Tourist Attraction: Local Food (Grocery Store)

 

The title of ‘tourist attraction’ might be a bit of a stretch, but this store is worth a look if you want some local products to eat during your visit or take back home with you.  This isn’t your average grocery store (although they have recently expanded and added a large, more traditional ‘mart’ to the space), but instead functions somewhat as a cross between a co-op and a farmers market.  The amount of seasonal local goods from around Damyang County they have for sale is impressive.  Bamboo leaf-fed free range eggs?  No problem.  Bamboo shoot sausage and ddeokgalbi from Damju Brewery?  Of course.  Bamboo alcohol to wash everything down?  For sure.

All sorts of sticks, herbs, berries, produce, snacks and just about everything in between is offered as well.

They close a bit on the early side (7pm), but it’s worth a visit if you pass by during business hours.  It’s located at the Goseo intersection, which is about 6km north on road 887.  Here’s the google map link.

Local Products

Local Products

Local Products

 Meats (domestic only)

 Seafood

 Not-So-Local Products

 Parking Lot (behind the building)

Bamboo Leaf-Fed Free Range Eggs

 Bamboo Alcohol

 Bamboo Sausage

Bamboo Ddeokgalbi

Bike’n Hike (VII): Chuwolsan Provincial Park

Destination:  Chuwolsan Provincial Park
Cycling:  97km
Hiking:  4km
Days:  1

 Chuwolsan Park
Gamagol Eco-Park (용소)
  
Gamagol Eco-Park (출렁다리)
The destination and dates for Bike’n Hike VII bounced around a bit, but eventually focused on a one-day adventure exploring some of the parks around Damyang.  Specifically Damyang’s most famous mountain, Chuwolsan, and the neighboring Damyang Lake and Eco-Park.  Even packaged as a manageable one-day outing, it’s tough to find willing cyclists during the dead of winter.  Thankfully Geoff, a participant in the inaugural Bike’n Hike almost a year ago, was both available and interested.  You’re about to see a lot of photos of Geoff (clearly I had the only camera!).  
 
Leaving Jishil Village
We left from The Damyang House and headed toward Damyang (Eup) via the 887.  This is one of my favorite roads as it’s relatively free of heavy traffic, is flat and has awesome views of the surrounding mountains.  It also leads directly to downtown Damyang (20km) or connects you with other important cycling roads. 
 Road 887
 
 Road 887
Navigating through Damyang (downtown) is pretty simple as it’s well marked in terms of signage for both the roads you need and Chuwolsan Park.  I recommend staying on 887 until you arrive at 13 where you’ll take a right.  Shortly after you’ll take a left on 29 heading toward Chuwolsan Park.  If nothing else just look for the mountain as it’s usually visible from just about everywhere around Damyang!
    
Chuwolsan Mountain
 Chuwolsan Mountain
 Chuwolsan Mountain (fall)

As you get closer to Chuwolsan you’ll be met with a few different climbs, varying in length and difficulty, but nothing to worry about.  Be thankful you’re heading north because it’s more challenging coming from the other direction.  You’ll also get your first views of Damyang Lake, which like most lakes in Korea is a dammed river that fills in the valley creating a giant amoeba shape. 

Getting Closer
Damyang Lake

 Uphill
 Damyang Lake
After you pass through a small tunnel, you’ll be pretty much right in front of the mountain and it’s all downhill to the park entrance where you’ll find a few restaurants, an information center, trailheads and a series of boardwalks around the lake.  There isn’t much open in the winter.  During the summer this place is packed…especially on weekends. 
Chuwolsan (summer)
 Damyang Lake Boardwalk
 Damyang Lake (Boardwalk is just above the water line)
We opted to cancel our attempt to summit Chuwolsan for a variety of reasons.  First, it was colder near the mountian/lake and much windier.  Second, Chuwolsan is much bigger than it looks and getting to the top would not have been quick or easy.  We were on a pretty tight schedule as it was (short winter days!) so instead pressed on past Chuwolsan and Damyang Lake towards Gamagol Eco-Park.  Getting to the Eco-Park from the base of Chuwolsan is easy as it’s located at the north end of the lake.  Continue north on 29 and take a right on 792.  Of course there’s another climb heading this direction.
 Leaving Chuwolsan
 Take a Right onto 792
Gamagol Entrance 

The park entrance will be on your left and is hard to miss.  The roads leading into the park are scenic and during this time of the year, extremely quiet.  Judging by the plethora of riverside restaurants along this road, I’m guessing this is not the case during the summer months. 

