Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Before you Plan your Summer Vacation. . . Jeollanam-do, by Brian

Summer Vacation is coming almost finished too hot to do anything anyway finally here!

[In order to help you plan YOUR summer vacation, or your Autumn three-day getaway, I posed this challenge to Brian from Jeollanam-do, a good friend of blogoseyo:

"Given a three day weekend, what would you recommend a person do in Jeollanam-do?"

Brian did me about seven times better than anything I'd hoped for, with this amazing, extensive, well-linked, varied and informative guest-post.

I hope to answer this same question about my stomping grounds, Seoul, in the very near future, in case he ever feels like getting away from all the tea fields and rice paddies and bamboo forests for a bit of car exhaust, glass, steel, and neon light. If you're in Korea, and especially if you live outside Seoul, I'd be very happy to link or post your three day weekend recommendations, too. Busan, Daegu, Gyungsan Province, Chungcheong Province, Gangwon, Daejeon, Dokdo -- let me know how to enjoy your area to the fullest! (And I'll share that with everybody else, too).

Here is his delightful, meticulously prepared, informative to the extreme, and very helpful answer.]

Rob has always been a friend of my blog, and so I was more than happy to write a little something about Jeollanam-do for his site. Not happy enough to get around to writing it in a timely manner, mind you, but happy nonetheless. In all fairness typing "a little something" isn't as easy for me as it is for my peers in Seoul and Busan. As you know, outside of Seoul the hallmarks of civilization are spotty at best, and it's not like I can just sit down in front of a computer---com-pu-ter?---and bang something out. And even if I could, we only have electricity four hours a week, and I like others in my little fishing village use it almost exclusively for the publication of Communist pamphlets. But during final exam time at my Confucian academy I was able to sneak out for a few weeks and travel north along Jeollanam-do's road and into Gwangju's general store to put in some time on our province's wordprocessor. The trip took longer than expected because the road was full of protestors participating in a stick rally against American beef. They haven't invented fire in Gwangju yet, so we've been immune from the insane candlelight riots that have taken hold in Korea's capital.

Some people will say the above description is spot-on, and there are many, Koreans and foreigners alike, who swear that there is no life in Korea outside of Seoul. I wish I were a little more knowledgable about the regional differences of Korea and the nuances of Jeolla to say something more than "um . . . it's kind of like everywhere else." There are political differences, of course, and a bit of a dialect, and there's definitely a bias against Jeolla folk among others in the country. To be fair every region in the country dislikes every other region for some reason or other, which kind of runs counter to the business of jeong and of a unified, happy Korean race we're always hearing about. Oh, that and the whole Korean War thing.

Anyway, as far as living in Jeollanam-do goes, I suspect it's not too different than living in most of the country's other administrative divisions. In fact, I'm busy enough with work and other things that I'm pretty sure I'd spend my weekdays in Seoul the same way I do now in Suncheon. Visiting is a different story, and Jeollanam-do is a popular tourist destination among foreigners. Rob suggested I write about a hypothetical three-day weekend here, because a lot of people take advantage of our holidays to pay a visit to, as the official website tells us, this "promising future-oriented place with clean air, clean water and pure lands." There are, in fact, a number of interesting development projects afoot in the area, which is what that slogan presumably refers to. They just built a new international airport last year, were awarded the 2012 World Expo, are building an entirely new city around the relocated provincial capitol, are gearing up for Korea's first F1 races in 2010. Jeollanam-do is also home to Korea's space station, to a number of sacred temples, to the highest peak and the southernmost point on peninsular South Korea, and Gwangju holds one of the country's premiere arts festivals, the Bienalle, every two years.

It's a little difficult to come up with a three-day itinerary, and you can tell that I'm stalling, mostly because the top spots are spread out across the entire province, rather than being collected into a single city. Moreover it's possible to actually spend three days just in Suncheon and Yeosu, for example, and there are tons of underrated tourist sites in every city and county down here. But what follows is a sample course that people might find helpful when they're planning a trip through the region. I will also say, before I get into the major attractions, that spring and fall are excellent times to visit because there are tons of well-known festivals, and you might take those into account when visiting. I'll be publishing a list of fall festivals in the region in late-August, and I mentioned a few spring festivals back in May. Planning your trip around the festivals will mean dealing with crowds, but you'll also have a convenient, pre-set itinerary.

