After months of slaving away at the computer, my wife finally completed the monumental task of writing her Master’s thesis the other week. We decided to celebrate by heading up into the mountains east of Gyeognju for a little family “r and r” at Ja-yeon Pension (자연 향기). Living in Gyeongju, it’s rare that I actually get firsthand experience of the dozens (if not hundreds) of accommodation options in the area. However, I’d stumbled on Ja-yeon Pension last fall while exploring a little valley near the Baek-nyeon (100 year) Tea House on Mt. Tohamsan and I couldn’t think of a better place to take a break and get away from it all.
It’s name meaning “Natural Fragrance”, charming doesn’t even begin to describe Ja-yeon Pension. It’s faux Victorian architecture is so enchanting, you’d think the place was made out of ginger bread. Just in case you think that last line is sarcasm, then you have yet to understand my fine appreciation of “kitsch.” And nothing spells “kitch” more than Korean pensions. Just take a look at the photos of the bedrooms, and you’ll see what I mean. You couldn’t get more romantic than this place (at least for a Korean pension that is). Plus it’s a refreshing switch from the drab budget minbaks or sterile tourist hotels all around Gyeognju. Booking last minute, we took the last remaining room for the weekend: the “Cozy” located over the café. I would’ve preferred the plushness of the “Walnut” or “Purple”rooms, but traveling with a teething baby, it was probably good we were away from the other guests.
Nestled in a small farming valley, Ja-Yeon Pension is in a beautiful location. It’s within the boundaries of the Mt. Tohamsan section of Gyeongju National Park, so you’re far away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the tacky tourist development of Bomun resort. It’s also near the ridge line of the mountain, making it a perfect trail head for day hikes. (In fact, Seokguram is hikeable from here, if you head back down the valley and catch the trailhead at the teahouse.)
Perhaps mid March was not quite the best time for a get away at Ja-yeon Pension. The trees and flowers were still dead and brown, and the winter wind still had quite a bite to it, which made us want to stay huddled in doors. But go when the weather’s warmer, and the scenery and gardens will be gorgeous. The only drawback is that Ja-yeon is a bit remote (we passed an elderly couple plowing their fields with an ox, if that tells you anything) and a little bit tricky to get to if you don’t have a car. They do however offer pick up service from the bus stop at Chuwon Village right before the tunnel and you can catch bus no. 100 or 150 from Gyeongju.
Ja-yeon Pension offers a full range of amenities to make your stay more comfortable, like Wi-Fi, big screen TV’s and full kitchens (including mini stoves and refrigerators) in each room, and a brand new swimming pool (available in summer only). They also have a self-service café as well as a grilling tent with meat for sale (the grilling fee is 10,000 won, and the price of the meat varies, but you can bring your own). Also, Ja-yeon is the perfect location for exploring the natural beauty of Mt. Tohamsan and the historic Seokgulam Grotto and Golgulsa and Gerimsa Temples nearby. Also Ja-yeon Pension has easy access to attractions on the coast like King Munmu’s Underwater Tomb, the Ruins of Gamunsa Temple and beaches like Najeong, Bonggil and Jeonchon near the port town of Gampo.
So, if you’re interested in having a unique experience while staying in Gyeonju, I definitely recommend the Ja-yeon Pension. You can find out more information and book rooms through their English website: www.koreagj.com/jypension/ (Internet Explorer only, I’m afraid). The owner speaks excellent English, so you can also call Ja-yeon directly at (0)11-560-0580. However, you should also be aware that Ja-yeon is not a budget accomodation. Their prices range from 60,000 to 190,000 won per night according to room, day and season (we paid about 120,000 won for the “Cozy” a Saturday night in March, to give you an idea). That said, their rates are still cheaper than many of the mammoth tourist hotels down the mountain at Bomun Resort, and I can almost guarantee your time at Ja-yeon will be more worthwhile.
View Golgulsa Temple (골굴사) in a larger map