Hiking: Mudeung National Park – Wonhyosa Valley

Unfortunate as it it, not everyone has the time (or the desire) for a multi-day, triple digit mileage cycling and hiking adventure.  In an effort not to alienate the majority voice, I’m doing my best to map out some bike’n hike themed afternoon excursions that won’t leave you cursing the surrounding mountains.

The cycling portion of this trip is a quick 4km bike ride to and from the trailhead and the hike up through the valley to the final destination of Wonhyosa is another 4kms each way with modest elevation gains (for a total of 16km…click here for the cylcemeter link).  You could easily bookend this trip with a tour through the Eco-Park near the house and lunch at one of the many bori-bap restaurants near Wonhyosa in order to fill out the afternoon.  Alternatively, you could use this as a first step to a much larger hike through Mudeung National Park as Wonhyosa is home to a variety of trail-heads that put you within striking distance of just about every corner of the park.

The Wonhyosa Valley hike makes use of two of the lesser know trailheads tucked away down a gravel road near the entrance of Buncheongware museum (pottery) and right down the street from Eco-Park.  The Pungam entrance is certainly the busier of the two and can even get a bit crowded during the summer months due to the infamous Mudung swimming holes found in the valley.

To get there, grab a bike and head out to the main road.  Take a left.  Take the first right across the bridge and follow this wooden duck lined road (called 속대) around the rice paddy filled valley.

 

 


Take a left at the first intersection and another quick left at the museum road entrance.


This road has seen better days so take it slow and avoid the massive pot-holes!  Thankfully you’re not going far…take the first left down this little service road.


Follow this road to the gate and lock up your bikes (but don’t lock them to the gate as this is still an active service road which I believe goes through the entire park.  Definitely looking forward to sneaking my bike up here!).

 


You can see the trailhead sign just in front of my bike.  Follow this trail through the forest until you see this pogoda:

Head down past the pogoda, but don’t cross the river just yet.  Continue up the valley on this side of the river until you see rock stairs guiding you down to the river.  This is where you should cross.

Head up the river bank on the other side (you should eventually be walking away from the river) until you come out on a gravel road.  You should see a sign marker for Wonhyosa at this point.  This junction connects the two trails and completes the loop portion of the hike…if that first part seems too confusing just park your bikes at the end of this trail (Pungam entrance) and hike in and out at the same place.Follow the signs up through the valley toward Wonhyosa.  Navigating all the guerrilla farmers is a bit tricky, but I sort of love that they’re all here in the middle of a national park.  I suspect they were grandfathered in as this was only recently given national park status.  This dude even has cctv cameras!


The rest of the trail is well marked and always within earshot of the river.  Depending on the season, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for secluded swimming holes or picnic areas.  The valley is filled with them and the further up the valley you go, the less likely you are to be disturbed by the hordes of families fighting over picnic space near the Pungam entrance.

 

 


At the top you’ll run into yet another old service road.  Plenty of signage at this point so just head toward Wonhyosa and cross the old bridge.

 


From here you’re close to Wonhyosa temple, the ranger station and all the restaurants.  You have a few choices to make…either grab some lunch, head back down or continue on up the mountain!  It’s a quick and easy hike back down through the valley and an even easier bike ride back to the house.

 

 

 

It’s all downhill to the house 🙂

 

Restaurant Review: Changpyeong GukBap Restaurant (국밥)

Gukbap is one of many foods Damyang claims to be famous for and Changpyeong, just down the road, is the epicenter of it all.  Unlike ddukgalbi, which overshadows all the less famous Damyang foods, gukbap is actually affordable and doesn’t come with a pretentious “fusion” theme (don’t get me started).  Quite the opposite actually.  At 6,000 won a bowl, Gukbap is some serious blue collar eats. Come here during lunch time any day of the week and you’ll see what I mean.

If you’re not a fan of the nasty bits, you’ll want to give this spot a pass because the menu is nothing but pork products.


“Changpyeong Gukbap” is one of the more popular gukbap restaurants around this area and is consistently packed.  To get there head down 887 to the Goseo intersection and take a right (about 6km).  The driveway entrance to the restaurant is about 100 meters down the road on your right.  The restaurant itself is tucked away and a bit difficult to see from the road so keep your eyes peeled for the tall blue roadside sign.  A map with this restarant labeled (and many others) can be found here.

Most people order the standard 국밥 (pictured below), but personally I prefer the 공나물국밥 (don’t worry, it also comes with plenty of organs as well).  Enjoy!