Anyway, here is a collection of attractions that would make for a pleasant trip in the region. I've started with Suncheon and Yeosu, moved to Boseong, west to Mokpo and Wando, and finally north to Damyang and Gwangju. I've also included other points of interest that . . . that might be of interest, and I've tried to provide bus information to the best of my ability. Obviously having a car would be most convenient and would cut down on time spent waiting for village buses that are often few and far between.

County Map of South Jeolla Province
The sites below cannot all be squeezed into three days, so a couple different combinations that follow the east-to-west pattern include:

- Suncheon - Gurye - Boseong - Damyang
- Suncheon - Yeosu - Boseong - Damyang
- Yeosu - Mokpo - Wando - Gwangju
- Gwangju - Boseong - Damyang
- Gwangju - Wolchulsan - Boseong

You get the idea. Anyway, yeah, the post.


Suncheon Bus Tour: A good idea for those who don't want to worry about finding their own way around town might try the Suncheon City Bus Tour. It boards a little before 9 am every day and follows one of two courses to the city's major attractions, including: Seonamsa and Songgwangsa Temples, Nagan Folk Village, Suncheon Bay, and the Suncheon Drama Set. It finishes at 6 pm where it begins, in front of the Tourist Information Center at Suncheon Station. Inquiries can be made by calling 82-61-749-3328.

Nagan Folk Village (낙안읍성민석마을): Those not doing the bus tour may want to try a few sites individually. Nagan Folk Village, some 25 kilometers outside downtown Suncheon, is considered the best-preserved folk village in the country. Each spring there is a folk culture festival and each fall is the popular Namdo Food Festival held at the Folk Village. It is accessible via local buses 63 and 68, though they only run a combined 19 times each day and it's thus a good idea to head out there first thing in the morning. You can find out what time the buses will come by visiting the tourist information center in front of Suncheon Station, or you can make an educated guess by searching the online timetable.

Seonamsa Temple: My personal favorite temple in Suncheon, it is especially pretty in the spring and fall. Seonamsa and Songgwangsa are both on Jogyesan mountain and are connected by a long trail that goes over the peak. Bus number 1 runs regularly to Seonamsa, and passes by Suncheon Station and the Intercity Bus Terminal, among other places.

Suncheon Dongcheon (Source - Brian)
Nearby attractions: Dongcheon is a stream that runs through the city, between the bus terminal and Suncheon Station. It is a very pleasant area for a stroll . . . Jukdobong Park overlooks the city and the stream and is best accessed via taxi . . . Those spending the night in the city might want to try visit one of the designated quote-unquote foreigner bars: Elvis or Julianna's . . . Gurye county is north of Suncheon and is home to part of Jirisan National Park, which contains the highest peak on peninsular South Korea. Three days could be spent entirely in Gurye, so see this very informative post on hiking trails, this category on "Jirisan," the blog entry here, or this treasure trove by David Mason for more information and decide accordingly. Piagol Valley is an especially popular destination in the fall, when the maples change color.

Accommodation: There are clusters of love motels around Suncheon Station, the Intercity Bus Terminal, Homeplus, and the east side of "New Downtown" in Yeonhyang-dong. The ones around Homeplus are the newest, and are probably the cleanest, and rates start around 35,000 a night for your basic room. It will be about a 4,000 won cab ride from Suncheon Station or you can reach the area via buses 59 or 101.


Hyangiram: I consider Hyangiram (향일암) a must-see for anyone coming to Jeollanam-do, along with the tea fields in Boseong and the bamboo forests in Damyang. Hyangiram is a gorgeous hermitage on the tip of Dolsan Island overlooking the sea. It is separated by the cute village below by 291 steps. There are a number of shrines that climb up the 323-meter-high Geomunsan. Local buses 111 and 113 go to Hyangiram and can be caught across the street from the Yeosu bus terminal. The trip takes between 70 and 80 minutes, so this is something I'd recommend doing first thing in the morning. There is a good write-up available from KBS Global.

Dolsan Bridge and Dolsan Park: At 450 meters long, Dolsan Bridge is considered the longest cable-stayed bridge in Korea. Folks in Jindo also make that claim of theirs, so who knows, but Dolsan Bridge joins Dolsan island to the mainland, and cycles between 50-some different colors at night. The park is pleasant enough during the day, but is definitely worth a visit at night. If crossing the bridge from the mainland, to the right you'll see a couple of interesting things. There is a replica "turtle ship," since Admiral Lee Sun-shin is said to have invented them in Yeosu. And just to the right of the bridge on the Dolsan side is a harbor with a number of small cruise ships. I recommend taking one of these cruises around the outlying islands.

