This month clearly shows how much I’m trying to pack into my few remaining weeks living in Changwon. I wanted to see as much as I could of the southern areas before I head to Seoul to wait out my time until my plane home. I have a final trip to Golguksa and a pitstop in Busan in the beginning of February and that’s it! Gwangju and Hadong are the two remaining places on my list (well, and Songwangsa, but it’s not going to happen) to go to before I leave the south.
I really thought I was going to love Gwangju. It’s one of those places you feel a little determined to love because no one else does. Gwangju people generally get characterized as lazy – which is a hold over from the authoritarian government’s propaganda movement. Gwangju people are clearly anything but, having been at the heart of the independence movement towards the government at the time. The people were massacred as a result, and there is a great museum which does an excellent job of explaining the tragedy in Gwangju.
But aside from the museum Gwangju and I just didn’t click. It’s simply OK. I feel like this is my new “redemption” city. Someday when I come back to visit I hope I can give this city a new try and discover things I missed, much like in Daejeon and Tongyeong.
We took a day trip to Damyang to see the bamboo forests and were…also underwhelmed. It’s ok, but I wouldn’t be trying extra hard to visit here. It is the best bamboo forest I’ve seen in Korea, and it’s significantly less crowded than the famous ones of Japan, but don’t expect much else on your visit. My friend and I were particularly incensed when they wanted to charge us to walk along a busy roadside path famous for its sequoia trees. News flash, you can find sequoias in Boseong *and* see the tea fields for the same price, and without the noise of traffic.
This was my final truly “new” place in Korea. While I have a templestay lined up, it’s near Gyeongju. I wasn’t sure what to make of Hadong at first. It was a dreary day, things weren’t opening when they said they would open (I feel like a giant banner exclaiming you open at 10 means…10. Not 10:30), and it was like no one lived there. But then things brightened. Finally, finally, good tea was found. Boseong’s tea is fine, but not great. O’Sulloc has good flavored teas and that’s it. Hadong has actual quality tea. It probably still struggles to stand up against many teas in the world, but it was truly enjoyable to drink.
Then there was the trek to the “author’s” house, which really undersells the massive, palace-like complex where apparently just about every kdrama has filmed in. At this point I was already coming to the conclusion that Hadong has a lot of amazing things going on – and that was before we made it to one of the top 5 most stunning things I’ve seen in Korea. Samseonggung Palace. I cannot get over how incredible this place is – although bring a car or prepare for some expensive taxi rides because this is the definition of “out of the way.” Just look at those black spirals against the icy blue! Go! Go now! If you have the time, I would also recommend Ssangyesa Temple as it is probably my second favorite temple I’ve been to, mostly because while still large it didn’t have the hoards of tourists typically found in large temple complexes.
Cozy cafes, valley views, tucked away temples, and crazy palaces – Hadong is seriously underrated.
My favorite place in Korea. I had to go just one more time before I leave. In a way, seeing those tomb mounds lit in the darkness was what made it all set in. I’m leaving Korea. Possibly for a long, long time. Since August I’ve been almost desperate to leave. Something about my original departure date coming an going, cancelled plane tickets to locations like Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia all flying by, made me want out. I don’t like my job. I haven’t since Covid started. While I’m not one to be homesick I miss my family severely in these trying times.
So it took Gyeongju to remind me that I do love this country. It’s wonderfully different and somehow still unexplored and underappreciated. And I’m going to miss it terribly. It’s incredible to feel simultaneously homesick for a place you haven’t left yet, and the place you’re going. But I’m not leaving yet! February takes me on my biggest Korean adventure yet! As soon as I have my final Templestay at Golguksa, I embark on a 9 day train trip across the middle and northeast of Korea, before finally settling in for a 16 day stay in Seoul. The next update will be looooong!