May 28, 2013 by travelinggrits
Tracing South Korea’s World Heritage sites has been an exercise in navigation. Case in point: riding Gochang’s only city bus to a stop on the side of a highway surrounded by green barley fields and trekking off in the direction of an inconspicuous brown sign labeled with “Gochang Dolmens Museum” in Korean.
Thus I arrived at the Stonehenge of Korea: the dolmens.
Like the Stonehenge, Korea’s dolmens also have an element of mystery. We do know that they were built as grave markers, but why Korea in particular has the largest concentration of these megaliths in the world–over 30,000–is unclear. The dolmen are concentrated in three major sites along the west coast, some built like giant doorframes and others with only the capstone visible like a rock that experienced a growth spurt sometime during the past few thousand years.
I chose to visit the largest group of dolmens, just outside the town of Gochang in the southwest province. The accompanying museum was simple and in some areas felt like the material was being stretched (there’s only so much you can say about these rocks – but I guess a place like Gochang must capitalize off the tourist draw). There was a panel with a nice overview of the other Korean UNESCO sites as well as other ones around the world.
My companion and I took a family-friendly train ride out to the dolmen for a nominal fee. It didn’t take too long to give the rocks a good once-over, but the weather was pleasant and the green hillside peaceful.
On the way back through Gochang, we tried some of the town’s famous grilled eel and took a stroll on the Gochangeupseong fortress wall in the waning afternoon light.
Perhaps the mark of a well-seasoned traveler is not touring the big cities and bright lights but discovering the charming pockets of culture in the countryside. If so defined, those pursuing the gems of the UNESCO list will be well-traveled indeed.