Top 20 Things To Do At The Damyang House

What will you do during your stay at The Damyang House?  Here are 20 suggestions to help you organize your visit (in no particular order).  These can all be done without a car (bus/transfer service gets you to the house):

1.  Hike Through the Bamboo Forest
Pretty obvious choice seeing as you’ll be surrounded by it on three sides.  Added bonus:  the trailhead is in the front yard.

Continue reading “Top 20 Things To Do At The Damyang House”

Hiking: TDH Top 5 Dog Friendly Hikes

Being dog owners ourselves, we’re constantly looking for dog-friendly hiking options. So, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite routes around the area to help take some of the guess work out of your weekend adventure in the countryside.  As a rule of thumb, Eco-Parks and National Parks are typically NOT dog friendly (there are exceptions as you will see below).  Also, please be respectful of other hikers that may not be comfortable around your “large” dog. Keep them leashed when necessary, clean up after them and don’t let them kill any of the wildlife 🙂

Continue reading “Hiking: TDH Top 5 Dog Friendly Hikes”

Restaurant Review: 들플부빔 (비빔밥)

 

 

Both 들플 restaurants are run by the same family.  The mother runs the larger 한정식 (han jung shik) restaurant serving ddeokgalbi (of course) and the son runs the nearby bibimbap restaurant; the focus of this review.  They’re both located right across from the Gwangju Lake dam (map) and because they’re just a few kilometers from the house, were some of the first restaurants we visited.  Unfortunately our first visits to both were lackluster and because there are so many other restaurants around, we never really went back and simply forgot about them.

That is until about a month ago.  During at least three unrelated conversations with three very different people, the name of this place came up.  It’s not exactly an inconvenient location and our initial visit wasn’t necessarily bad, so we headed back to see what, if anything had changed.

Sure enough, the signage outside was new.  Possible renovation?  A good sign (no pun) nonetheless.

 

 

I remember our first visit being sort of uncomfortable because it was so empty and quiet inside.  Needless to say we were shocked when we walked into a full and absolutely bustling restaurant.  I had to go back the next day just before opening time to get the second (people-free) picture of the dining room.

 

The menu offers some classics (육회/멍개/불고기), a vegetarian option (산채), and at least one I’ve never even seen before (청국장공).  A pretty solid selection.

While you wait for your bibimbap, you’re served a small appetizer of cooked pork, onions and garlic to be eaten bossam style with a variety of leafy greens and a homemade 쌈장 sauce.  There is also a small spicy salad (think fresh lettuce kimche) and a side of acorn jelly.  Sounds simple, but it was damn tasty.

The bibimbap comes out just about when you’ve finished these snacks.  It arrives as a stacked combo; the heavy dolsot bowl/rice on the bottom and a large brass bowl filled with your bibimbap selection on top.  Another large brass plate with homemade kimches.  A+ for presentation for sure.

If you’re off the beaten path far enough to end up in a place like this, you probably already know to scoop your rice out of the dolsot bowl and into the brass bowl.  The kettle on the table is used to fill up your dolsot bowl and should be set aside while you eat.  This will make “rice porridge” and is typically what you eat last (it’ll be piping hot so you don’t have much of a choice).  Depending on which type of bibimbab you order you will either mix in gochujang or a soy based sauce.

At 9,000won I’d actually consider this place cheap considering both how much you get and the quality of what you get.  I’ve been back a couple of times in the last two weeks just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke (we were famished during our initial return visit) and I can assure you everything on the menu is delicious…choosing a favorite would be tough!!

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

TDH Updates: April 2015 – Artist Chung Park

 Photo by: Diaz

Seoul based artist Chung Park has left his mark on Jeollanam-Do, both literally and figuratively.  Having two exhibits under his belt at the new up-and-coming Salt Art Gallery located in Gwangju, he’s no stranger to the area.  We were happy to snag the “Beacon” piece at the first show and have it proudly on display in the entrance way of the house; it’s the first thing you see when you enter.

My increasing obsession with sotdae (솟대) is directly proportional to the amount of time I’ve spent in the countryside over the last couple of years.  They’re easy to write off as “ducks on a stick”, but like most things in Asian culture have a much deeper meaning and significance.  Disney, unfortunately, has done no favors for these sacred migratory birds in western culture.  In contrast, here’s an example of one of many quotes on the Wikipedia page for sotdae, “It was believed that ducks travel to the world beyond the Earth and act as a messenger between the physical world and the realm of the spirits.”  Damn. 

It’s no secret Chung is a friend of The Damyang House, so convincing him to bring his talents back down to Jeolla-Do once more for a mural at the house was an easy sell.  Finding time was another story.  Alas, the planets aligned and it all came together this past weekend.  Sotdae now guard both entrances of the house and add a splash of color to an otherwise empty outside wall space.  

It was an action packed weekend at the house and we’re happy to share all the gory details.  Special thanks to Jay Diaz for helping to both participate in, and document the madness.  

