South Korea 3 – Cave & Penis Park – 11/2014
Returning from our visit to the DMZ, we took a side road to visit the Hwanseon Cave. Personally, I’m not a big cave person. I (Gary) would put spelunking next to ice climbing at the top of the list of things I never want to do, but big cavies are always interesting. The Hwanseon Cave is located in Gangwon Province. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Asia, and the biggest in Korea, with 6.2 km, (3.8 mi), of known passages and a total suspected length of 8 km, (4.9 mi), a mile of which are visited by over 1 million people a year. Situated in a rugged Karst Range near the city of Sachiko. The cave’s 32 ft tall entrance is a grueling 30 to 45 minute uphill hike from the ticket office. To our delight, there is a monorail that we took one way, Swiss style; ride up and walk down.
Once inside, the temperature varies between 10° and 14°C, (50°F and 57°F). The walls spout water from several cracks and seeps, which join to make good-sized streams, waterfalls and ten large pools. Some rooms in the cave are vast, 100 m, (328 ft), tall. Bridges have been built across chasms. The usual fanciful names have been given to the various formations, but the high rate of water flow has prevented the building up of many stalagmites or stalactites. Flowstones, rimstones, popcorn, pipes and curtains are more abundant. A labyrinth of stainless steel walkways allow the visitor to wander for an hour or more through the various chambers. The use of multi-colored LED lights along the walkways adds a fantasyland effect.
Back on the main highway, we couldn’t resist a stop at Haesindang Park, (more commonly known among Westerners as ‘The Penis Park’). As the name would suggest, it’s a park full of penises!!! Before you write this off as a sleazy joke, or an advertisement for a porn shop, consider the history.
According to local legend, a young virgin girl had been dropped off by her lover on a small rocky islet in the bay while he went to check his traps. A storm was brewing and before he could rescue her, she was washed into the sea and downed. Around the same time, the local fishermen began to notice a steep decline in their catch. The fish, it seemed, had all but disappeared. Concluding (as anyone would!) that the young girl’s spirit was haunting the ocean, angry and frustrated after dying a virgin, the locals decided to take drastic action to appease her presumed spirit. And what does a virgin spirit want most??
Well, they used their imagination as you might, and a park was constructed, full to the brim with phallic monuments and statues. Meanwhile, the local men were encouraged to (ahem) ‘relieve’ themselves in the ocean, thus providing some very real offerings for this virgin ghost to sample!
The artistic skills of carvers and sculptures over the years have made this a popular tourist stop, mostly for busloads of older Korean women from what we could see. Clearly, in the fishing village of Sinnam, size does matter.