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A day of thrills, chills and delicious crab: Uljin County offers scenic views, natural springs and tasty treats

Feb 08,2019
Above left and top right: The Mount Deunggi Skywalk in Uljin County is 50 meters (164 feet) above the surface of the water and has a glass floor to make the walk more dramatic. Middle right: A hiker looks at the hot spring fountain in Deokgu Valley, an area known for natural hot springs. Above right and right: Uljin, located on the coastline of the East Sea, is where people gather for wintertime treats, such as snow crab and octopus. [LEE SUN-MIN, LIETTO]
ULJIN COUNTY, North Gyeongsang - The first thing you notice about the Mount Deunggi Skywalk that extends out over the East Sea is how high it stands over the surface of the water. Unlike other skywalks offering an impressive view of the landscape high up in the mountains or on cliffs throughout the country, this one adds a different kind of experience - a seemingly precarious walk that is guaranteed to thrill.

At about 50 meters (164 feet) above the water, the bridge stretches 135 meters out to the sea. The bottom of the bridge is clear, scratch-free glass, giving those brave enough to walk across it a clear view of the choppy waves crashing below. A local guide added that sometimes large fish swim below, another unexpected sight for visitors keeping their eyes on what’s beneath them.

And while walking across this skywalk, it’s hard to look anywhere else thanks to the strong winds coming at you from all sides. Instinctively, you will reach out to hold the railings during the walk to keep your balance. Then, you may realize that your foot could probably slip through the open space under the handle and you will find yourself taking every step with care. The chaos from the mix of strong wind and the loud waves is enough to overwhelm you from head to toe, and you look down and remember how high up you are. The squeaky sounds coming from the wood and steel panels on the floor of the skywalk doesn’t help you forget that your hands and legs are shaking in fear.

Thankfully, your tense muscles can take a break in the hot springs of Uljin County. The town has long been known for its natural hot springs, attracting many people before the 1980s from nearby regions for their honeymoon. In the mountain where the hot springs are found, many set up temporary tents to enjoy a hot bath in Deokguk Valley. Although the spot has lost its charm as a hot springs destination after more modern facilities have opened up, many visitors to the town still come out to see where the hot water comes from.

Alongside Deokgu Valley is a hiking trail with a gentle, eight-kilometer (five-mile) slope. It takes just over two hours to walk to where the hot spring facilities get their hot water from and back. As you walk, you can see a pipeline that brings the water from the mountain. At the end of the trail, there is a small fountain of hot water called Wontang where you can take off your shoes and socks to enjoy a foot bath while listening to the sound of chirping birds and appreciating the uniquely-shaped trees around you. You can choose to dry your feet in the sun or use the towels provided. Baths are available at Dukgu Resort, which is located at the end of the pipeline and at the start of the walking trail. The resort offers both indoor and outdoor hot spring bathing areas for visitors, but if you’re looking to venture outdoors, don’t forget to your bathing suit.

After a long day of walking and relaxing, a meal is certainly in order. And Uljin is a place where you can’t have an empty stomach, especially in the winter. The town’s Hupo Harbor is where people gather to try the region’s famous snow crab, which gets tastier day by day until Jan. 15 on the lunar calendar (which falls on Feb. 19 this year) according to many local merchants who share their findings from years of experience. Crabs get fatter until that day and slowly lose their full flavor afterwards.

Locals also say that there’s no such thing as a restaurants that “cooks” the crabs better than any other. Their flavor depends mostly on how much meat the crabs have inside of their shells. Most restaurants prepare the crab the same way - first, steam them, and then make soup with small pieces of meat. Some restaurants dry the leftover steamed meat to eat as a snack.

There are two types of snow crabs available: white or red belly. Generally, white belly snow crabs are sweet, while the red ones have a fuller taste.

Octopus is another wintertime treat that has a thicker smell and deeper taste. It is often steamed and served, but some restaurants in Uljin stir fry it with vegetables and spicy gochujang (fermented red pepper paste). Gomchi, which is a type of cubed snailfish, is also something visitors to the town look forward to. It is usually put in a fish soup, and is widely known as a hangover cure.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

Uljin County, North Gyeongsang, is about 220 kilometers from Seoul. Without traffic it takes about three hours and 30 minutes to get there by car. An express bus is also available from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal. Taking a KTX train to Gangneung and renting a car from there is also an option. Go to www.uljin.go.kr for more information about the county, or call (054) 782-1501. General travel information around Korea can be found by calling 1330.