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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrOff South Korea’s north-western coast is where you’ll find this charming island destination, one which still manages to fly under most Western tourists’ radar, although it is home to one of the country’s most important archaeological sites. The Gangwa Dolmen is part of a trio of UNESCO-listed prehistoric sites, each dating from a different era and displaying varying characteristics, whether pertaining to size, age or shape. South Korea is so rich in these types of ruins that many tourists will literally hike right past them without understanding their significance. Even local farmers, who have taken to collecting ‘rocks’ for building purposes have been guilty of ruining these priceless relics. It certainly pays to have some knowledge of dolmens in order to better appreciate their importance.
On Gangwado, you’ll find plenty of English-language maps inside the tourist office of the main bus terminal, although rarely will you find a staff member who actually speaks English. Do your research beforehand, however, and you should be able to explore the island without too much trouble at all.
Aside the dolmens, the island is also home to an outdoor temple brimming with ancient stone statues. Make your visit a day-long outing and you’ll have a rewarding time away from the bustle of Seoul.
The island has suffered quite a few trials over the millennia thanks to its strategic location. There are old citadels to explore, Buddhist monasteries to admire and plenty of hiking options for those who want to stretch their legs beyond the dolmen site. Mt Manisan, a hill merely 500m high, boasts gentle hiking trails and grants amazing views from its peak.
Ganghwa Dolmen siteOf the three main dolmen sites in South Korea, which include those of Hwasun County and Gochang County, this island-site is arguably the easiest to reach for those on a short Seoul stop over. The hour-long drive over the connecting bridge making it convenient enough as a day trip excursion from the capital.
The Ganghwa dolmen site is particularly revered for its tabletop dolmens, which are the most photographed and perhaps iconic relics of all. The on-site History Museum covers the gamma of anthropological and archaeological studies on the island and covers its history from prehistoric times right up to the present day. Much like Hwasun, this is also an open site and can be accessed at any time. The Museum requires a 1000 KRW fee and is open 9am-6pm every day except Mondays.
To the uninitiated, ancient archaeological sites may seem dull and uninteresting. If you’ve ever visited the ancient city of Troy , in modern-day Turkey you will certainly understand what we mean. Sometimes, simply knowing that ‘large stones positioned in a particular way’, are historically important, is not enough to entice a WOW factor. So what to do?
Much as in Turkey, the archaeological ruins in South Korea are set amidst splendid natural surroundings, in three of the most beautiful counties in the country. Head out for hours long bus rides only to look at one of the three dolmen-cluster sites, and you may not come home all that impressed. Yet including several days’ hikes and visits to other interesting sites, however, will go a long way in ensuring your comprehensive appreciation of the dolmens will be increased tenfold.
Bomunsa TempleThis stunning seaside temple is built with a grotto and is a revered spot for local women, who often pray here in the hope of giving birth to sons. The temple is hard to get to, yet grants fantastic coastal views. Although it actually takes more time to reach it, than you’d ever need to see it, it’s a well worthwhile trip to make. Bomunsa is found on Seokmodo Island, just a little off shore from Ganghwado.
Ganghwado is a mostly rural place and a world away from the skyscraper filled cities of North Korea. Find your adventurous spirit when visiting Seoul and head off for a full day of enticing exploration, way off the beaten trail.
Travel TipAlthough Gangwa Island is close to Seoul, it is quite difficult to explore it easily with public transport. If you are not confident enough to hire a car for the day, do consider hiring a taxi for an entire day. you can do this from the main bus station on teh island, and you can expect to spend about KRW120,000.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Apr 04, 2016