I traveled quite a few times in the Korean countryside and I would like to share my experience and make recommendations. One of the first things to know when you travel in Korea is that Korea’s natural wonders are heavily protected. A long time ago, South Korea passed the Cultural Heritage Protection Act. One of the main purposes of this act is to promote Korean culture through the inheritance and “preservation of cultural heritage”[i]. In other words, the Korean government understands that promoting Korean culture means taking care of this culture and all that it entails. In this law, cultural heritage encompasses many things. The one that is of importance to my blog post today is in Article 2, point 3. B: “Scenic sites of outstanding artistic value with excellent scenic view”[ii]. For me this means natural sites, such as the bamboo forest or Junokwon, are protected by law. This means that any damage and/or destruction caused to this heritage is prohibited by law. This seems to also apply to littering since it is very rare to see trash in popular touristic natural sights.
Let’s talk about one of my favourite place: the bamboo forest! I visited this amazing forest with my friend at the end of the summer. I know that there is a festival but usually festivals are packed with people and we wanted to be able to walk freely in the forest. We took a bus from Gwangju in the morning and after 30 minutes we arrived. Since it is a popular tourist attraction, there was a direct bus (as is often the case in Korea). We were lucky that day since it was not too warm, but it was raining a little. The man in charge of the entrance insisted on me borrowing his umbrella, which is one of the many examples of people I met in Korea being really warm-hearted. If you just learn to say thank you in Korean, they will be very happy and try to help you in any way they can. I have heard many accounts from my friends of Koreans’ warmth and their kindness, even more so outside of big cities.
After we entered the premise, we arrived really quickly at the rest area where there was a coffee shop. This is very common to tourist attractions and even parks, but I would not recommend eating there as it can be more expensive than a regular coffee shop. After it rained for a few minutes, the clouds cleared a little and we started our walk. It was magical: everywhere we looked was green, tall and fresh bamboo. The mildew from the rain enhanced the smell of the trees and the faint light created a nice atmosphere. There were even little clearings on the side of the paths to take pictures. Looking at the map, we realized that we could walk around many paths that each had names. Hidden from view, the paths were sinuous but wide. We wandered around for a while and took many fun pictures. In the next photos, you can see that mild rain did not stop us or the other people who decided to visit the forest that morning. This is the sort of place that is magical to visit, but hard to take pictures of because the magic cannot be recreated in the photos.
At the end of our walk, we found another coffee shop where they served something special: bamboo ice cream! It is not rare to find speciality food like this in Korea. For example, when I visited the green tea farm (another interesting place close to Gwangju), I tried all kinds of food made from green tea. The result was sometimes weird, like the green tea pasta, but always interesting to try. Bamboo ice cream was really good and refreshing; the taste was similar to green tea ice cream.
I love the Korean countryside because it is so different from the city. There are so many beautiful green and flowery sceneries all over the peninsula that it would be hard to visit them all. Often they are also very close to the city, a few hours by bus or train. Buses in Korea are also very fast, comfortable, and cheap.
In conclusion, here are some of my tips for trips inside Korea:
- Research first: Find the places that are interesting to you and research everything about them. How and when to go there, where to stay if it is an overnight trip, what special thing to eat there, what people usually do there, etc. It is always good to have some preparation, especially when visiting places that are more remote.
- Book your bus or train tickets early if possible (or at least check if seats are available): Korean public transportation is amazing to me. They have English websites that work very well for buses and train. You can also buy your tickets at the station at the English Machine. The important thing to remember is that this transportation is also used by Koreans a lot. For holidays, you might need to reserve your tickets days or even weeks in advance to have seats.
- Try new things: do not be afraid to try local food or to try to speak to locals. They might be only able to speak Korean, but usually they will be happy to help you even if it is just with hand signs.
- Take a good camera with you: so many things are pictures worthy. I found that on a lot of my trips I let my friends take pictures and I regret not taking at least a few on my own phone/camera.
This is all! I hope it was helpful and interesting! I did many other small trips in Korea so please feel free to ask me for more detailed advice or anything else.
[i] Korean Legislation Research Institute. “Cultural Heritage Protection Act”. Statutes of the Republic of Korea. https://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=42732&lang=ENG
[ii] Korean Legislation Research Institute. “Cultural Heritage Protection Act”. Statutes of the Republic of Korea. https://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=42732&lang=ENG