Nearby attractions: There are two beaches roughly ten minutes away from the bus terminal by cab, Manseongni and Mosageum. Manseongni is the quote-unquote famed quote-unquote black-sand beach, although the sand there is actually brown . . . Yeosu has lots of outlying islands, including Geomun-do, home of Port Hamilton, a short-lived British naval station in the late 19th century . . . Odong-do is another very popular attraction in Yeosu.

Accommodation: There are a couple of motels close to the bus terminal. Also a ton in Hak-dong, an area near Turtle Park and Yeosu City Hall with some restaurants, bars, and a movie theater. Suncheon is 40 minutes away by bus, and buses back and forth run until midnight, so you could base yourself out of that city.

Boseong Green Tea Fields
The tea fields are another must-see, and are something pretty much every Korean and foreigner that passes through the area visits. Originally established by the Japanese during Occupation, there are several different plantations today with panoramic views of seemingly undulating rows of green tea plants. Tea is the representative product of Boseong, as 40% of the country's green tea comes from there, and if you visit the largest plantation---called 대한다원---you can buy all kinds of green tea products and green tea food. There are likewise a number of festivals held at the plantation, including the Green Tea Festival in May and the Seopyeonje Pansori Festival in October. It's best to avoid both the tea fields and the bamboo forest in Damyang in winter because the greenery won't be nearly as green.

Nearby attractions: Daewonsa temple is a local favorite among foreigners here. Not only is it beautiful and strikingly colorful, especially in spring, but there is a Tibetan Museum. There are sporadic buses from Boseong-eup and Beolgyo-eup . . . Yulpo Beach and the Yulpo Green Tea Baths are a short distance from the Green Tea Fields, and have gotten mixed reviews. For swimming, Sumun Beach in neighboring Jangheung county is preferrable, and it's only 9 kilometers west of Yulpo.

Accommodation: There are lots of quite little pension in Boseong near the Green Tea Fields. They are of course much more expensive than love motels but might be a nice time if you're travelling with that special someone. Have a look around Naver. Boseong is roughly an hour away from Suncheon, so if you wanted you could continue to base yourself out of that city.

Mokpo and Wando

I don't care that much about Mokpo, but folks say it's a nice city. I'm going to have to defer to the blog A Year in Mokpo and his write-ups on museums, bars, and the local favorite "Love Island." Also check out his post on Bigeum-do, an island in Sinan county accessible by ferry from the city.

Wando is one of Jeollanam-do's four counties comprised entirely or mostly out of islands. Its Myeongsashimni Beach is a regional favorite. The only downside is that Wando is pretty far from everything else---between 2h40m and 3h10m by bus from Gwangju---and would eat up an entire day. As with other cities and counties here, you could even spend an entire 3-day weekend in Wando. The aforementioned Myeongsashimni (명시십리해수욕장) is pretty much the best beach in Jeollanam-do, and though it's on the island of Shinji-do, it's still regularly accessible by buses from Wando-eup. Other points of interest include its impressive movie sets, Gugyedong Pebble Beach, and outlying islands like Bogil-do and Cheongsan-do. Having visited tons of places in Jeollanam-do already, if I had about a week to play with, I'd like to see more of Wando.


Wolchulsan (월출산) is popular little mountain and national park in Yeongam county. The mountain rises to 808.7 meters, is in the country's smallest national park, and has a bunch of attractions, including a sculpture park and a suspension bridge. Called the "Cloud Bridge" (구름다리) it is 120 meters long and spans two peaks some 510 meters high.

It is easy to get to the mountain's entrance from the bus terminal in Yeongam-eup, though it's best to set out for Yeongam early in the morning because not all local bus terminals run there frequently, and you may have to first visit Gwangju or Gangjin, or have to endure a lengthy ride that stops at every town and village along the way. And people of all shapes and ages have climbed Wolchulsan, though as with Jirisan, it's important to come adequately prepared and to be aware of your limitations.

There are a few love motels in Yeongam, though if your body odor isn't too offensive you might opt to move right to the infinitely more interesting Gwangju, where you can clean up and rest up before either trying out that city's nightlife or before going to Damyang the next day.