 Heading into Gamagol

At the end of this road you’ll find a parking lot and a park office.  The park itself is small and you can see a lot of the highlights in less than an hour.  Grab a map at the park office and explore!

용연1 폭포
가마골

                                                              용소

                                        

용소
출렁다리

출렁다리
출렁다리 & 용소

After a quick look around we hopped back on our bikes and returned to 792, the main road that brought us here.  Instead of backtracking the way we came, which is certainly an option, and a quicker one at that, we decided to continue on 792 and pick up 24 creating a loop back to Damyang.  The ride along 792 is scenic and relatively traffic-free, however it also hosted our biggest climb of the day.  You’ll eventually ride past another county park, Gangcheonsan, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to explore on this trip.

Gangcheonsan Park Entrance

Near Sunchang, home of gojujang, you’ll pick up 24 which will take you back to downtown Damyang.  This is by far the least fun 10km of the route.  The gojujang village is over-the-top ridiculous and has nothing to offer outside of this one famous ingredient (i.e. no marts to restock on supplies) and this section of road is pretty miserable with narrow shoulders, fast cars and construction.  Joy!

Gojujang
Gojujang
Once back in Damyang, you’ll pick up 887 downtown and basically head back the way you came.  Time permitting, I’d recommend grabbing lunch in Damyang as the options are plentiful.  We, of course, were in a race to get home before the sunset so instead chose to stop by the Bamboo Brewery (담주 브로이) and pick up a few pitchers of ‘to-go’ bamboo beer and bamboo sausages to enjoy once we arrived back at the house.  It’s a quick detour down 13, just outside of downtown, and only added an extra 15 minutes or so.  The ride back on 887 is always a welcome finish to the day and we were able to catch the sunset at the Gwangju Lake Eco-Park right as we arrived home. 

Gwangju Lake/Eco-Park/Mudeung Mountain
Once back at The Damyang House, we stocked the fireplace, poured some beers and enjoyed those tasty sausages!  
Victory Beers
Looking for a different route?  Something easier?  Something more challenging?  Plenty of other suggestions can be found here.

Bike’n Hike (IV): Jirisan National Park / Hallyeohaesang National Park (Namhae-Do) / Suncheon Bay

Destination:  Jirisan National Park / Hallyeohaesang National Park (Namhae-Do) / Suncheon Bay 
Cycling:  370km
Hiking:  0km
Days:  4
 
 

I skipped hiking these parks during this ride only because I wanted use my time to establish a cycling route.  If you combined hiking all of these parks, it would be upwards of an eight or nine day trip (and grueling!).  If you focused on just one park and rode there and back, it would be more of a traditional three-day Bike’n Hike.  And of course there are multiple variations in between that allow quite a bit of flexibility.  Jirisan is the toughest in terms of hiking.  Hallyeohaesang (Namhae-Do) is toughest in terms of cycling (new roads currently under construction will make this ride much easier in the future!).  I will present the route as I rode it, a four-day ride, but will make a note of different options at the end of each day.

 On the way to Jirisan
 
 Just outside Gurye

Day 1: Jirisan National Park
Click here for the cyclemeter link.