 
 


 

Cycling: Damyang – Course 1

I’ve documented a lot of rides around Jeollanam-Do, Damyang specifically, most of which can be found here.  Be forewarned, I am not a fan of river path cycling in Korea and this ride is no exception.  This particular course loops through the mountains and countyside roads of southern Damyang, just east of Gwangju (riding from Gwangju via Mudueng National Park would add an extra 20ish km each way). The cyclemeter link can be found here.

From The Damyang House the first 20km of this 55km/2.5 hour ride are on road 887…simply head out to the main road and take a left.  You’ll climb up through the valley the house is in and ultimately pass through a tunnel.

After the tunnel keep heading straight on 887.  It’s clearly marked and an easy ride.  The local makoli bootlegger is up on your left, just across from the abandoned elementary school if you’re feeling thirsty.

You’ll eventually pass Aquana, which is the least fun looking resort/water park I’ve ever seen.  You’ll also start seeing a lot of signage for the dinosaur footprint park that is close by…it’s a pretty park, but like all the other tourist attractions around here, it’s pretty much empty.  Not a bad place to stop for a snack though, just don’t expect much out of those dinosaur footprints.

Here they are!

Keep riding until you see the sign for Daedeok.  Take a left here and follow this road through the farming valley.  Part of what makes this course so great is that these old valley roads have been left largely unused due to newer, bigger, and faster expressways built over the last couple of decades.  Just you and the rice farmers!

 

There isn’t necessarily a climb to speak of, although you do sort of wind your way up through the valley.  You’re met with a nice view at the top and a long decent you’ll feel like you didn’t earn.

Follow this down to the junction with road 60 and take a left towards Changpyeong.  More downhill!

At this point you have some options.  You could easily explore the “slow city” in Changpyeong, get some lunch and continue on road 60 until it reconnects with 887 which if you take a left, will take you back to the house. You might regret it though as the best has yet to come.

Personally, I recommend taking a left off of road 60 towards Yucheon-ri (유천리) and straight into the belly of this beast:

Even the photo came out scary looking!  For good reason as this old unused road takes you pretty much straight over those mountains.  It’s not long, maybe 30 minutes (if you’re in shape), but it’s steep (10%) with lots of switchbacks.   This is what the road looks like from near the top.

You can see the road way off in the distance!

As you slowly start climbing the mountain you will be rewarded with better and better views of Damyang and the surrounding mountain range. I really need to get a proper camera because these photos don’t really do it justice.

You can see the Hanok Village in the foreground.

A bit mind-blowing, but from this mountain pass it’s downhill all the way to the house.  Put on some headphones and enjoy the ride through yet another gorgeous valley.  Just don’t forget to take a right when you intersect with road 887!

TDH Updates: 10-8-14

Seasonal changes:

  • Winter is approaching and with it comes the need to heat the house.  The cast iron fireplace was originally bought for it’s aesthetic value, but after realizing what it costs to heat a stand-alone house with ondol things quickly changed.  That 200kg beast in the photo above, when used correctly, does a much better and more efficient job of heating the house anyhow.  Guest staying during the colder months will be given a quick tutorial and are encouraged to turn down the ondol and enjoy a proper fire.  Honestly, you’d be crazy not to!

  •  Enjoy a piping hot cup of coffee on us.  Have a couple.  Free coffee is now available!  I bought that gorgeous stainless steel french press as a Christmas gift for my brother, but quickly ordered myself one after seeing how nice it was.  A little taste of luxury first thing in the morning is never a bad thing.  

  • We harvested the last of our summer veg (peppers anyone?) and replaced the planter box with some leafy greens and scallions.  Definitely the healthiest garden I’ve ever had the pleasure of maintaining.  Feel free to grab a few handfuls to eat with your BBQ. 

Bike’n Hike (VI): Naejangsan National Park

Destination:  Naejangsan National Park

Cycling:  120km
Hiking:  12km
Days:  2
 NaeJangsan National Park

The Bike’n Hike concept was born out of a failed backpacking trip to Jirisan National Park in February of 2014.  For whatever reason the logistics of that trip weren’t coming together so we opted to ditch the car, grab some bikes and head to a closer National Park.  That park was of course Naejangsan.  Since February we have done six Bike’n Hike trips to five of the surrounding National Parks…three of those trips were to this little park to the north.  It’s not by accident that we keep returning.

Traditionally these mini-bike tours have been a minimum of three days.  This was our first attempt to squeeze it all in a weekend.  Luckily we weren’t without willing participants.  Gibby and Jay were the first two to arrive from Seoul and after a bit of drama with cranky taxi drivers and unwelcome rain storms, we headed to a local 고기 집 to fill up on BBQ and booze and wait for the others.