Gangjin county isn't exactly close, but does border on Wolchulsan, and as I used to live there I am kind of partial to it. Those who've been to Jeonnam before and are looking for other stuff to do---and who have their own transportation---might be intersted in visiting the idiosyncratic Nammireuksa or Omcheonsa temples

Damyang Bamboo Forest

This is the third must-see I've mentioned so far. It is a massive bamboo forest located in Damyang county, just outside of Gwangju. Numerous movies and TV dramas have been shot here---all have survived---and are commemorated with plaques posted throughout the forest. Apparently Ha Ji-won, number one on my list of sexy Korean women, did a fight scene in the forest for some drama or other. And, the rumor on the street is that a friend of a friend of a friend was her private English tutor while Ji-won was filming in the area. Why I was not invited to meat (HA!) meet her has not yet been accounted for.

[I guess we'll never know -Roboseyo]
[Ha Ji-Won, below]

Unfortunately, bus travel between the terminal and the forest is a bit tricky, as according to KBS only four buses head each way each day. (A map I have at home says six per day). I went first thing in the morning once, but was told that buses didn't start heading to the forest until 11:30. I likewise had to wait roughly an hour before heading back into town. Damyang is pretty dull, and if you end up having to wait for the bus you can wander around Damyang-eup to experience a typical Jeollanam-do town, if you haven't already, but except for the bamboo forest there's not much else to see, so you can head back to Gwangju in the afternoon. Damyang does have Soswaewon, a large Joseon-era garden, although buses go there from Gwangju not Damyang. There is also a Metasequoia Road (담양 메타세쿼이아 길), one that was named one of Korea's 100 most beautiful roads in 2006.


Wonhyosa (Source - Brian)
Gwangju is a pleasant and convenient enough city for locals to visit every now and then, but it offers little more than high-rise apartments as far as the eye can see. It has a great bus terminal, though, and is a good place to first enter or exit Jeollanam-do. If you find yourself in the city for the better part of the day, try the May 18th Cemetery or Mudeungsan. The cemetery is accessible via the aptly-numbered bus 518, and is the final resting place of the victims of the 1980 Gwangju Massacre. Mudeungsan is a 1,187-meter-high mountain in on the edge of the city, the centerpiece of Mudeungsan Provincial Park, and according to a professor friend in the city, it's where her students often go for dates, for some reason. You can hike it or can take buses or cars to the top. The lofty Wonhyosa (원효사) temple, overlooking a valley, is nice.

Different people have different styles when travelling. Some like to fill every minute of every day with something, while others would rather just visit one or two places each day. I’ve tried to include a bunch of sites, big and small, to appeal to both sets. It is impractical, though, to try and hit Suncheon, Yeosu, Boseong, Gwangju, Mokpo, and Wando in two-and-a-half days. Pick out a couple “must sees” to book-end your trip and take into account how long you’ll spend there and how long it will take to get in and out, and how convenient transportation will be to other sites. If you supplement your trip with another couple sites along the way, you should have a pleasant visit, one that will give you lots of good pictures and one that will allow you to experience something pretty different than what you’re used to in Seoul. Those with any questions can email me at deutsch.brian[at]gmail.com, and I’ll try to help.


Paul Ajosshi said...

If you're going to Gwangju and end up anywhere near Gwangsan (the KTX stops there) then I'd recommend a trip to one of the 떡갈비 (Korean hamburger patty) restaurants. The food I've had there has been extraordinary and very different from the 떡갈비 I've had elsewhere.

I'd recommend this place:

Which is at the top of the 떡갈비 street five minutes walk from the train station. They give you this:

Which tastes sublime. Aswell as this:

Possibly the best pork spine soup ever created.

Worth the trip in my opinion, some of the best food in Gwangju.

More info on Gwangsan here;

Roboseyo said...

Sweet! Thanks for the addition, Paul.

pamela said...

Hey Roboseyo!
I am leaving for Jeollanam-do on august 20th to be an assistant english teacher for Epik(public school). Ever heard of them? Have any hot tips? Can't wait to go!

Anonymous said...

I went to Jeollanam-do a couple weeks back and managed to fit in quite a bit over the two day weekend. My hagwon's director and his wife did all of the driving though, which certainly made it easier to do more. Coming from Uijeongbu, we started in the southeast and gradually worked our way north and west with each stop, making it a little easier to get home at the end of our trip. The itinerary included:


1. Suncheon Bay Ecological Park. A protected wetlands where you can see cranes, egrets, mudskippers, and several types of crabs. There are wooden trails built above the marshland so you can look over the edge and get a good glimpse of the wildlife there; I think the trails extend for several kilometers.

2. Nagan Folk Village. There is a changing of the guard ceremony a few times during the day, although I'm not sure when precisely those take place. In my opinion, Nagan is a lot more enjoyable than the folk village in / outside Suwon. More scenic, plus you can chat with the people who are living there.