Pick up 887 right in front of the village and head towards Goseo (6km) where you’ll get on road 60.  Follow this to 13 and then to 27 and back to 60.  Not nearly as complicated as it sounds!  These roads are nothing special, but no major climbs or dangerous traffic either so not a bad start to the day.  In Gokseong you’ll pick up 17, which follows a gorgeous river and offers an option of a bike path (better than most bikes paths in Korea, but oddly confusing at times).  Lots of pensions along this ride and a nice end to the day.  Follow signs to Gurye, the town at the base of Jirisan National Park, where you have the option of staying in a motel (여일 motel was very friendly, let me keep my bike in the lobby and was only 30 bucks) or pressing on the extra few kilometers to the park where you have the option of tent camping. 
Note:  For a three-day Bike’n Hike, you would basically hike the park on day two and head back the way you came on day three.  
 
 Heading to Namhae
 Coastal views on Namhae Island
 
 Hallyeohaesang National Park

Day 2:  Hallyeohaesang National Park (Namhae-Do)

Click here for the cyclemeter link. 
This was by far the most challenging day.  It’s long at 98km and has some tough climbs.  The biggest one being at the very end of ride, just before you get to the beach.  The biggest problem though, is the construction on Namhae island.  It makes for a stressful ride, at least for now.  The park and beach are both incredible so if you’re still interested, please read on. 

Leaving Gurye is a fantastic ride along a scenic river with very few distractions.  You can either follow road 861, which follows the south side of the river, or road 19, which follows the north side of the river.  There seemed to be a bit less traffic on road 861, but you’ll eventually pick up road 19 a couple of hours later in Hadong anyway, so the choice is yours.  The next couple of hours along road 19 aren’t the greatest in terms of scenic beauty, but not exactly challenging either.  Things change dramatically when you cross the bridge onto Namhae island.  Road 19 takes you all the way to the beach, but there is a considerable amount of construction along the way and a fair amount of traffic as well.  Not the greatest combination.  The climbs towards the end of the ride are pretty tough, but the downhill into Sangju Beach makes it all worth it.  Plenty of minbaks around if you want to treat yourself.  Tent camping is available for about 7,000 won (?).  Showers cost 2,000.  Hallyeohaesang National Park is right behind the beach (follow 19 back up the mountain…trail head is about halfway up on the right).  The hike to the top is pretty easy and only about 2km.  Amazing views of the coast await!

Note:  A considerably easier option would be to head directly south to Suncheon/Suncheon Bay for the day.  The route in “Day 4” of this ride will take you back to Damyang making a nice loop and effectively cutting out Namhae-Do.  
Suncheon Bay
Suncheon Bay
Suncheon Bay

Day 3: Suncheon (Bay)
Click here for the cyclemeter link.

The ride from Namhae to Suncheon is honestly another argument in support of cutting out the Namhae portion of this ride and heading straight to Suncheon (Bay) from Jirisan.  Besides the construction I mentioned, this route also takes you through the bowels of Gwangyang’s industrial zone.  Namhae is absolutely gorgeous so if you have a couple of nights to stick around and enjoy the beach/hiking, it’s probably worth it.  If you’re going just for the night, probably not-so-much…

Head back the way you came on road 19 (nothing better than starting the day off with a nice climb up the mountain!).  Stay on 19 until well after you cross the bridge…look for 59 and take a left.  This will take you south through the ship building yards I mentioned and ultimately through Suncheon’s neighboring city of Gwangyang.  59 somehow turns into road 2 in the ship-building yards and the twists and turns through this area are a bit tricky.  Keep a map handy.  Road 2 takes you into Suncheon where you have the option of posting up for the night in a motel (the 프라자모텔 motel let me keep my bike in my room and only charged me 30 bucks for the night!) or pressing on to Suncheon Bay, which is about 10km south of the city and offers a surprising number of options in terms of pensions and restaurants.  The photos here are from Suncheon Bay, but I actually did this on Day 4 so click the link below for directions.  

Countryside outside of Suncheon

Heading to Damyang
Dongbok Lake

Day 4:  The Damyang House
Click here for the cyclemeter link.

