Boseong Green Tea Plantation
Boseong, a small rural county located on the southern coast in Jeollanam-do, is famous for it’s rolling green tea fields on the side of the hills, creating a gorgeous landscape that makes it perhaps Jeollanam-do’s top attraction. While it isn’t widely visited by tourists to Korea, it’s a common “bucket list” item that expats in Korea wish to see before they leave. It was on my list for years, but just never made it there until recently.
This past May, I went on a road trip to the Jeonnam province with two friends, and going to the tea fields was on our list, but there was a festival going on then so we decided to leave very early to secure a parking space. However, that morning I wasn’t feeling well so I decided to sleep in. I ended up regretting this since I’m returning home soon and hoped to see the tea farm before leaving. Once winter approached, I wasn’t sure if the plantation would really be worth seeing this season, but when I looked at pictures of the fields taken in winter they still looked green and beautiful so I decided to go.
For some reason I just felt like I didn’t want to leave Korea before going to the tea fields so I combined it with another trip to southwestern Korea (this time including Gochang and Gwangju). I even ate the green tea ice cream in the cold.
To get to the fields, I took an intercity bus from Gwangju’s U-square (also called Gwangcheon) terminal to Boseong. The ride is a little less than two hours. At Boseong terminal, you can buy a ticket to get to the fields, and then wait for the city bus at the terminal. The ride is about 10 minutes.
Entrance fee is 4,000 won. The fields don’t seem as bright green in winter as in May-October, but they are still worth a look, plus it’s always nice to see some greenery in the winter season.
One positive aspect of going in colder weather (at least for me personally) is I have an easier time hiking than in warm weather, so I hiked up the green tea hill to get a view of the fields and ocean. The stairs leading up are pretty steep, but there is an observation platform about halfway through. I decided to hike up to the top, though.
Unfortunately, because the hike was pretty steep, it caused quite a few sore muscles around my knee and it hurt to walk, unless I walked slow (I normally walk at a very brisk pace) so this negatively impacted some of the time in Gochang and Gwangju. I think it’s actually the most sore I’ve been from a hike, I’m not even sure why this particular one caused it as I’ve done a few similarly steep hikes before, though I’m not a hiker by any means.
Near the field there’s a gift shop selling plenty of green tea and green tea snacks, and the second floor above the gift shop is a restaurant with plenty of green tea flavored foods, such as pork cutlet, black bean noodles (jajangmyeon), cold noodles (naengmyeon), and bimimbap. Down by the gift shop is a coffee stand selling the green tea ice cream along with green tea lattes and various coffee and tea drinks.
I took the bus back to Gwangju, where I was staying. Gwangju is the sixth biggest city in Korea, located in the middle of the Jeollanam-do province. It’s a good base if exploring the region. Gwangju is known for it’s food, and while I was there I wanted to try the duck stew, or oritang, one of the local specialties. There’s even a whole street with restaurants specializing in the dish (it’s quite common in Korean cities to have a street or two dedicated to a local specialty). The most famous restaurant of the bunch is Yeongmi Oritang (영미오리탕), which is supposedly the best. It’s pretty easy to find, just take a bus to NC Department store (buses in Gwangju have English announcements for all stops), pass the store, and you’ll see the duck soup street. Yeongmi Oritang is the one with the biggest crowd.
You can order a full duck or a half duck in the stew. I ordered half (just say ban mari for half) which was plenty. I ate the meat off the bones and placed the bones on the table, which had a plastic cover. The stew has a soybean paste taste to it and it’s very good, vegetables can also be added to the stew. It’s not cheap, as a half duck cost 28,000 won. But that’s not outrageous either, so I thought it was worth it.
After dinner I went to Gwangju’s downtown, the main street called Chungjang-ro. To be frank, it’s pretty much exactly the same as the downtown in any other Korean city, but it’s closed off to cars which is nice. There’s an “Art Street” nearby but quite a few reviews of the place online said it’s not really worth visiting (many galleries are closed down and it’s not very busy) so I didn’t bother with that. I did read good reviews of Gwangju’s Museum of Art but didn’t go, cause my sore leg from the Boseong hike was making it difficult to walk around.
I did briefly visit Gwangju’s traditional neighborhood, Yangrim-dong, which doesn’t have many English reviews online but it’s mentioned in the Gwangju tourist maps. It’s where Presbyterian missionaries set up their homes during their time in Gwangju in the early 1900’s. I visited the Yangrim Presbyterian Church and the Owen Memorial Pavilion. The Presbyterian church was founded in 1904 and the current church was reconstructed in 1958. It’s a nice red brick building.
The Owen Memorial Pavilion, next to the church, is dedicated to one of the church’s founders who died of pneumonia. He and the other missionaries established schools, hospitals, and churches around the area and worked hard in the medical field.
Nearby this area is a hanok neighborhood, which contains two well known hanoks, the Lee Jang-woo house and the Choi Seung-hyo house. There are a few signs around pointing in the direction. I had hoped to visit them since they seemed to be unique compared to other hanoks, and the Choi Seung-hyo house in particular was first built during the Japanese occupation and seemed to be a blend of Korean and Western styles. Sadly for me they seemed to be closed when I was there. Not sure if it was because it was a Sunday, or too early (it was a little after 9 am) but all I could see was the front doors.
There’s a few other missionary sites in the area, like the Wilson house and a cemetery nearby, but I just decided to skip them because of my sore leg.
To get to Yangrim-dong, just take the subway to Namgwangju station and leave exit 3. Walk through the Namgwangju market toward the Christian College of Nursing, and there’s a few signs around directing to the Owen Memorial Hall and the hanok houses.
Gwangju’s subway only has one line (like Daejeon) and it’s not usually very busy because it doesn’t reach many places in the city. Even the U-square bus terminal isn’t on the line. However Gwangju’s downtown can be reached from the Culture Complex station, and U-square is about a 15 minute walk from Nongseong station.
In Gwangju, I stayed at the Oxbloodk hostel and would wholeheartedly recommend it. It was the cheapest hostel option I found and had the best reviews, so it was a no-brainer. The best aspects of the place are the manager, the location, and the price. The manager is very kind and helpful and will answer any question about the area and provides a bag of free toiletries. He even upgraded my room from the 4 bed dorm to a private room for the same price because I was staying a few nights. The do-it-yourself breakfast was also good and free; eggs, bacon, cereal, juice, milk, bananas, and plenty of other choices available, and it’s open 24 hours so guests can eat when they want. Location is excellent, just 10 minutes walk from the U-square terminal (the hostel website has a video showing how to get there from the terminal, so I found it easily). Also very close to a subway station and bus stop.
The biggest downside is that the 4-bed room is quite small, located on the 5th floor and there’s no elevator. So I was very grateful when the manager offered a private room cause it had much more space and was on the 2nd floor. It’s in an old style room, but clean and with a warm ondol. Even the regular price of the room is good value for money.
Although Gwangju is well-known in Korea for it’s food and bi-yearly art exhibition (Gwangju Biennale) it’s best known for the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, a protest for democracy during a military dictatorship. My main reason for visiting the city was to go to the cemetery dedicated to those that lost their lives while protesting against the government, which I will discuss in the next post.