Bike’n Hike Update and Summary

The “Bike’n Hike” concept was born out of a failed backpacking trip to Jirisan National Park in February of 2014. The logistics of that trip, for whatever reason, weren’t coming together and out of frustration we got out our wall map of Jeolla-Do and started looking for alternatives.  Naejangsan National Park, the closest to Gwangju, was an obvious alternative choice.  Within about 15 minutes Jirisan was long forgotten, our bikes had replaced our car, and our first Bike’n Hike tour was organized and ready to go.
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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!

Restaurant Review: Vietnam Restaurant and Mart

Spring Rolls

Fried Spring Rolls

Pho Bo

Pho Bo

What this place lacks in decor and ambiance, it makes up for in authenticity and taste.  Don’t be fooled by the dilapidated exterior of the building and the exposed kitchen and appliances indoors.  They’re serving Vietnamese food miles beyond what you’ll find in Gwangju (those Vietnamese chain restaurants basically serve Korean food for twice the price).

 

 

Walking in, I was met by a small Vietnamese server and a handful of younger Vietnamese friends having lunch…always a good sign to see actual Vietnamese people in a Vietnamese restaurant.  Rumors of Bahn Mi sandwiches proved false (possibly sold out?)  (update: been back a couple of times and still no Bahn Mi sandwiches) so we opted for the litmus test of Vietnamese food:  Pho and Spring Rolls.

It wasn’t cheap at 24,000 for two people, but two bowls of soup and a plate of spring rolls was more than enough to fill us up and ultimately well worth the price.  Simply put, it was delicious. (The fresh spring rolls are better than the fried)

This place is also a mart selling Vietnamese snacks and ingredients.  The mart is in the back, where you will also find additional seating.  The best part is they sell fresh cilantro if you ask nicely…2,000 for a large handful.

The location is pretty easy to find as it’s close to the river, noodle street, and one of the most famous restaurants in town, SeungIl Shikdang (승일 식당).  Here’s the google map link.  Just in case, here’s the map from my phone:

If you have room for dessert, head down to the river and get in line with the rest of these suckers and buy some of the “famous” Damyang donuts 🙂

 

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.

 

 

Homemade Pizzas From Scratch

With so many healthy distractions around it’s easy to overlook something as standard as a kitchen.  Especially during BBQ season.  I can tell you, however, that after a decade plus of living in Korea our kitchen is far from standard.  The biggest benefit of remodeling this dump (see the before photos here) was that we could correct a lot of the “mistakes” the original designer made.  Believe it or not this kitchen used to be a separate closed-in room in the back of the house.

Besides having enough space for more than one grown human to cook in, the kitchen is also well stocked with all sorts of fun tools to help make you feel like you know what you’re doing.  You’d be surprised at what I’ve dragged back with me after my yearly visit to the States (cast iron sausage grinder for starters).  Here’s my collection of pizza tools, which although not 100% necessary, sure do make the experience infinitely more enjoyable and efficient (Butcher’s block, pizza cutter, pizza stone handle, pizza peel, pizza stone and rolling pin).

Not saying I have the best pizza in the world, but I will say it’s pretty damn tasty, always a crowd pleaser and crazy cheap compared to what the local “Italian” restaurants are charging.  Basic recipes and procedure below.  Consider it on your next visit!

Sauce
Sure, you could use spaghetti sauce, but that’s not impressing anyone.  Not to mention making it from scratch takes about five minutes and is nearly impossible to screw up.  Put these ingredients in the blender and give them a good mix before cooking it down (simmer for 45 min).  

1 can tomato sauce
2 cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 large onion (caramelized)
2 bulbs of garlic (roasted)
1 spoonful of tomato paste
1 spoonful of chopped oregano
1 spoonful of chopped basil
1 spoonful of red pepper flakes
1 spoonful of sugar
Healthy pinch of salt
Healthy pour of olive oil

Obviously the recipe is flexible so add/subtract to taste.  Roasting the garlic is also an extra, but I usually roast some to use as a pizza topping anyway and like the taste of it in the sauce.  Do yourself a favor and cut the ends off before drizzling them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, wrapping them in foil and cooking them for 35 minutes at 230 degrees.  Yum.

Dough
Every recipe for dough looks similar so don’t put too much thought into it.  The tricky part is remembering to make it in advance, preferably the night before. 

6 cups flour
2 1/3 cups water
20g salt
20g sugar
15g dry yeast
Healthy pour of olive oil

Mix it all together and let it sit, covered, in a warm place until it has time rise at least once. 

