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.

TDH Updates: 11-19-14

We’re gearing up for winter and the colder months ahead!

The cold weather pretty much guarantees you’ll be spending considerably more time indoors during your visit.  Not to worry.  We’ve updated the entertainment center with a sweet 55″ smart TV and the full 5.1 surround sound experience is now hooked up and ready to go.  No neighbors to complain, so don’t be shy with that sub-woofer!!  Feel free to bring your favorite movies, or dig through the 200 or so we have on tap.  14,000 songs as well, and the music sounds just as good on those speakers.

This heating pad doesn’t look like much, but it will make all the difference during your stay.  The caste-iron fire place will keep it toasty well into the night, but inevitably, it’ll burn out and the temperature will drop.  You won’t notice at all!  (don’t worry, there are space heaters and ondol in addition to the fireplace and heating pad.  You won’t be cold!)

Those of you visiting in groups larger than two will appreciate the new sleeping pads and blankets we’ve organized.  Guests 3 through 6 will have to fight over floor space in the living room, but we can at least promise a good night’s rest.

Hope to see you soon!

Hiking: A (Dog-Friendly) Walk Through the Rice Paddies

Your dogs will thank you for the opportunity to run around along these empty service roads!


Dog friendly areas are few and far between in this country, even outside of city limits.  I’ve written about some of the dog friendly hiking trails here, but another hidden gem (and more of a walk/less of a hike) is the rice paddies in front of our village or behind the Eco-Park/Gwangju Lake parking lot (if you drive there, walk up the road behind the 7-11).Lucky for us the family friendly Eco-Park attracts all the attention and leaves these intersecting farm roads, connecting a vast stretch of rice paddies, virtually empty.  It’s pretty much a “locals only” hangout, which is strange because once in this valley you have almost a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains…most of which are Mudeung National Park.Once in the valley it’s easy to explore and difficult to get lost.  You could walk for 30 minutes or a few hours depending on your route…the options are plentiful.  However, just to get you started, this is our “go-to” route for an after dinner dog walk.  It’s about 40 minutes and a nice loop.  Here’s the cyclemeter link if you think you need it.From the house, walk out to the main road.

 


Take a right at the main road and look for the service road/bridge that crosses the river…take a left down that road.


Take a left where this road dead-ends (a right will simply take you to the Eco-Park/7-11).


Take the first left down in the rice paddies and feel free to explore!  Or continue to follow my directions for the aforementioned 40 minute loop.

 

 

 


Follow this service road as it winds around towards the cows.  At the cows, take a left.


And take the next left (about two minutes).  And the next left after that (about 10 minutes…you’ll see more cows lol).  After that you’ll want to take a left at the pottery studio (which is number 14 on our top 20 things to do at The Damyang House list).  Here’s what you’re looking for:


After that you’ll follow this road until you intersect with the road you came in on…take a right and head home!

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. 

      Mudeung Swimming Holes!

      We had been hearing rumors of a few nice swimming holes in the area for weeks (thanks for the tip Geoff!).  Busy summer schedules, vacations and wet monsoon weather kept us from actually locating them…until last week.  Hosting Chuseok weekend for 20 of our closest friends was the perfect opportunity to go exploring and find them.  The stretch of river just inside the Mudeung National Park entrance (the 원효계곡 entrance) offers a variety of swimming holes varying in size, depth and available shade.  It’s about 4km from the front door of the house (or 3km from Eco-Park), look for the Buncheongware Museum turn off down a gravely road (분청사기전시길).
      What a treat they turned out to be.  So bummed we didn’t get there until practically the end of summer!  More specific directions can be found here or under the “swimming” page of this blog.