Gatbawi is one of many points of interest at the top of Palgongsan, or Palgong Mountain, in Daegu.
It’s called Gatbawi because it has a great big stone Buddha at it’s peak who wears a slab of stone for a hat (Gatbawi = stone hat). Buddhists climb the steps to the top to pray to Gatbawi.
The trek to the top only takes about an hour and a half, but it’s an hour and a half of pure stair-stepping. Steep and narrow, this is one grueling climb to the top. While there is a longer alternative route that is supposed to be easier, I’ve never been interested in taking it because the challenge of the climb is exhilarating.
Along the way, there are several spots to stop and rest and enjoy the improving view from beneath the cover of pagodas, temples, and shrines. There’s also a small outdoor vendor near the top who sells boiled corn on the cob, seasonal beverages (hot medicinal tea in the winter, as well as cold waters year-round), and a traditional taffy candy. The corn is not what you expect. The kernels are very thick and tough to chew through and are relatively flavorless when compared with the super sweet corn available in the U.S (although in all fairness, many varieties of that super sweet corn are super sweet because they have been genetically modified). The taffy candy is nice, but it takes some dedicated and patient sucking (yeah, yeah, go ahead and giggle) before it becomes soft enough to chew.
Another awesome thing about Gatbawi is that it is so easy to get to and it’s virtually free. In the summer heat, it stays nice and cool under the shade of the forest trees.
Just grab the 401 in the direction of Gatbawi and get off at the last stop, which is Gatbawi. No need to pay for tour guides or special tour buses, which usually run around 5,000 won (still cheap, but not really necessary since a regular city bus will only cost about 1,100 won). You can grab the 401 at various bus stops, Banwoldong station being the most centrally located.
The bus arrives about every 11 minutes, with its last pick up from Gatbawi at 10 p.m. You’ll want to allow about three hours for the total hike, so make sure you’re down the mountain in time to catch this last bus. This 3-hour estimate includes time for resting and exploring cool things, like the trail at the top of the mountain leading to a hermitage.
You can grab something to eat or drink (drunk hiking anyone?) at the base of the trail. Avoid the restaurant in the very first gift shop, right by the parking lot where the bus drops you off. Their food is not so awesome and the prices are a little high.
For a better deal, walk about five minutes up the trail and you’ll see a more quaint river spot lined with tree-covered terrace restaurants serving higher quality grub. A lot of smart people also opt to bring their own picnic and if you don’t mind lugging the remaining picnic gear up a super steep mountain than more power to you.
At the top, there is an absolutely breath taking view of the world below. This view is especially nice in the summer months, because the surrounding mountain tops are lush and green. The top of the mountain also has a refreshing cold breeze. Being up above all the surrounding mountain tops, you feel as though you literally have your head in the clouds. While you’re high on the altitude, don’t forget to place a coin on the wishing rock on the right side of Gatbawi. If your coin stays, your wish will come true. Some also say that if you place a coin on the wall, you will get married in the next year. Whether or not this is your wish, it’s fun to try and get the coin to stay put.
Fun fact: there are 1,361 crooked stone steps to the top.