by Sara Dorsey, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Program Manager
The bustling city of Seoul is my first true Korean love, but while I lived there and taught English many of my weekends were spent outside the city in smaller more peaceful areas of Korea. Here are some of my favorite experiences and memories, which will inevitably be different than yours if you choose to visit – but that’s what traveling is all about, right?
1. Boseong-si (보성시)
Boseong is a quaint small town in southern Korea known for its green tea plantations. The tea fields of Boseong are famously featured in many Korean soap operas and movies and it is a romantic weekend getaway for many Koreans. Each May they hold a green tea festival in this small countryside town, however, I suggest visiting on an off weekend, as much of the charm of the area is it being a quiet escape from the city and crowds.
I spent the weekend exploring the terraces of the Daehan Daeop Green Tea Plantation, which roll along the landscape and surrounding hiking paths. For an afternoon break, we indulged in green tea ice cream and rested our feet at a traditional green tea house. Perhaps my favorite part of the weekend was being able to walk around the actual town of Boseong, and not see a single other foreigner around. The residents of Boseong were amazingly friendly and we had the best weekend visiting this charming place.
How I got there: We took an express bus from Seoul Central City Bus Terminal to Gwangju on a Friday night after work. The last bus to Boseong from Gwangju is around 5PM, so we had to spend the night in Gwangju before taking a bus very early the next morning to Boseong Terminal.
2. Songnisan National Park & Beopjusa (속리산국립공원 & 법주사)
Songnisan National Park is very similar to other Korean national parks, with its granite mountain peaks perched above the tree line. Songnisan’s main attraction, however, is Beopjusa. Beopjusa is one of Korea’s oldest temples dating back to 553 AD and features a much younger, but just as impressive, bronze Buddha statue standing 33m high.
My friends and I decided to turn this excursion into a camping trip, and set up camp in the national park’s campground located immediately to the right of the entrance. The campground is rustic, but its location can’t be beat. We walked the nearby hiking trails and spent hours exploring the historic temples, followed by makgoli, kim bap, and galbi around the campfire.
How I got there: We took a direct bus from from Gangbyeon Station in Seoul to Songnisan National Park. Keep in mind it is spelled 속리산 in hangul, and not the way it looks.
3. Danyang & Guinsa (단양&구인사)
Danyang is an outdoorsman’s Korean paradise. This tourist town is a capital of adventure sports in Korea and offers opportunities to hang glide, white water raft, and much more. It is also home to many Korean spas and jimjilbangs (bath houses) to soothe your muscles after a long day. You might ask why adventure sports are categorized as relaxing, but any time spent outdoors in the mountains is my kind of peacefulness.
Our first adventure was exploring the Gosu Caves, which are impressive limestone caves under the Seobak Mountains, followed by skeet shooting at a nearby shotgun range in the middle of the woods. The men who worked at the gun range were definitely surprised to see two young Americans walk in. We spent the afternoon at Guinsa Temple, which is set in a mountain valley (walking through the temple is quite a workout), and has stunning views. Guinsa was a mistake that we happened upon discovering, but became one of my all-time favorite places in Korea.
How I got there: We took the express bus from Dong-Seoul Bus Terminal to Danyang Terminal.