my Lost in Translation by taxi adventure of driving through the Korean countryside for two days. The taxidriver first took me to an old Korean fortress, or so I thought at that moment, but at home my wife told me that it is a movie set that was especially built for all the classic Korean movies and series that are produced there. Maybe I should have gotten the hint when I saw two maintenance guys removing some illustrations from one of the buildings. Danyang Ondal Open Film Set it is called and it is really worth a visit because Ondal Cave is right next to it. Although smaller than Gosu Cave it is still a beautiful experience to walk through.
Next up was Guinsa temple, a Buddhist temple built on top of a hill and with a lot of stairs. It was a lot of climbing and although the mist was obscuring the view, it was worth going to the top. Several buildings on the complex are interesting, but I haven't seen anything like Great Teacher Hall in Korea. It is gold colored, which is kind of unusual for a Buddhist temple building here in Korea. It rained all the time, but that made the area more interesting to photograph. The mist in the mountains was giving the area a mystic feeling, and to date it is still one of my favorite temples in Korea.
I also took a boat tour on Chungjuho Lake, which was formed by damming a river. Although I am in my 30s, I was the youngest person on the boat. It was more a boat trip for seniors, including a karaokeset playing Korean hits of the ‘60 & '70s for the whole trip, but don't let that deter you! The views on the lake are gorgeous, and although I wasn't really lucky weather wise (rain again), I managed to get some nice pictures.
Although many of the sights in Danyang are probably reachable by public transport, many of the sights on the river are not. Here the taxi comes in handy. The most famous one is Dodamsambong Peaks; three rocks in the middle of the river. You'll see Korean tourists taking the typical touristic snapshots of themselves with the rocks in the background.
The most interesting of these sights for me is Sainam rock. This rock is less visited than Dodamsambong Peaks because it is more difficult to get to, but photographically it's more interesting. While I was taking pictures, my driver was waiting at a local shop. After I found him there he offered me coffee and because my Korean was awful I could not say much so we sat for a while.
Communication with my chauffeur was difficult at best. For instance, he took me to a national park, on the intention that I would only visit the large waterfall there. Beyond the waterfall however, I saw a sign with ‘6km to the next sight’ and thought: ‘Come on, that wouldn’t take that long to get to!’ After a while the taxi driver became worried when I didn’t return as quickly as he thought I would, and called my wife to ask where I was. He was so scared that I was lost that he even convinced the park ranger to come look for me. After I had apologized, I treated him to the local specialty (garlic Bulgogi), although my pronunciation was so horrible that I could not make him understand that it was my treat without showing him a message from my wife on my phone. Even though I couldn't communicate very well at that time, it was worth to visit for the beautiful nature alone. Danyang is still on my list to return to someday.