Gongju and Buyeo in Chungcheongnam-do, commonly shortened to Chungnam, (www.chungnam.net), were once capitals of the ancient Baekje kingdom. The treasures found in King Muryeong’s tomb make him Korea’s Tutankhamen, and a rich heritage of ancient Baekje relics can be found in other tombs, fortresses and museums. The province could host a capital again, as the government is planning to relocate ministries to a new administrative city northwest of Daejeon to ease congestion in Seoul. The province’s attractive west-coast beaches have become a popular summer playground for city folk cooped up in their high-rise apartments, and Daecheon beach hosts a merry mud festival in late July that is popular with foreigners.
Much of the region is still rural, with rice fields interspersed with vegetable plots and small orchards in the wide valleys between the forested hillsides. Unfortunately the national trend of growing crops under polythene mars the views.
Another feature is the quirky churches of all shapes and sizes that can be found in virtually every village as well as in every town and city neighbourhood. Haemi fortress encircles a prison where early Catholic converts were tortured and killed, as their beliefs undermined the strict Confucian apartheid-like hierarchy of aristocrats, peasants and slaves. Geumsan, south of Daejeon, is the Mecca for ginseng lovers with countless shops and stalls selling the medicinal root in every conceivable form.