Mount Kumgang, or the Kumgang Mountains, is a spectacular and stunningly beautiful mountain range, also referred to as the diamond or the thousand peak mountains. The mountains are located in the South East corner of North Korea, bordering with South Korea, on the other side of the infamous demilitarised zone. Between 2002 and 2008 hundreds of thousands of tourists from South Korea, in particular, visited the area. Since then it has very much reverted back the ‘the unseen North Korea’ visited by very few international tourists. While the mountains are a hikers delight and one could easily spend weeks here we were limited to an afternoon’s hiking to Kuryong Falls and a short visit to the Samilpo Lake (see seperate review) – but what a delightful afternoon it was.
The hike to the falls was along a well maintained and easily walked path, much of it on specially built walkways, which took us from the car park up along the pristine Singye Stream, a tributary of the Yeongeum River, full of smalls cascades and crystal clear pools – all of which looked delightfully inviting though they were icy cold. The walk was around eight kilometres return and took us just over three hours at a relatively sedate pace, to accommodate all members of the group and give us ample time to take in the stunning views. For those familiar with the waterfall walk at Mount Myohyang – the bush walk experience most frequently undertaken by visitors to North Korea – this walk, while a lot longer, is significantly easier.
While, based on the map in the car park, the falls are almost half way along the Kuryongyon Course that course is not circular and we were assured, in any event, that the track beyond the falls was significantly more difficult than the walk in. Accordingly, after a short rest at the pavilion overlooking the falls we retraced our steps back to the car park.
The Kuryong Falls, a national monument and a UNESCO declared Biosphere Reserve, has a drop of 74 metres across about 84 metres, making it not quite vertical. The falls flow all year round, into a large pond about 13 metres deep. Legend has it that nine dragons once lived in the pond guarding Mt Kumgang. Kuryong means nine dragons.
Rather than give you a blow by blow account of the walk I present a series of pictures I took along the way, with short comments there-on, as appropriate.
Had we had a bit more time (over an hour return) we could have trekked up to another viewing area, at the top of the falls, from which we would have seen the eight Sangphal pools. Sadly we didn’t have the time.
Legend has it that eight fairies flew down from heaven to play in these pools and while here a local man befriended one of the fairies which remained after the others returned to heaven. Over time they had three children but the fairy longed to return to heaven which she eventually did. However, as time passed she missed her children and the beautiful scenery of Mt Kumgang so much that she came back down from heaven and continues to inhabit the area.
It is said that all visitors to Mt Kumgang develop a strong reluctance to leave the mountains without first seeing the falls. I am glad to have had the opportunity do this wonderful walk and see the falls but must confess that seeing the falls did not alleviate my reluctance to leave the mountains. This is one place I could easily have spent much longer exploring. Perhaps, like the fairy, one day I will return to Mt Kumgang.
My next North Korea (2018) – Mt Kumgang review– HERE
Return to the beginning of my North Korea (2018) – Mt Kumgang reviews – HERE