Asia Society Korea Travel Series 4 – Hadong County
Nestled between the Seomjin River and Jiri Mountain in the southern part of the country, Hadong is famed for its green tea. Despite boasting a number of attractions within a peaceful rural atmosphere, the area remains off the itinerary for most travelers. This is a shame because those who do make the visit view it as one of the most beautiful places on the Korean peninsula.
Given that it is about a four-hour bus ride from Seoul, a trip to Hadong should be spread over two days, and you will need every bit of it because there is so much to keep you busy. On your drive into the small town of Hadong, you will be captivated by the beautiful rice fields that envelope the valley before they give way to the impressive Jiri Mountain. After the long bus ride, you will be ready for a cup of tea, so a good place to start is the Hadong Tea Cultural Center. As the nation’s first tea producer, the locals of Hadong are proud to parade their culture and history through traditional hands-on programs, such as tea making, learning the region’s tea etiquette, and pottery making classes.
There are a number of options to choose from in the afternoon and all of them involve taking in some of that fresh rural air. For those looking to relax, a stroll along the beautiful Seomjin River might be the answer. The area is famed for its cherry blossom festival, but it remains beautiful year round. Others looking for something more enduring may decide to take a hike up Jiri Mountain, the reward being the chance to stand on the highest peak of the South Korean mainland. There are, of course, a myriad of other trails if time is tight or a more leisurely agenda suits. If the first two possibilities do not appeal to you, the final suggestion is a visit to the small and quaint Hannsansa Temple that offers an incredible view of Hadong’s rice fields.
In terms of accommodation, Hadong has a number of hanok guesthouses that, despite being constructed recently, reflect the traditional materials and architecture of the region. While this means sleeping on the floor, it is an experience that should not be missed. Even though the building technique is centuries old, it accounts for Korea’s hot summers and cold winters. The floor-based heating system, ondol, warms the house in the winter and the wooden floors, daecheong, keep things cool during the summer. Not only constructed to combat the Korean climate, the buildings are made from natural materials that do not cause pollution and are a pleasure to the eye with wooden frames and tiled curved roofs.
After a good night’s sleep, the second day should begin with a trip to the slow-paced Hwagae village. Here you can eat breakfast, sample more teas, and visit the famous market place to purchase a whole host of local products. With a bag full of goodies, there are two more possibilities before you make the long trip home. First, during one’s stay, most travelers notice that there are a number of plum trees, and this is because Hadong County is home to the sweet and often overlooked Korean plum wine. Take a walk around one of the many fields where the plums are grown and see how the process from fruit to wine takes place. Second, and more daring, is a visit to Gumo Mountain, yet this time it is not for a hike. Gumo is, in fact, home to Asia’s longest zipline ride that stretches over 3000 meters from the top of the mountain down to Gyeongchung Temple. As it travels at speeds in excess of 120 kilometers per hour, it is not for the feint hearted but it is an enthralling way to wrap up a great trip.
As you can see, Hadong County has a lot to offer, which makes it a great option for those looking to get out of the city and explore the rural side of Korea.