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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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 (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.

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!

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!