“One Dish”
Once Sunghoon and John arrived in Gwangju we quickly met up and set off for The Damyang House,  which would serve as our home base of sorts for the weekend.  The slick (wet) roads prevented us from taking the scenic route through Mudeung National Park, but it was dark and getting late anyhow so it seemed a better use of time to head straight back to the house.  The ride itself is under 20km and less than an hour.  The rain had stopped at some point during dinner so we were able to avoid getting soaked on the ride home and had an opportunity to enjoy a campfire and the surrounding bamboo forest once we arrived. 
 Relaxin’.
The Damyang House

The next morning we scraped together a nice breakfast, got our gear in order and hit the road.

 The Crew
 Our Departure
Not everyone was happy about us leaving.
One of the (many) appealing aspects of the trip to Naejangsan is the roads that lead to and from the park.  They’re well maintained and largely underused so traffic is never really an issue.  There are two climbs during the 50km ride to the park entrance, but without them the day might be too easy.  Not to mention, the descent into the park makes it absolutely worth it!
 Moments before disaster…sorry Gibby!
A quick rest before the big climb of the day.

The climb begins.
We arrived at the park in under four hours, which gave us plenty of time to tackle the “hike” portion of the Bike’n Hike adventure.  The relatively easy ride to the park is quickly forgotten once you hit the park trails…they’re unforgiving and head pretty much straight up to the mountain ridge that circles around the park.  We were in a race with time (sunset) so completing the ridge hike was out of the question as it takes pretty much all day to hit all eight peaks.  It’s highly recommended if you have the time though…it’s an incredible hike.  Our goal was simply to get up to the ridge, grab a few photos and bask in the sense of accomplishment.  After four hours of cycling that’s easier said than done.  
 Getting closer.
 We made it!
Feeling accomplished!
 Taking a break.
 Our view.
 Exploring.
 Time to head back.
After climbing down the mountain we hopped back on our bikes and rode the 2km back to the park entrance where you’ll find a street of restaurants, a minbak neighborhood and a bit of nightlife (read: a CU Mart).  There are loads of cheap minbaks (about 10,000/person) clustered together at the top of the hill.  The lady at 촛불 is especially nice and her minbak sits highest up on the hill with a red sign.  You can’t miss it.  
   촛불민박
The restaurants around aren’t really anything to write home about honestly.  They are loads of them, but they oddly all serve the same menu.  I’ve been to five or six of them and can’t say anything really stood out enough that I’d recommend it.  If nothing else it’s a good place to catch your breath with some 동동주 and 파전 post-hike.  
We hit the CU after dinner for a few beers and made friends with some of the local wildlife.  As the temperature dropped and fatigue slowly set in we said goodbye to our new friend and got some much needed rest.
Praying Mantis
The next morning we headed towards the nearest town, Jeong-Eup, to get breakfast at a restaurant we found last time we were in the area.  This place is much cheaper and the food is a thousand times better…sadly I didn’t get a photo or even the name of the place!  I can say it’s on the right side of the road, just past the turnoff for road 21 that leads you back towards Damyang (and up the biggest climb of the day!).  The turn for road 21 isn’t clearly marked when heading north on road 49 towards Jeong-Eup so look for the big red love motel…this is where you’ll need to take a right!
Big Red Love Motel
The ride home to Damyang (or the Gwangju bus station) is about 70 or 80kms and starts off with a bang.  This climb through the valley is actually really enjoyable and while it’s quite long, it’s not as steep as some of the other climbs on this route (four in total).  And of course once you’re at the top, you’re met with a nice downhill to catch your breath.  The whole afternoon is filled with valleys and underused roads.  It’s gorgeous.

Selfie at the top of the mountain.
 Valley roads.
 Headed to Damyang.

Bike Trouble!
After fixing John’s bike, we turned off on road 29 which heads south through Damyang “city” and back to The Damyang House.  This road is scenic in its own right as it passes by Damyang Lake and the iconic Chuwolsan, which overlooks Damyang and can be seen from miles away.  Of course there’s another scenic valley to pass through as well.  
 Chuwolsan
Chuwolsan
Valley to Damyang.
We eventually ended up in Damyang and stumbled upon the Namdo Food Festival, which looked pretty damn fun, but was much too big of an endeavor to take on this late in the game.  We instead headed to one of Damyang’s famous Galbi restaurants which didn’t disappoint.  It’s embarrassing how much BBQ’d pork they gave us.  
 승일식당
 Always packed. 
Namdo Food Festival
At this point in the trip it sort of felt like someone hit the fast forward button.  Certainly one of the bigger down-sides to trying to accomplish so much in a two-day weekend.  I think we’d all agree that another night/day to soak it all in would have been nice.  Regardless, it was an action packed 48 hours and I look forward to doing it all again soon (Wolchulsan anyone?)!!!
*all photos by Sean Walker, Sunghoon Cho, Jay Diaz, John McDermott and Mark Gibby Johnson…thanks for sharing guys!