Beers and fried chicken kept me in Suncheon city the night before so I opted to explore Suncheon Bay in the morning before heading back to Damyang.  This easily added an extra 20km to the day, but was well worth it to see the park…it’s stunning. Click on the link for directions to the Bay.

Out of Suncheon you have a few options depending on where you’re coming from, but you somehow need to find 17 and/or ultimately road 22 heading north out of the city.  Road 22 takes you through a gorgeous mountain pass and provides excellent cycling for the duration you’re on this road.  In Dongbok Myeon (74km marker) you’ll pick up road 15 which take you toward Dongbok Lake.  This is my stomping grounds so Naver maps and I had a disagreement about how to approach the last 20km or so.  Naver maps will take you a bit further on 15 and take you up a brutal mountain pass (it’s epic from the other direction!).  I suggest taking the road the follows the west side of the lake (not sure of the name!) until you pick up road 887 which takes you back to the house.  This road is not only more scenic, but the climbs are short and sweet making it a more fun road to ride.  Traffic is minimal as well, save for the occasional (massive) construction vehicles.

Looking for something a bit easier?  Plenty of other suggestions can be found here.

Bike’n Hike (II): Naejangsan National Park

Destination:  Naejangsan National Park
Cycling: 120km
Hiking:  15km
Days:  3


Overview:  Day 1 is a pretty easy ride (50km) with only one notable climb and the most epic downhill imaginable bringing you into the park.  Day 2 is a ball busting hike (15km) around the ridge of the National Park.  Day 3 starts of with a nice climb (45 min of nothing but up) out of the valley and a fairly tiring ride back to The Damyang House (70km). Info about Bike’n Hike VI (the two day version of the is trip) can be found here.
Day 1 (Cycling)
Click here to access the Cyclemeter link
The first 18kms are spent on road 887 which is ideal for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that this road passes right in front of the village.  On top of that, it’s relatively flat and after navigating the jog in the road near the overpass (between km 10-12), it’s an easy hour of cycling with very little traffic to worry about.  Around the 18km mark you’ll pick up route 15, which is an underused four-lane road with at least one uphill climb through a small valley.  After that, it’s mostly downhill to Bukhamyeon, which is where you will pick up route 49 leading into the park (around the 35km mark).  The next 15km on route 49 are pretty amazing as you’ll find both the biggest climb and the biggest descent of the day (test your brakes!).
The last downhill of the day bombs into the park where you’ll find minbaks, a campground and exactly one street of restaurants serving the same menu.  Peak season here is very clearly advertised as fall, and visiting outside of that time frame you will find a very deserted Naejangsan.  The CU Mart is by far the most “happening” place to hangout.  Minbaks are about 30,000/night outside of peak season.
 
Day 2 (Hiking)

There is a shuttle bus from the initial entrance of the park (near the main street of restaurants) to the visitor center, trailheads and cable cars.  It’s only 1,000 won and if you have a car probably not of much use, but the walk along this road is very easy and beautiful (follows a mountain stream) so if your car ends up at one end you have this as an option.

Keep in mind there are essentially two ways to hike the rim trail.  Clockwise or counterclockwise.  They both entail a brutal climb to reach the rim (over an hour of straight up), but after that there isn’t too much difference.  My suggestion is to take the cable car halfway up the mountain and head directly to sinseonbong, the highest peak. From there hike the rim clockwise.  You’ll miss the first peak, but honestly this will make things much easier by the end of the hike when you’re feeling exhausted.  Besides there is a scenic overlook every five seconds so it’s not like you’d be missing out on much! 

This hike isn’t easy and it’s not short (although there are at least three trails connecting with the rim trail that allow you to ‘opt out’ and head back down).  Plan for at least 7 or 8 hours if you want to do the whole thing. 