Day 1 – Chung gets started:

The wall
The sketch

 
 Not as easy at it looks. Photo by: Diaz

Chung working; Diaz documenting
 Photo by: Diaz

 
Photo by: Diaz

Johan (Salt Art Gallery) looks in.  Photo by: Diaz
 
 Photo by: Diaz

 Photo by: Diaz



 
 Photo by: Diaz
Day 2 – We went for a hike and left Chung to his work. 
Photo by: Diaz

Photo by: Diaz

Dinner!

The artist sleeps! Photo by: Diaz

Day 3 – Finished work.

Photo by: Diaz

Chung eats a well deserved kimche jiggae at 왕가녜.

Well deserved thank you’s to Chung Park for the mural, Jay Diaz for the photos and Riser for hosting…and the whole crew for putting up with me for the weekend. Boom!

Restaurant Review: 황가네 (Eco-Park Restaurant)

 


I’ve spent a lot of time at this restaurant over the years so it goes without saying I’m a bit biased and probably couldn’t give an objective review even if I wanted to.  However, judging by the reaction of family and friends I think I’m justified in giving this no-frills restaurant an enthusiastic two thumbs up.This place is well known amongst locals, mostly due to the cheap prices and pungent flavors (seriously the kimche at this place is beyond “fermented”!), but also has it’s fair share of signatures on the wall from visiting local/national celebrities.  Famous or not, this place is packed with customers during mealtimes, mostly ordering the star of the show:  the kimchee jiggae.  The kimchee jiggae (see photo above) is made with the aforementioned “funky” kimchee, but is also chocked full of pork and homemade green tea tofu.  Best 6,000 you’ll ever spend!


The green tea tofu can be ordered on it’s own (comes with dipping sauce) and will usually be served with the ban-chan before your main dish arrives.  It’s fresh.  It’s delicious.  Order some to-go on your way out!


Speaking of ban-chan, the six pictured above are usually what you get…the portions are certainly representative of Jeolla-Do (read: large) and refills often happen whether you ask or not.  The ban-chan (and food for that matter) is definitely on the salty side, but most good Korean food is.  The menu has a few different options, all of which you would expect to find in a place like this, but honestly I never venture far from the kimchee jiggae.  They are accommodating for vegetarians as well, but make sure you ask (everything except the tofu itself has meat and/or seafood in it).

Kimchee Jiggae, Ban-Chan and Green Tea Tofu

 

순두부 지께

Getting there from the house is easy.  Head towards the Eco-Park (take a right on the main road and a left at the gas station) and continuing walking past the park entrance (it should be on your right) for another few minutes.  The restaurant will be on your right and looks like this:

Stop by next time you’re in the area…you won’t regret it!
Looking for something else?  Plenty of other restaurant recommendations can be found here.

Restaurant Review: Eco-Park Restaurant – 엄마손맛집 (Mom’s Food)

 

 

 

This little gem of a restaurant has been sitting under our nose for the last year and a half, and for one reason or another we never walked through the doors and sat down for a meal.  Thankfully a day out with the Gwangju Birds Korea Group put this place on our radar and we’ve been back multiple times since.

The restaurant is located directly in front of the parking lot entrance for the Gwangju Lake Eco-Park.  Here’s the google map.


Upon entering it’s pretty clear chunggukjang (청국장) is the star of the show at this spot.  If you’ve never had it, it stinks…in a good way.  The interior is small, but that’s understandable considering the entire operation is run by an adorable elderly Korean couple.  The 할아버지 (grandpa) runs the front of the house and the 할머니 (grandma) cooks the food.  They’re both ultra friendly and a little Korean and a smile goes a long way in a place like this.

 

 


The menu is simple and reflective of the location by offering some true Korean countryside classics.

 

Menu

The steamed chicken (백숙) is served EVERYWHERE around here and I can almost guarantee I know a better place to get it (남향가든 just around the corner) so stick with the cheaper (and faster!) menu items.  The zucchini stew (애호박찌개) isn’t shy with either the zucchini or the pork and uses the 닭도리탕 broth (a bit on the sweet side).  It’s delicious, but the Chunggukjang (청국장) is much better in my opinion.  It’s the real deal.

애호박찌개

 청국장 (to be fair this was take-out)

The Seafood Jeon (해물파전) is the unsung hero of this place.  It’s amazing.  Better than the soups.  Better than most of the Jeon around Damyang.  This is what my friends originally recommended and for good reason.

 

해물파전

                                

해물파전

해물파전

Additionally, if you’re a fan of Korean food and strong flavor, you’ll love the banchan at this place and similar places around the neighborhood.  They’re made with local ingredients, in-house, with pride and without short-cuts.  Restaurants in North America would advertise this to ad-nausea, but around here it’s just what’s expected.  Those massive re-purposed water jugs behind you with fermenting locally-grown garlic?  They’ll be on your table in a few weeks.  The owners were making the dried anchovy banchan when we arrived and were so proud of it they gave us a healthy portion to take home when we left. Amazing.

Garlic

반찬

반찬

 Looks like Kalguksu (칼국수) takes center stage during the warmer months, but personally I’ll be returning for the makoli and pajeon!