TDH Updates 9-24-14

Lots going on around The Damyang House!’

  • Replacement hammock finally arrived this week.  What started as a seemingly harmless afternoon of cold beers and cornhole quickly took a turn for the serious when ANDREW BLACK destroyed my prize possession.  Shortly after he lost 20,000won on the ol’bean bag court.  Not a good day for Andy. 

    • Hosting Chuseok weekend for over 20 of our friends taught me one thing about The Damyang House:  we were in desperate need of more comfortable seating.  Our timing is a bit off, but we’re now the proud owners of four reclining camping chairs.  Pretty damn comfortable and a built in beer holder in the armrest to boot.  We’re ready for next year. *(the campfire fishing pole is one of the first things we bought when the house was finished…it’s even cooler than it looks!)

    • Birdwatching seems like another expensive hobby I can’t afford, but it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it when you’re surrounded by wildlife.  Ringed-necked pheasants, Ruddy Kingfishers and White-backed Woodpeckers are all birds I never even knew existed in Korea before the start of the summer.  Patrick Blake (local birding legend!) will return next month to The Damyang House to celebrate spotting his 700th species (!!!) and hopefully use that fancy camera of his to help me replace some of the blurry cell-phone photos I’ve collected trying to document the aforementioned wildlife.  Check out his website and learn something about the birds flying around the Korean peninsula.  His photography website is worth a look too!

    *Here’s a link to donate to the Birds Korea Organization if you’re feeling generous! 



      죽순 소시지 (Bamboo Shoot Sausage)

      죽순 소시지 (Bamboo Shoot Sausage)
      6km down the road (at the 고서 intersection) there is an appropriately named grocery store called ‘Local Food’ offering all the best and freshest foods the local farmers have to offer.  Bamboo alcohol, free range eggs and volume 10 kimches and namuls are all standard goods for sale.  The bamboo shoot sausage however, isn’t something I’ve seen before and honestly bought strictly for the novelty of the photo.  
      The novelty obviously stemming from the fact that bamboo is EVERYWHERE around Damyang and the locals try their best to exploit it in every way possible.  These particular bamboo shoots (죽순) are no joke though…they’re expensive and people come from all over to try and poach them from the local forests.  I “chased off” at least two poachers this summer from our front yard.  They also grow extremely fast so you have to pick them at the right time.  This photo shows a bamboo shoot that grew 230cm in a week!
      I clearly misjudged the sausage though.  They were delicious.  And as someone that routinely makes sausage, I can honestly say there were made by someone who knows what they are doing (natural casing and all).  At 7,500 for five they’re definitely pricier than what they have at the nearest Home Plus, but worth every won. 

      White-backed Woodpecker

      These little guys love the surrounding bamboo.  My limited research tells me they are White-backed Woodpeckers (the local birding facebook page seems to agree).  They’re gorgeous birds.  

      I hear them almost daily and have been trying ALL SUMMER to get a decent photo.  The odds have been stacked against me.  They’re not only fast birds, and bounce from tree to tree, but the bamboo forests around the house are thick.  And I’m using a camera phone.  I miss the days of early summer when that Ruddy Kingfisher was hanging around…he was much more willing to photographed!

       

      Peanut Harvest

      This summer was really our first chance to address the giant landscaping opportunity/nightmare that is our 200 pyeong property.  Here’s a before picture to give you an idea of what we were up against:

       
      I won’t bore you with the after pictures (they’re all over this website lol), but I will say that every rock, bush, tree and blade of grass was deliberate and done by hand.  The garden was no exception.  There was a bit of trial and error finding not only the right spot, but the right soil consistency (mixture of soil and something called 마사토 was the winner) as well.  The locals swore up and down that my little spot on the side of our house wasn’t going to get enough sun…lucky for me they were wrong.  Healthiest garden I’ve ever had.  Next year I’ll be able to incorporate a trellis or two and essentially double the yield.  This year we did cucumbers, eggplants, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, two kinds of hot peppers, and of course…peanuts.  

      I’ve actually grown peanuts before during our three year stint at the local 주말농장 (a weekend farm called Happy Farm…awesome place).   Seeing as this year was more of an experiment for the garden, we only planted three starters.  That gives you exactly one small serving of peanuts:
      Anyway, they were delicious!