Day 3 (Cycling)
Click here to access the Cyclemeter link.
Grab some breakfast or a snack and head towards Jeong-eup and out of the park.  This starts your 70km ride home.  Pick up 21 about five kilometers outside of the park (this is not clearly marked!  Look for the tall red love motel) and start your climb through the valley.  This is the biggest climb of the day, but not the only one.  This road will bring you south passed Chuwolsan Park, Damyang Lake and into Damyang City.  Stop in town at 승일식당 to try some of Damyang’s famous kalbi, or simply pass through town, pick up road 887 and head back to the house for a well deserved cold beverage. 

Bike’n Hike (III): Wolchulsan National Park

 

Wolchulsan National Park

Length: 3 days
Cycling: 170km
Hiking:  6km

Overview: Day 1 takes you around Mudeung mountain and through the National Park, so the first half of the day is especially spectacular and challenging.  Day 2 is a challenging, albeit short, hike to the summit of Wolchulsan and some of its best highlights (suspension bridge anyone?).  Day 3 starts out on a few of the same roads that lead you into the park, but takes a detour through Gwangju city and the opposite side of Mudeung National Park to end the day on a high note. 

Day 1
Click here for the Cyclemeter link.

Follow road 887 (take a left when exiting the village…towards Sosaewon) up through the valley until the 9km mark where you will see a small unnamed road on your right, just past the abandoned elementary school (update:  this road has since been paved and is glorious!).  This road winds up through another valley behind Mudeung Mountain.  Around the 17km mark, just past the reservoir, you’ll take a right and head towards Hwasun.  This 10km stretch of road is absolutely gorgeous.  A couple good climbs, an 18% descent and plenty of sweeping views of the valley and Mudeung.  Beware of goats in the road!  

In Hwasun, you will pick up route 55 and follow that for about 35kms.  You’ll briefly jump on a busier route 23, but quickly get off onto 819 which takes you into the park and campground.  I opted not to stay in Yeongam City because quite frankly, there doesn’t seem to be much there.  I stayed at the Cheonhwangsa Campsites, which is on the northeast side of the park (there are two visitor centers/campgrounds) and seemingly the more popular choice because it provides an easier access to the infamous cloud bridge.  
Tent camping is 2000 won/night (not a typo).  There are showers (lower those expectations!), a few restaurants, a couple of minbaks and not much else.  You’d be wise to bring cash.  The massive annex parking lot leads me to believe this is at times very popular.  When I was there (June), this was not the case.  Empty campground and even emptier trails.
 
Wolchulsan
Cheonhwangsa Campground
Mudeung National Park
Day 2 (Hiking)

The hiking portion of this trip is tough at times, but not particularly long.  The trail head is right at the entrance to the campground and takes you pretty much straight up the valley to the biggest crowd-pleaser in Jeolla-do: the cloud bridge.  It’s a suspension bridge, and judging by the massive steel cables anchoring it down, is probably the safest stretch of trail anywhere on this mountain or perhaps in the world.  Unfortunately logic doesn’t apply when you’re hovering 100 meters above the valley floor. 
Once across you’ll head up the mountain a bit further, then back down a bit and finally all the way up to the summit.  When it’s not covered in clouds the views of the surrounding valley are expansive and the mountain itself is a gnarly group of craggy rocks that’s easy to visually get lost in.  From the summit, I headed back down around a small loop to check out the waterfall, which is worth it if for nothing else than to head back down on a portion of trail that offers some different views.
Time and/or transport permitting, I might suggest hiking through the mountain range and park to the other side coming out at Dogapsa Temple.  I strongly recommend working out the logistics beforehand, otherwise it’s going to be a long hike back to your campsite.
Wolchulsan
Wolchulsan
Cloud Bridge
Local treats
Day 3
Click here for the Cyclemeter link.
Not much choice except to head back the way you came….road 819, a quick jump on the busy 23 and ultimately back on 55.  Take this to NamPyeong.  I stopped in this little “city” both days to enjoy the local mini-stop culture.  Cheap snacks and an outlet to recharge my phone is always welcome.  Also from here you can pick up route 1, which takes you into Gwangju city.  Follow route 1 for a bit and generally head north working your way through the city towards route 29 (take a look at the above link for more details on how to navigate the city).  This road puts you onto Mudeung Gil (Mudeung Street) and back into the National Park.  There are a couple of climbs on this last 15km stretch, but again, it’s a beautiful forest and one of my favorite roads in Jeolla Province.  This roads spits you out almost literally in front of the house.  
Mudeung Mountain/Gwangju Lake
Mudeung National Park
Mudeung National Park
Victory beers
Already been to Wolchusan?  More Bike’n Hike options can be found here.

