Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Awesome Things about Korea #42: Taking Day Trips

About an hour and a half away from Gwangju is Boseong-gun, which is famous throughout Korea for its green tea.  If you want to taste the freshest tea and enjoy the sights of hundreds of green tea bushes stacked in rows on the side of the mountain, the Boseong Nok Cha Bat (Green Tea Plantation) is the place to do it.  It's easily accessible via train or bus from Gwangju, and will set you back about 3-4,000 won for transport costs.  To enter the park it is 2,400 won, which makes for a quite inexpensive tourist destination.

Last Sunday I headed down to the green tea fields with some coworkers and friends who had never been there before, and who were excited to see what Boseong had to offer.  We met up early in the morning to take the Mungwha slow train from Seongjong Station in Gwangju, a trip that took us through the open countryside.  Riding along rice paddies with Koreans sowing their crops, it felt other-worldly compared to the daily life in the city.  We rolled past mountains and hills, traditional homes and ancestral grave sites.  Simply put, the train offered us a view of Korea that you can't really get from speeding along in an express bus.  The train itself was roomy and comfortable for both conversation and napping; the atmosphere hearkened back to the days of yesteryear when that was the only method of transportation between towns and cities.

Once inside the plantation, there were plenty of picture-worthy moments.  We jostled alongside Koreans for the best shots of the well-kept bushes, angling ourselves for maximum scenic effect.  Mission accomplished--as we oohed and aahed over the photos on each other's cameras.

The next event on our agenda was to walk up to the very top of the highest hill in the plantation.  Up here, you can see the ocean.  From the top, you could almost feel like you were lord and master of all the green tea, basking in your domain.  In reality, the humidity of the morning made us feel sticky and damp and in need of a shower.  That's early summer for you.

The rewards for our sweaty climb were shady trees on the way down, coupled with a nice fresh breeze.  The difficult part done, our conversation once again flowed freely as we headed back to the gift shop and restaurant to refuel.  I enjoyed an icy bowl of green tea nengmyeun, which is buckwheat noodles in a vinegary broth with an egg and sliced pears.  Add a little wasabi mustard to the mix and it makes for a delicious and refeshing lunch.

Continuing in the green tea trend, we enjoyed one of the best parts of the area:  green tea ice cream.  I've eaten green tea ice cream in many places in Korea, and no other has come even close to the taste found in Boseong.  The other places are simply making it wrong.  I don't know how, but it just hasn't made me feel quite the same rush of flavor.

Once we perused the gift shop and purchased our tea-related items, we were headed back to the train station.  The train ride home was much quieter than the one there, as we were all either asleep or absorbed in our music and the surroundings.  The feeling of relaxation and freshness stayed with me long after I arrived home in Gwangju, a testament to the awesome atmosphere of Boseong.  Taking day trips out of the city is a great way to spend a weekend.

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