Toppings
This can be a bit labor intensive, so now would be a good time to get the rest of the team involved.  Plenty of knives and cutting boards around so give everyone a vegetable and have them start chopping while you man the stove and cook everything down.  It’s pizza so there are no rules.  Here’s my usual set-up:

Veg:  Onions, mushrooms, black olives, bell peppers, and spinach

Cheese:  Cheddar and mozzarella (mixed),  Goat cheese (separate)

Meat:  Homemade spicy Italian sausage (10,000won/250g), anchovies

 Here’s what my work station looks like~

Procedure
Once everything is organized you can start cranking out a pizza every 15 minutes.  Pizza by nature is a casual food (at least at my house!) so we usually eat while we cook.

Roll out the dough while the oven is preheating to the highest temperature possible, usually 250 degrees.  The pizza stone should be in the oven.

 

Sprinkle corn meal on the pizza peel (or dust with flour) to prevent the dough from sticking.  Gently transfer the rolled dough from the counter to the pizza peel. The dough should “slide” around on the pizza peel when you snap your wrist.  If it sticks you’re never going to get it in the oven!

Sauce the dough and add whatever toppings you want.  I usually keep it simple, never adding more than three toppings.  Do NOT add the cheese yet as it will typically burn if it’s in the oven too long.

When the oven is ready to go you simply need to slide the pizza from the peel to the stone.  Not always as easy as it looks.  It takes a couple of tries to get the hang of it.  Let the pizza cook for about 10 minutes (this will vary depending on how thick the crust is…these times are based on a thin crust).

When the pizza is nearly finished, grab the pizza stone handle and remove the pizza/stone and place it on the stove top.  Cover the pizza in cheese and return it to the oven for a couple of minutes.  When the cheese is melted it’s ready to eat.  Slide the pizza off of the pizza stone directly onto the butcher’s block, slice and eat while you start prepping the next pizza.

Enjoy!

Spicy Italian Sausage, Onion, Yellow Peppers, Mozzarella/Cheddar Cheese:

Spinach, Mushroom ,Onion, Goat Cheese:

“The Vegetarian” (Mushroom, Onion, Spinach, Bell Peppers and Mozzarella/Cheddar Cheese)

“Breakfast Pizza” (Homemade American Breakfast Sausage (sage), Onions, Sunny-Side Up Egg, Mozzarella/Cheddar Cheese)

“Garbage Pizza/Calzone” (Last pizza of the night…all the remaining ingredients!)

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!

 
 


 

Bike’n Hike (V): Yulpo Beach via Mudeung National Park and Boseong Green Tea Fields

Destination:  Yulpo Beach
Cycling:  84km
Hiking:  0km
Cyclemeter Link

Yulpo Beach isn’t the best beach in Jeolla-Do by any stretch, but it makes a great place to finish a long day of cycling.  A day of cycling through the iconic Boseong green tea fields no-less.  And even a shitty beach is still a beach!

This ride starts like most others; head out to the main road and take a left on 887.  Even the first 200 meters to the main road has it’s scenic moments!

 
Head south on 887 up the valley and through the tunnel for about 8.5km.  Here’s the valley you’ll be riding through from a bird’s eye view (Taken from the overlook accessible via the trail behind 식영정). 

About 8.5km up the valley you’ll need to take a right on road 897.  All I can say is it’s just after the abandoned elementary school, which is on the right side of the road and difficult to miss.  This used to be a gravel road, but has recently been paved and is now excellent for cycling! 

Continue on this road for about 14km.  You’ll wind through a yet another scenic valley and have plenty of opportunities to see Mudeung from it’s less famous back-side.  Eventually you’ll head uphill and pass a reservoir.

Just after the reservoir you get to enjoy an absolutely gratifying descent through yet another valley.  Climbing this beast from the other direction is grueling so be thankful you’re headed downhill!

At the bottom of the valley you’ll need to take a right (south) on 15.  You’ll stay on 15, which for a double digit road isn’t bad at all, for about 16km.  Eventually the road intersects with Juam lake which is massive (obviously man-made) and fills in the surrounding valley forming an elongated amoeba shape.  This lake, and the overlapping roads and subsequent bridges, could be amazing save for all the garbage collecting in every corner.  Frustrating to say the least.

At the junction with 18, where you should take a right, there is a small mart (휴게소) offering an extensive menu of water, chips and ramen. There isn’t much before this so if you’re hungry it works.  Good place to stock up on water if nothing else. 

18 takes you almost all the way to the beach.  It’s a pretty road and, at least when I was there, not too much traffic.  I even found a really cool Eco-Park that was completely deserted.

Near Boseong city you will of course start seeing the iconic green tea fields.  Don’t waste you time or energy stopping to take photos of the first couple you see.  Trust me it gets way better.  There are a few small climbs mixed in here, but nothing I remember being too extreme…at least going this direction (if you’re riding back it’s a different story!).

At the bottom of the epic downhill finishing off road 18 you’ll see signs for Yulpo Beach, but if not just take a left on 845.  That will take you directly to the beach where you’ll find lots of tacky neon, plenty of minbaks, and copious amounts of cold beer and seafood! 

Green tea ice cream no your thing?  Plenty of other options 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!

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!

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!