Not interested in locally grown food cooked with care?  Here’s a few more options you proably wont’ like.

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.

Hiking: Jishil Valley (The Mountains Behind The House)

This is the 5km dog-friendly hike I’ll recommend to you when you visit and be secretly disappointed when you provide some thin excuse the next day as to why you couldn’t fit it in your schedule.  My disappointment lies in the fact that this trail is nearly perfect in so many ways.

For starters, it offers more “bang for your buck” than any trail in the area.  It’s got a bamboo forest, a pine forest, giant boulders, ancient pagodas and a pretty amazing overlook just towards the end that acts as the cherry on top (it’s all downhill from there!).

Spring

Summer

Fall

Winter

Next, it’s extremely accessible.  The trailhead is in the front yard (literally) and the trail ends just on the other side of the village.  No need to walk along the busy main road, ride a bike or drive anywhere.

 

 Start at 12 (the house) finish at 1 (Shikyoungjung)

Lastly, it’s the perfect length; long, but not too long.  At around 2 hours, it’s just long enough to make it feel like you accomplished something and earned that second helping of chicken pot pie.  You can even cheat and head straight up to the overlook by doing the hike in reverse.  From the front door you can be looking out over the entire valley and Mudeung National Park while enjoying a cup of makoli in less than 20 minutes (double that if you’re my wife).

 

The hike itself is fairly easy to navigate, but here’s the play by play just to help eliminate a least one of the more common excuses (getting lost).

In the front yard, to the left of the fence, you’ll find the trail.  This trail runs behind the fence and out to the road in the village so it’s not uncommon to see hikers passing through.

The trail from the front yard

The trail leading into the bamboo forest

This trail leads through a thick bamboo forest that gradually thins out as you go up the mountain.  Even if you’re not interested in hiking the whole trail, do yourself a favor and at least walk through the bamboo forest.  It’s what Damyang is famous for and pretty cool to have right at your fingertips.  Bonus points if you go in there at night (spoiler alert: it’s terrifying).

At the top of the first climb, you’ll come to a small ridge and a trail marker.  Here’s the secret to this hike: take a left EACH time you see one of these trail markers.  That will loop you back around the valley to the other side of the village.

 


As I mentioned, after the first climb and at the first trail marker you’ll take a left (always a left) and continue up the mountain (if you take a right you’ll end up at Sosaewon).  It’s a fair bit of uphill, but I promise it’s worth it.  It gets rocky towards the  top and you’ll start realizing how high up you are!

 


After a couple of left turns and a couple of climbs/descents, you’ll end up at the overlook.  There are actually two overlooks.  The one on the left overlooks the Jishil Valley and of course Mudeung National Park.

 

 

 

The overlook on the right provides views of Gwangju Lake.

 

 

The overlook is a good place to relax and soak in the views.  It’s all downhill from here back to the house so take a break and continue down the trail when you’re ready.  When you reach the pine forest you’re very near the end of the trail and its ultimate destination:  The National Heritage site of Shikyungjung.


As you exit the pine forest continue walking towards the pagoda and ultimately down the stone staircase.

 


This small park has four or five pagodas and is a popular tourist attraction for the bus loads of Korean tourists that visit during the summer.  It also attracts a lot of photographers and can be very scenic with dramatic changes throughout the year.  Here’s my best effort:

 

 


From Shikyungjung you will be able to see the poetry museum.  Behind the museum you will find a small village road that will take you back to the house and offer one last glimpse of Mudeung National Park.

Poetry Museum

If you have a bit more time and energy, walk across to the Eco-Park and watch the sun set!  Enjoy.

 

 

Restaurant Review: Soho Cafe

Soho Cafe has been situated on a prime piece of real estate alongside one of the bigger rivers feeding into Gwangju Lake for a loooong time.  It’s proximity to the Eco-Park and local tourist attractions, coupled with the scenic drive along road 887, have ensured it’s everlasting popularity.  With more development and options opening up around the area it was only a matter of time before this cafe changed hands and underwent a much needed renovation.  The new owners, a mother-daughter team (at least according to what I’ve learned on facebook), have done a good job of making this cafe look at bit more inviting during the darker hours of the night…it’s the brightest place in the neighborhood!

It’s exactly the kind of cafe you would imagine finding on any ‘date course’ around the peninsula, serving pizza, pasta and of course coffee, but the landscaping gives it a distinct advantage over the competitors.  Fountains all around, outside seating near the river and a tepee of all things, certainly add to the uniqueness.

 

Making pizza at the house is something we are well equipped to do (and do often) so personally I can’t justify paying 18,000won for a pie, but the pasta and homemade don katsu, although equally pricey, were pretty damn tasty.  Need some wine to compliment that fried pork cutlet?  They have plenty of options.

 

 


All said and done, it’s tasty food and drinks served in a beautiful atmosphere.  There are certainly cheaper options around, but the old adage “you get what you pay for” is more than applicable.  It’s also right down the street and only a five minute walk so stop in and enjoy a coffee near the river in their back garden during your next visit.

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