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.

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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 🙂

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TDH Updates: October 2015 – Artists Eric Davis and Chung Park


Artist Eric Davis


Artist Chung Park

The outdoor gallery continues to grow.  These two new works help tie in different corners of the property and add to the overall aesthetic of the house.  They complement the natural surroundings better than I could have imagined.  The pictures don’t really do them justice!

First, we have the Ruddy Kingfisher by artist Eric Davis.  Nothing about the subject matter or placement is random.  Anyone involved in the birding community in Korea (all 10 of us!) knows we’ve had a returning Kingfisher the last two summers.  It’s significant because it’s the bird that really got me to open my eyes and ears and look up at all the wildlife in the trees.  Bird watching also happens to be a great accompaniment to day-dreaming and sipping makoli, so ties in well with the other activities common around the house.

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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.

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.

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.

 

 

Hiking: Mudeung National Park – Hidden Lake (dog friendly)

Update:  This “trail” is also a pretty sweet off-roading adventure if you have a four-wheel option!

Here’s another suggestion for a shorter “bike’n hike” outing that can be done in an afternoon without leaving you exhausted at the end of the day.  At around a dozen kilometers, this one is even shorter than the Wonhyosa Valley hike I previously suggested, yet still gets you off the beaten path and into some of the more remote corners of Mudeung National Park.  Don’t be fooled by some of the gloomy weather and crappy phone camera…it’s a beautiful hike and besides a few local farmers, completely unknown and void of the day trippers swarming to the Eco-Park.

From the house you have a few options on how to get to the back entrance of the Eco-Park, where you’ll find the road leading to the trailhead.  A bike will take you the 4km pretty quickly and is a no-brainer as you’ll be using the main roads.  If time is on your side, I would suggest walking there via the rice paddies or by entering the main entrance of Eco-Park and walking through the park itself (ideally a combination of both).

Because I had my dog (another dog friendly hike!), I opted for the rice paddy route on the way there and the main roads on the way back (2-3 hours total).  Here’s the cyclemter link to help you get your bearings.  And here’s instructions:

Walk out to the main road and take a right.  Take a quick left across the small service road that crosses the river.

 


Take a left when it dead-ends on the other side of the river and take the first left after that down this service road into the rice paddies (these turns are all very quick).


Follow this service road around through the rice paddies until you reach the cows in the blue stable.  It’s gorgeous out here in nicer weather!


When you reach the cows take a right up the little hill.  At the top you’ll have views of all the surrounding mountains, including Mudeung.


Just after the top of the hill you’ll want to take the first left down towards the middle school and a right at the intersection in front of the middle school.  Again, these are all quick turns.


This will take you around to the Eco-Park parking lot and this fancy 7-11 where you can grab some snacks and drinks to take with you on your hike.


At the main road in front of the 7-11 you should take a left…you should be walking away from the Eco-Park main entrance and parking lot.  This road will take you toward the back entrance of the park (you could walk through the park itself if you don’t have a dog with you!).  You’ll also walk past this restaurant (황가내), which is a good place to stop for lunch if you’re hungry before or after your hike (the tofu is made in-house and infused with green tea…the kimche jiggae is 6,000 and AMAZING).


Just past this restaurant you’ll see a small road and bus stop.  Turn here (right) and walk up the hill to the back entrance of Eco-Park.

 


This road leading up to and past the back entrance of Eco-Park will take you around to the lesser known side of Gwangju Lake.  It’s a quiet walk/cycle along this road with a few small hills.  Great fishing on this side of the lake as well so keep that in mind when you see small trails leading off the road down towards the bank of the lake.

 

 

 

Same road in nicer weather (although winter)

Keep walking until you see this road/trail on your left.  This will take you to the hidden lake.  Once on this road it’s a straight shot with no turnoffs so pretty easy from this point.  This trailhead is only a couple of kilometers from the back entrance of the Eco-Park.

 

A better look at the sign at the turnoff to the hidden lake.

Follow this trail (it’s more of a road…probably used by local farmers) up through the valley.  You’ll eventually enter Mudeung National Park.

 

Once you reach the lake, you’ll find a small trail in between the lake and the rice paddies which will take you around the lake (clockwise).  Pretty easy as it’s not a huge lake.  The trail on the opposite side from the rice paddies is more pronounced and easier to follow.  The trail on the side of the rice paddies tends to get overgrown in the summer months.

From here it’s all downhill back to the house and you get to enjoy the scenic valley views the entire way!  Enjoy.

Looking for something a bit more ON the beaten path?  Plenty of other suggestions can be found here.

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 🙂

 

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!