3. Songwangsa Temple. After going to the Folk Village we had to choose between going to a temple (Songgwangsa) or a dolmen park. Unfortunately I'm not sure where the dolmen park is located, but I suppose anyone leaving for Jeollanam-do on Friday night instead of driving down on a Saturday morning would have the time to see this one as well. I have some pictures from Songgwangsa here for anyone interested. (Nothing much, but it gives an idea of what to expect)

4. Drive to our pension in Boseong. Ours was $100 for one night and located about 10 minutes from the sea. Went to sleep to the sound of frogs croaking and woke up to a rooster crowing - very different from what I've grown used to in the Seoul Metropolitan Area!


1. Visit a beach and pier in Boseong. Nothing too fancy, but the beach did have sand and we were the only ones there.

2. Explore the Boseong tea fields. We went to a few 'scenic spots' by our pension before heading to 대한다원. 대한다원 is really impressive, but I also liked a spot by our pension, where you could get a view of the entire valley - tea fields, rice fields, and forested land.

3. We passed by several signs advertising sites found in the novel "The Taebaek Mountains" but kept going until we reached Soswaewon. Between the shade and having Jeongcheon meander through the garden it's a great place to stop for a bit on a hot summer day. A bit out of the way though.

4. Damyang Bamboo Forest. A fun place to visit. The main trails can get crowded, but we tried to take a side path listed on the main map as a shorter route to the entrance and soon found ourselves on a mud path with no one else around. Actually, it was hard to hear that there was anyone else in the park. A little dirtier traveling that way - there were a few puddles that we jumped over - but well worth it to feel like you have the whole park to yourself.

For what it's worth my condensed "must see" list includes the Boseong green tea fields, Songgwangsa, and Nakan Folk Village. Damyang is a close follow-up to the other three for anyone with time.

Roboseyo said...

hi pamula! welcome to Korea!

the Epik program is, from what I've heard, a mixed bag, depending on your director and location; I've heard everything from cooleykoo awesometimes to stinkapalooza, depending on the awesomeousity of the director and stuff. Hope you love it. Brian from Jeollanamdo (just google it) lives in that area, and might have better advice than I do; he also knows a bevy of other Jeollanamdo bloggers who'd be good to mine for tips. I live in Seoul, and have never done Epik, but have heard it's usually a pretty good gig, and it gets better every year, as it grows.

samedi: wow! that was an awesome addition! thanks for throwing that on the pile!

Brian said...

I'm not standing you up, Rob, I'm going to link to this post tomorrow and throw some hits your way. Hopefully more people will add their tips.

As for the locations in the "Taebaek Sanmaek" novel, they're in Beolgyo-eup, BOseong county. I didn't include them in this post because most people wouldn't be interested in going there. However, back when my blog was a baby I typed up a Beolgyo walking tour: http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com/2007/11/beolgyo-walking-tour.html

And a summary of the trip:

Unknown said...

the problem with the Suncheon city bus tour is that it doesn't let you climb Jogyesan, which is both easygoing and very very nice. Start in Gwangju finish in Suncheon, or vice versa, it matters not. really great temples on both sides of the park, a nice road along the shore of the lake at the the Gwangju end... the best way to progress on your tour... in the vicinity of 90 minutes on the bus at both ends... the whole show done and dusted in considerably less than a day!

Anonymous said...

Some day I will write something up along these lines and include Jindo, where I live, as it has a couple nice beaches and some other interesting stuff.

Cymrodor said...

I got off the KTX at Gwangju yesterday morning, picked up a rental car, and have since seen the 5.18 Memorial Park, Damyang's bamboo museum and then the bamboo park, Seosaewon, and finished the night off at Speakeasy.

It's the end of day 2, and I'm online to find a bar at Suncheon, which is where we've ended up having seen the Dolmens of Hwasun, the Boseong tea fields, the site of dinosaur eggs (really is just the site; nothing to see there), and Nakan folk village.

Day three was meant to be at the beach in Wando, but rainclouds formed this evening and I don't expect sun tomorrow.

Thanks, and keep blogging.

Roboseyo said...

that's awesome, Aled. glad you're having a good time. Don't forget to go over to brian's site and thank him for writing all this up, too.


Anonymous said...

I don't speak korean but would really like to book some accommodation in the tea plantation area before I come over to korea in september. Do you have any tips on how I could do this?