Destination: a KTX trip – tea fields in Boseong and rail-biking in Gokseong (Jeollanam-do)

There are quite a few ‘KTX Tours’ available – typically one- or two-day trip offering to whisk you away to sights around the country using Korea’s fast train service. While the KTX train didn’t take us all the way to our first destination, the chartered bus took us the rest of the way.

Destination: Damyang Spa (Damyang-gun, Jeollanam-do)

It’s a rare place that offers an outdoor hot spa for the naked people and a pool for the swimsuited.

Beyond the Juknokwon bamboo forest, Damyang Spa (담양온천, or Dam-yang on-cheon) is one highlight of visiting the Damyang area in Jeollanam-do. The spa isn’t open 24 hours a day, however. The connected tourist hotel is a bit on the fancy side but convenient.

Pay your way in (note that the jimjilbang portion of the spa is only open on Saturdays and Sundays), then figure out whether you’d prefer to get hot and steamy (in the jimjilbang) or cool off in the outdoor pool.

Destination: Juknokwon bamboo forest (Damyang, Jeollanam-do)

The bamboo forest at Juknokwon (죽녹원) is one of the main attractions in Damyang county. Since it’s a mere half-hour from Gwangju, I thought it was time to check it out.

Quite a few smaller towns and areas have become known for one thing or another – Boryeong / Daecheon for their mud festival, Jeonju for its bibimbap, Chuncheon for its dak galbi, and so on. That association sticks around, helping to brand the area for locals and visitors alike. Damyang’s bamboo forest is but one of the county’s highlights, although this is the most visible one.

Destination: Jangheung Water Festival (2011)

Better late than never.

After getting sidetracked by some other posts and a Twitter contest. it’s time to catch up on a festival long over. Consider this a glimpse into a festival not seen by many foreigners, or a guide to what to see at next year’s festival.

The Jangheung Water Festival features mool in all its glory. Thanks to the permanent park and the still-new condition of everything, the festival events on the water make a nice addition to the park. It’s held every year in late July and early August (this year, July 29 – August 4).

Destination: Gwangju scavenger hunt / Kunsthalle Gwangju

The 1st anniversary of the Gwangju blog was celebrated with a scavenger hunt – one of my favorite activities – and was enjoyed with 100 or so other enthusiasts. Most had already formed teams, so I was placed with a team of other people that came on their own.

The Kunsthalle in Gwangju played host, and as people got registered, there was plenty of excitement and conversation. Things got started about half an hour late – hopefully next time getting registered will be a little streamlined :)

Destination: Songgwangsa (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

The monks were everywhere. One was beating his wooden moktok, another was laboriously carrying a load of plants, and a third was walking through the courtyard. A number were meditating behind one of the hall’s closed doors, while even more were seen walking in a separate section of the temple, restricted to visitors. One was even seen bringing a Dunkin’ Donuts bag into the monks-only section. At that point, the Lady in Red pinched me, telling me that this is indeed not a dream – there really are lots of monks here. Then again, why wouldn’t they be?

Destination: Orchid Garden / Exhibition Hall (Mokpo, Jeollanam-do)

If you're exploring Mokpo for any length of time, Yudalsan will show up on your list of places to see. The mountain area is a centerpiece of town - and there's plenty to keep you busy for at least a couple of days. The 228-meter-high isn't an overly difficult climb Although the Lady in Red and I didn't have a lot of time, we discovered the Orchid Garden / Exhibition Hall not far from the Sculpture Park on the mountainside.

It's far from a popular tourist destination, however. Get up to the garden and enjoy the views, almost entirely to yourself:

Destination: Yudalsan International Sculpture Park (Mokpo, Jeollanam-do)

The Lady in Red is both an artist and a lover of sculptures. Thus while in town to see Bigeumdo off the coast of Mokpo, we made it a point to search for this place.

Destination: Wonpyeong Beach / Bigeumdo (Shihan country, Jeollanam-do)

To put it mildly, Wonpyeong Beach (원평해수욕장) is off the beaten path. Bigeum-do is 54.5 kilometers (about 34 miles) from the mainland of Dae Han Min Guk. Of the 827 islands that dot the shores of Shinan county in Jeollanam-do, Bigeum-do is the seventh-largest. It hearkens back to a time before foreigners taught English in Korea and the locals viewed foreign tourists as curiosities. If you've ever needed that 'far off island getaway' during your stay in Korea - but had to be back to work on Monday - this may be the place.

Destination: the biggest Buddha in Korea (Nammireuksa, Gangjin, Jeollanam-do)

Author's note: A hat tip goes to Brian in Jeollanam-do for discovering this place and sharing it with the K-blogosphere.

The middle of nowhere seems the best place to place a Buddhist temple. Far away from the distractions of the world and sounds of the city is this fine example, neatly divided into two sections for your viewing pleasure. The first half seems a bit older compared with the immaculate condition of the second half - and the connecting road is a bit... incongruous.

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