Tourist Attractions: The Damyang Resort Spa (담양온천)

The Damyang Resort was probably “the shit” back when it was built 20 odd years ago.  Today it’s not nearly as impressive as the modern resorts or even some of the nicer pensions around Damyang county.  In short, it’s had a tough time modernizing and keeping up with the newest trends.  The advertised DJ pool parties are clearly an effort to take that big step into the today’s world, but wow…it just looked weird.

Having said that, they still have a lot to offer and while I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit, it is something worth having on your radar in case you’re in the area cycling or hiking.  The sauna was actually nicer than I thought it would be.

Obviously it’s difficult to get photos, because body parts and stuff, but here’s a quick overview to give you an idea of what they have to offer:
Immediately when you walk in you’re greeted with a grand lobby.  Directly to the back is where you’ll find the outdoor swimming pool.  To your right is the front desk to pay for the sauna and the women’s sauna entrance (8,000원).  To the left is the men’s sauna entrance.

After you pay head to your respective sauna entrance.  Use the key to access the shoe locker and lock up your shoes.  Don’t get naked yet otherwise you will make a lot of people very uncomfortable.  Continue into the locker room and find the locker for your personal belongings and open it using the same key.   NOW you can disrobe.

 


The bathhouse has plenty of showers (shower first please!) and of course a variety of baths varying in size, temperature and health benefit.  Never soaked in green tea before?  Now’s your chance.  There are also two steam rooms and a very nice outdoor bath in a courtyard garden.  Sitting in a pool of hot water outdoors in the winter is pretty amazing.The Damyang Resort also has private “family” rooms that can be rented for the day or evening.  It’s not cheap.  They’re not even that nice honestly.  The setup is great though as you have a main room that functions as a private minbak, a private wooden bath that uses geothermal water from 1km below the earth’s surface and a deck area overlooking the swimming pool outside.  Like I said, this place was probably pretty sweet back in the day…shame it hasn’t been better maintained over the years.

 


No pictures of the swimming pool, because you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to come hangout here during peak season (it’s packed with families and kids and absolutely no fun at all).  Anyway, there is a swimming pool as well.

Restaurant Review: DamJu Brewery (담주브로이)

To learn that bamboo beers exists in this world and I didn’t know about it was a bit heartbreaking.  To learn said beer is being made locally and I’ve cycled within a 100 meters of the brewery at least a dozen times was absolutely soul crushing. What other bamboo themed treasures am I missing out on?

I ended up here with some of Damyang’s hardest working civil servants in order to celebrate both the end of the week and the end of our six-month long study group.  The “bamboo beer brewery” was casually mentioned as a place to host our celebration.  Mind blown.

The beer is made with actual bamboo leaves (or so says the owner), but let’s face it, it tastes nothing like bamboo.  The novelty factor is off the charts though so I was instantly sold on the concept.  You have your choice between a Weizen and a Dunkel.  I was partial to the Dunkel, but can definitely see myself enjoying a few thousand Weizens on the rooftop patio (!!!) next summer.

UPDATE:  I did in fact come back in the warmer months…the beer garden is indeed amazing!



Paragliders over the rice paddies

The food is the typical anju-ish stuff you would expect (don-katsu, salad bar, fried chicken, etc) except for two surprises: bamboo shoot sausage and bamboo shoot ddeok-galbi.  I’ve raved about the sausages before, not realizing where they came from.  The ddeok-galbi is so-so and the fried chicken was blasphemous.  I wouldn’t wander too far from the sausages and the don-katsu, by far the best two things on the menu.


