Words and shots by Barun Sarkar
North Jeolla’s “Horse Mountain” offers trails, legends, and a unique temple experience.
There are plenty of mountains and temples in Korea but none quite make the visual impact of Mt. Mai and Tapsa Temple nestled behind it. Maisan’s distinct peaks resemble the ears of a horse, exactly what “Mai” translates to from Sino-Korean characters. Located in Jinan township of North Jeolla Province, the mountain is one of the area’s main tourist attractions.
From the north parking lot, begin your ascent up a wide set of stairs heading between the two visible peaks. At the top of the stairs lay two trailheads: one heading up 673 meters to the top and a less strenuous trail descending down the other side of the stairs behind the peaks. From the latter trail, one can see a hidden third peak. The horse-like features of ears, deep-set eyes and a long nose can be easily seen on one of the peaks from here. Legend has it two gods bore a child while living on earth, but the family transformed into these three mountains upon their return to the Heavens.
Take a solemn moment to bong the trail’s large traditional drum three times, then continue your trek to a treasure nestled behind the “mother” peak – Tapsa, literally meaning Pagoda Temple. Unlike other temples, Tapsa is surrounded by numerous towers of stacked stones. By some unknown force, the pagoda towers do not fall no matter how harsh the weather. Combined with the rainbow colors of lanterns during Buddha’s birthday, the temple’s picturesque appearance is a step away from the ordinary. As a bonus, catch the impressive collection of parakeets, parrots and even proud peacocks just past the temple grounds.
From Jeonju, take an Intercity Bus to Jinan. From there, grab a local bus or an inexpensive taxi ride to the north parking lot.