One of the many nice things about living in Seoul is you’re never more than an hour’s commuter train ride away from somewhere much more relaxing.
Last weekend, I finally had a sort-of-free Sunday, so I broke out the camera and hopped on the 5:30 train from Cheongnyangni to Yangsu-ri to catch the sunrise from Sujongsa, a Buddhist temple high on a mountain overlooking the confluence of the Namhangang and Bukhangang rivers.
If you’re lucky and the weather’s right (autumn and spring are the best times for this), the mist and clouds gather in the river valley below the temple, producing breathtaking sunrises like this.
I wasn’t so lucky—clouds were gathering down river, but nothing above Yangsu-ri. Still, there are worse ways to spend a morning.
Aside from the views, most people come to Sujongsa to enjoy a cup of tea at Samjeongheon, the temple’s teahouse.
The temple has a long and illustrious history with tea. Noted tea enthusiast Jeong Yak-yong—whose pen name was, afterall, Dasan (“Tea Mountain”)—was born and died in Namyangju. Jeong developed a liking for tea from Buddhist monks in Gangjin, where he was sent in exile for the C word (Catholicism). When his exile was lifted and he returned to Hanyang (Seoul), he maintained a relationship with one of his students in Gangjin, a Zen monk name Choui, who learned the “way of tea” from Jeong. When Choui came up to the capital to visit his old teacher, he would stay at Sujongsa, which, it just so happened, had wonderful water for boiling tea. The two men would meet at the temple to chat over a few cups of tea. They were sometimes joined by another tea lover, the great caligrapher “Chusa” Kim Jeong-hui. Choui is now known as the man who revived Korea’s tea culture after centuries of official discouragement by the country’s Confucian leadership, who associated tea-drinking with Buddhism.
To celebrate its history with tea, Sujongsa built in 2000 a wonderful teahouse, the Samjeongheon, the place where “poetry, Zen and tea” meet. It’s a popular spot for tea enthusiasts (and hikers), thanks to both the tea (which is free!) and the spectacular views from the plate glass windows overlooking Yangsu-ri. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant place to enjoy a cup of tea in Korea, especially on a quiet winter morning.
“Where Two Waters Meet”
As the name of the town would suggest, Yangsu-ri (also called Dumulmeori) is where two bodies—the Namhangang and Bukhangang rivers—meet, forming a lake-like pool. In the days before the construction of the Paldang Dam, yellow-sailed boats like this one (painted by American artist Lilian May Miller) called hwangpo dotdanbae plied these waters. To celebrate the town’s history as a river port, there are a couple of boats tied up at a park area on the river for the benefit of visiting photographers. You want to get here before sunrise, when the river—again, depending on the weather—really steams up, producing wondering images like the ones on this guy’s blog, the definitive blog to photographing Yangsu-ri.
I got there a bit later in the morning, so not a lot of mist. Plenty of reeds, though.
Being a popular weekend retreat for Seoulites, there are plenty of cafes and places to eat in and around Yangsu-ri. One of the better-known places is Giwajip Sundubu (T. 031 576-9009), a short taxi ride from Ungilsan Station. Sundubu (uncurdled tofu) fans will love it. It’s a pretty busy place—check out the parking lot when you arrive—but the tofu’s great, and at 7,000 won, you can’t go wrong.
If you’re going to Sujongsa, get off at Ungilsan Station and walk or take a cab. If you’re going to Yangsu-ri, get off at Yangsu Station and walk or take a cab. To get there before sunrise, you need to take the first train out of Cheongnyangni at 5:30 am.
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