Thursday, 5 January 2012

Boseong Tea Fields 보성 녹차밭

One of my most enjoyable trips in Korea was to the green tea plantations at Boseong, Jeollanam-do. I visited during the rainy season and everything was lush and green and ... rainy.

This excursion was one of my 'jumping-on-a-bus' trips. I bought a bus ticket to Gwangju and jotted down the details of a few places to visit before I went, but didn't really have a plan. I was travelling from Incheon Bus Terminal and it was only a 3 or 4 hour journey, so a pretty easy weekend getaway.

Now this was a while ago, but if I remember correctly it was my first long distance bus trip within Korea. It was then that I discovered the delights of comfortable Korean inter-city buses, their extra leg-room, single seats (if you're lucky), and motorway service stops. Thumbs up for hot coffee and potatoes.

Things at Gwangju looked pretty bleak, and I wasn't keen on stopping in the city for long. I spent the night at a generic jjimjilbang, sandwiched uncomfortably between some large, loudly snoring ajummas.

My Korean wasn't great back then but it was enough to ask the help desk at the bus terminal where I could catch a local bus to Boseong. It was then that my 시골 버스 (rural bus) adventure began. Boseong turned out to be a pretty far distance away from Gwangju, and the bus took us through winding roads and beautiful hilly scenery for over an hour before we ended up at the shack that was Boseong Bus Terminal. From there I waited for an even rural-er bus to take me to the tea fields. Signs were written in black marker pen on cardboard, there were no automated machines, just a lady behind a hatch, and numerous weathered old women in brightly patterned clothes waited with huge bags of plants and vegetables from market. A couple of trendy Korean teenagers giggled and took photos of the old women, who smiled bemusedly at them. I guess they were city tourists like me.

Finally arriving at the 대한다원 tea fields, I could see it was quite crowded despite the rain.

This place is definitely worth the long trip. The undulating hills planted with row after row of neat tea bushes make for some very pretty pictures, and it's possible to get lost wandering around the whole place. Of course there are numerous opportunities for purchasing green tea-themed souvenirs: green tea soap, green tea crackers, green tea hand cream, and every kind of actual green tea you could imagine. Word of advice: I do NOT recommend 'green tea wine' (녹차주) ...

I stopped at the restaurant there for lunch. The ajumma serving me obviously didn't think much of foreigners. As I sat down and perused the menu she clearly enunciated one word '식사' ('meal') to me, and made spoon-to-mouth motions as one might encourage a toddler to eat. Not even a smile. I sighed and ordered 'green tea sujebi'. Sujebi is one of my favorite Korean dishes, a kind of soup with rough flakes of dough.

As for the rest of my Gwangju bus adventure, I also visited a bamboo forest, as along with green tea Jeallanam-do is also famous for bamboo. The 'forest' was dotted with signs indicating that a drama had been shot on location at that very spot (such a terribly common tourist-draw in Korea - I wonder if there's anywhere in the whole country that HASN'T been featured in a drama), and the whole place was HEAVING with couples and families making use of the national holiday and the good weather, which had miraculously changed from constant drizzle to searing hot sun in the space of a single day. Not such a great experience.

Travel note: If you are crazy enough to follow my example and travel to the tea fields via public transport, be aware that when you leave, the bus stop in the direction heading back is NOT right outside the plantation, but instead you have to go across the motorway. If in doubt, ask someone.

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