As we were finishing up our meal I asked the owner if they offered take-out beers, like any good brewery does, and sure enough they do!  10,000won per bottle (1000ml).  They also sell the bamboo sausages and ddeok-galbi.


The biggest drawback to this place is the location.  It’s not really near anything notable and is just outside “downtown” Damyang.  You’ll certainly need to call a driver or get a taxi after your visit and it’s not cheap to get anyway from here.  Your best bet is to wait until spring, hop on your bike, and enjoy the countryside views to and from the brewery.

The owner’s wife is an absolute angel and deserves special recognition.  Turns out she is a childhood friend of the chairman of our village and immediately called him once she found out where we lived.  This small coincidence made us instant BFFs and translated into copious amounts of “service”!  Free sausages and booze for everyone.  She even sat down with us and had a couple of beers at the end of the night.  Pretty awesome.

UPDATE:  So we’ve been back a few times since this orginal post and the owners have been very generous every time.  Our last visit they even gave us a tour of the brewery.  It’s impressive for the middle of Damyang…lots of expensive imported German brewing equipment!


Don’t like beer?  Plenty of other restaurant suggestions can be found here.

Restaurant Review: Sanggyo Galbi (쌍교 숯불갈비)


Sanggyo has recently undergone some major renovations, presumably to solidify their reputation as “the” top dog in the Damyang restaurant market.  I try not to let fancy buildings influence my judgement of the food (it’s Korea after all…some of the best food in the country is found in some of the scariest looking restaurants), but it’s hard not to be impressed with this beautiful hanok inspired two-story restaurant.  As a testament to the quality of the food, I can tell you that for the better part of a year, during the renovations, they had people eating in make-shift shacks and it didn’t affect business in the slightest.  Be prepared to wait at least 45 minutes on the weekends…mind blowing when you see how big it is inside.

 

Like any good tourist restaurant (not a negative in this context) they provide, both floor and table seating as well as private rooms.  The food comes out quick and servers are accustomed to obnoxious picture taking so snap away.

 
They offer two local specialties: ddeok galbi and Damyang style BBQ’d galbi.  I’m sure you can find better ddeok galbi elsewhere in town, so stick with the galbi they’re famous for.  The Damyang style of BBQ is a bit different in that the meat is brined and cooked in back and comes out piping hot and ready to eat.  You have a choice between regular and spicy (it’s not spicy at all).  Both are delicious.

 
The basic banchan will arrive almost immediately and consists of three types of salad, three types of kimche, three types of seaweed and a couple of other odds and ends.  The server will recommend which salad or seaweed to eat with the meat, but after a decade of living in Korea I’m pretty sure that there is no rule about what goes in your lettuce leaf wrap.

Additional servings of meat are easy to order and encouraged by the staff.  Refills of banchan are no problem what-so-ever.  Basically, arrive hungry and ready to eat.  Be sure to save room for the “shik-sa” portion of the meal…because it’s not dinner unless rice is involved!  We, for some reason, always order the sujaebee and are always disappointed.  One portion is more than enough for three or four people though so at least it’s not expensive.  In fact our entire meal for three people, including five orders of meat (don’t judge), five beers, and an order of sujaebee was about 80,000…and I didn’t eat for the next 48 hours~

 


Not interested in galbi?  Plenty of other options can be found here.

Restaurant Review: Daega (대가 – 생선구이)

Daega is another popular “destination restaurant” for both domestic tourists and Gwangju day-trippers alike.  It’s situated directly across from the Gwangju dam and it checks all the right boxes by being comparatively cheap, serving local specialties and having a somewhat quirky “traditional” interior design.  Even during the winter months, when everything else is dead, this place is thriving on the weekends with a packed parking lot and a full restaurant.

 

Even if you don’t like grilled fish (looking at you dad), this place is just straight up fun to be in.  Walking through the big wooden front doors, you’re greeted with a large open restaurant offering floor seating, table seating and a few private rooms in the back.  There’s tons of traditional kitsch around to keep your eyes occupied while your stomach waits for your food to arrive.  They even have a water-way built into the floor with goldfish swimming around!

