Now under the jurisdiction of Incheon, South Korea's fifth-largest island and its surrounding neighbors were once part of a separate county. Since the Goryeo Dynasty, the island played an important role in defending the mainland (remains of fortresses and memorial sites attest to its turbulent history), but since the construction of the Ganghwa Bridge it now feels more like part of the mainland.
Famous for the high-quality insam (ginseng) that grows here (you can buy some to take home with you at the Insam Center), the island is also known for its 80 dolmen (called the Ganghwa Goindol in Korean), prehistoric rock tombs built by Megalithic cultures in the 1st millennium B.C. These, in conjunction with dolmen found in Gochang and Hwasun in Jeolla-do, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The largest of their kind in South Korea, the Ganghwa Goindol are located about a kilometer from Hajeom. Although the purpose of these dolmen are a mystery, similar ones have been found in North Korea, Manchuria, central Asia, and as far away as Europe. Additionally, the island is home to five sacred mountains and the Bomeonsa (Treasure Gate Temple), one of South Korea's eight special shrines for the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Although most visitors come to see the island as a day trip from Seoul, there is enough to see here to warrant at least 2 or 3 days of exploring. There are no high-end hotels on the island, but there are a dozen smaller yeoinsuk (motels) and yeogwan, all of about the same price and quality, and nearly all of them in the center of town.
- © Frommer's 2013
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