“The mercury in the underground palace is a cool 16 degree Celsius despite the scorching summer a few steps away where light could touch. Every step a precarious one, and every drop of falling water a precious respite from the warmth of the body. One slip could mean falling in the abyss of limestone infinity. I quicken my pace, artfully dodging overhead formations and contorting my body to fit into tiny openings, taking only what’s needed before scurrying along.”
I was in Gosu Cave (고수동굴).
Designated as a natural monument (no. 256), Gosu is a limestone cave, formed between 400 and 500 million years ago, located in Danyang-gun (단양군). The cave itself is estimated to be around 150,000 years old. The grotto, with the explorable length measuring 1.7km, is in its maturity stage and offers scenic (something ghostly) cradles of stalactite and stalagmite formations created by eroded shelves and subterranean water.
The area got its name from the past when it was filled with fields of tall grasses. “Gosu” means “field of tall reeds”. It is also where prehistoric animals walked the land as fossils were prominently display near the entrance of the cave.
Inside the cave, the temperature remains a cool 16 degree Celsius all year round, and is a popular destination for people looking to escape the 35 degree Celsius Korean summer (or the -20 degree Celsius bitter winter). Humidity level is 96.9%, so don’t be surprised if it “rains” in the cave. In the summer, this is probably welcomed though.
Visitors can explore up to 1.7km of the cave (course A) although the cave measures a full 5.4km. The metal walkway winds up and down the limestone caverns and are very narrow at some sections which presents a massive (no pun intended) challenge for plus-sized folks (although, to be honest, it’s hard to find such people given the nation’s obsession with staying fit and slim).
The cave is outfitted with subdued lighting, enough to take pictures provided you crank up the ISO setting of your camera. I wouldn’t recommend using flash as you’d lose the ambient setting.
The real challenge, however, is that each time you stop to take a picture, it means the trail of people behind you stops too. The “pressure” of not wanting to hold up everyone makes the entire journey feel like a hurried one. Stop to take a picture, then scurry along to the next photo point. End to end, it takes less than an hour to walk the entire path at a leisurely pace.
“I could feel the end as the mercury raises rapidly. My heart pounding as I scale the final steps. I could see light, and the assortment of worldly smells, at the end of the tunnel.”
How to get there:
From Seoul, take the bus heading toward Danyang (단양) from the East Seoul Bus terminal.
Alternatively you can take the train from Cheongnyangni Station to Danyang station.
From Danyang Bus Terminal, take Bus 170 or a taxi to Gosu Cave (고수동굴, 5-10min).
By car, it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on traffic conditions.
The Gosu Cave is open all year round.