The menu has a few options, depending on the size of your group, but it’s basically your choice of grilled fish with or without ddeok galbi.  Don’t sleep on the ddeok galbi…it’s better than most (all) of the Damyang restaurants specializing in this tasty local treat.  The set menus toward the top will give you a mix of different fish, ddeok galbi and the dolsot rice.

The banchan will arrive first, of course, and while it doesn’t look like much they are extremely friendly about refilling the dishes you like, especially if you catch them before the lunch/dinner rush.  The kimche is at least a million years old and is phenomenal…refills are a must.

Next out is the dolsot bap.  If you’ve never had it before, it’s basically two dishes in one:  rice and 누룽지 (I’m not even going to try and spell that in English).  Simply scoop out your rice into the separate rice bowl (not pictured).  Don’t scrape too hard because the crispy burnt pieces stuck in the bowl is what makes your 누룽지.  Next, fill the stone bowl with the barely tea from the pitcher on your table and put it aside until the end of the meal.  During the time it takes you to eat everything else, this burnt rice and barely tea will turn into a delicious after dinner porridge.

Shortly after you’ve dealt with your dolsot bap, the fish and ddeok galbi will arrive.  The type of fish will vary depending on which set menu you choose, but it’s all delicious!  If you’ve been in Korea longer than five minutes you probably know the fish comes out whole…you’ve been warned.

  

Here’s what the entire spread looks like:

 


For dessert you have a choice of coffee, shikhye or do-it-yourself ice cream cones.   Or you can do yourself a favor and skip the crappy dessert and order another round of OB and a few more of those tasty ddeok galbi paddies!

Restaurant Review: Damyang Flower Ddeokgalbi (담양애 꽃 떡갈비)

I’m sure you’re painfully aware, like the rest of us, that Damyang is equally famous for and proud of the minced meat paddies known as ddeokgalbi (떡갈비).  It’s ubiquitous.  Personally I find most of it overpriced and not all that great.  In fact my favorite ddeokgalbi in Damyang can be found at a restaurant known for grilled fish (Dega/대가).

 

Damyang “Flower” Ddeokgalbi was recently referred to me by a friend, but has been on my radar for awhile because it’s consistently busy.  It’s hard to ignore their success.  So…I’ll save you the effort of reading the rest of this post:  it’s surprisingly clean, delicious, well priced and a place I’ll gladly take out-of-towners when they want to try some of the local flavors.

 


Walking in the restaurant it was instantly clear that it’s much bigger than it looks.  That explains the seemingly large parking lot in front!  Before you’re seated you’ll have to choose your set menu.  Pretty easy as it’s a ddeokgalbi restaurant serving ddeokgalbi.  Basically choose between beef, pork or a mix of both (the mix is recommended…called 반반정식, or the top right of the menu).


Once seated things start to happen pretty fast.  The banchan comes out first and is pretty damn impressive.  It consists of a lot of the usual suspects (kimches and namools) and is fresh and flavorful.  The server will recommend which to eat with the ddeokgalbi, but you’d be hard pressed to mix something “incorrectly”.

 

 


Shortly after, the ddeokgalbi will arrive.  Don’t panic if you’re trying to maintain that plus-size figure as additional paddies are cheap at 3,000 for pork and 6,000 for beef!

 


To top it off you’ll get some soup (된장), a bit of fish (고등어) and rice with bamboo shoots (죽순).

 


Dessert is where things got a bit weird.  Purple sweet potato tea anyone?


All said and done it was 30,000 for two people and we were stuffed.  Add some booze and an extra order of ddeokgalbi and you’re still under 50k for a memorable dinner.  At 13km, it’s also a quick drive or a scenic bike ride!  Here’s the directions and here’s the view:

 

 


Looking for something else?  Plenty of other restaurant recommendations can be found here.