Last weekend was cited as the peak time to check out the amazing array of fall colours here in Korea. Garry and I booked a weekend away on a trip combining a bit of hiking and a good dose of cultural stuff to round it out. We headed south to Jeolla-do, one of the southern provinces in South Korea. We left Friday evening and spent the night camped in a min bak 민박 (Korean guest house) at the base of Naejangsan 내장산. The word Naejang translates to “many secrets”, and san means mountain. Naejangsan is an area renown through out the country as one of the best platforms to view the seasons changing. Although some of the leaves had already made their descent, it only highlighted how beautiful the scenery was making it was as if we were walking on a carpet of crimson leaves.
We were up and out of the min bak before sunrise to get a good start on the day. There are approximately 100,000 people a day visiting the mountain during the high season, and I can almost guarantee by midday on Saturday that number was probably reached and surpassed. The morning was cool and peaceful. We took it easy and after a beautiful walk at the base of the mountain, we opted for the cable car part way up the mountain.
From the cable car we wandered around for awhile and then headed up by foot the rest of the way. The hike was beautiful and started out easy; but it definitely had the 2 of us breaking out into a sweat on more than one occasion. During the night there was lots of rainfall so it made for a nice slippery slope. We managed to climb to the peak of the mountain with only a few others but by the time we started on our way down, it was packed full of people. Passing us going up, there was barely a break in the crowds. And as in everything else the Koreans do, it’s go hard or go home- they mean business, and do it at a really quick pace. We had a leisure walk down and luckily the narrow path wasn’t over run with people yet. We detoured and ended up at a beautiful Buddhist temple, with picturesque views every way your head turned.
After a quick lunch we left the National Park going against a sea of thousands and thousands of people piling in. We were so lucky to have got a crack at it so early in the morning before the Koreans arrived en mass.
From Naejangsan, our next stop was another, not so spectacular temple. After the grandeur of where we had just come from, and the exhaustion in almost every muscle of my body, Garry and I opted to view everything horizontally and parked ourselves on a bench for awhile.
Saturday evening we spent in a Korean Folk Village. We slept on the floor with 2 other people, in a traditional straw roof style building with ondol 온돌 heating (Korean heating done through the floors). During the freezing cold months I love ondol heating cause it is so toasty and warm, but this past weekend was almost 20 degrees and the temperature barely dropped during the night so we were like 4 little hot dogs slow roasting through the night. I usually like being hot but it was so bad that half way through night, with soju sweats from a night of drinking, I had to head to another house where the bathroom was dose my self with icy cold water just for a refresher. It was that hot.
We woke up to a little bit of rain on Sunday morning but just kept right on trekking. Breakfast was an amazing group effort. It was prepared outside one of the village huts and tasted delicious! We had had some time to wander around the beautiful folk village and it felt like we were in a Korea hundreds of years ago.
Sundays plan was to check out green tea fields. The first stop was to a tea farm where we got to pick the tea and learn the whole process it goes through to be dried and heated and handled before packaging. The farm we went to is actually the first place to make gold tipped tea and sells their product for thousands and thousands of dollars. We got to sample the gold tea and it was delicious. Almost as good as my 2 dollar tea I buy from the store There is a market for everything.
The next stop on our tea tour was the Bo Sung 보성 tea fields. I have been to tea plantations in the highest peaks of the Himalayas but I have to admit, this place was impressive. The weather was overcast and it made the different shades of green in the hills look moody and beautiful. We climbed the hills and got to wander around and check out all there was to see. We also had a lunch break here. The food was great and the menu included green tea flavoured dishes of bibimbop 비빔밥, black noodles 자장면 and donkatsu 돈까스. For dessert we tried I think the best green tea ice cream I’ve ever had (okay, truth be told it may have been the only green tea ice cream I’ve ever had, but it was delicious).
We started the long journey back to Seoul late Sunday afternoon, and it was typically horrible traffic getting home. Traffic in a country with a bigger population than Canada crammed into a space only 1 tenth of the size of Ontario makes for a lot of ugly traffic jams. It was almost 11pm by the time we walked through our door but I would definitely do it all over again. Korea at this time of year is gorgeous and it was great to get out and see all the colours in their splendor.