Beaches, bamboo and tea

by Kat Nickola
Stripes Korea

Editor’s note: We at Korea.Stripes.Com would like to thank Kat Nickola and her family for sharing all of their wonderful adventures with us. We’ll miss you guys! If you have a story to tell, drop us a note at korea@stripes.com, or post it on korea.stripes.com.

After the packers wrapped up all our junk, stuffed it into crates, and drove off with it, we grabbed our camping bag out of the ‘no pack’ zone and headed out for a final week of Korea road trip.  My goal: the southwest.

Being the weekend meant Bryan joined us, too!  We drove south on I-15 to the town of Kunsan and drove across the largest seawall in the world – at 33km it felt pretty long!  It also made a great shortcut connecting two peninsula’s and making our route a bit more direct. We found a cool rest stop along the way where two huge wind turbines rotated right next to a playground.  From there we continued to the Buan seashore and Byeonsanwha national park.

The beach side campground was nearly empty on Friday evening, so we picked a spot on the end right next to the beach and enjoyed the night hanging out on the beach.  Of course, by mid Saturday afternoon the place was packed…. Our little tent was now crammed in a mass of giant yellow Korean tent houses.  But, we stayed on our awesome spot.  The kids played in the water, dug in the sand, and found pet crabs. Kid A made friends with another Korean family and played with their kids for along while.   We also spent a long time picking our way along the cliff edging the beach.  There were cool anemones in the tide pools, fun rocks to jump on, and an adventure beating the tide around to the next beach.

For an afternoon adventure, we drove the area and found a super cool silk worm museum. We learned all about silk worm and silk production, saw lots of worms and played at their playground.  We also got some ice cream at the nearby beach town and spent the evening on the beach again. 

Bryan treated the kids with some fireworks….he was the first dad out with the kids, and soon a bunch of Korean dads were keeping up and made a little show.

The crowded campground was surprisingly quiet, but we did wake up early to the sound of thunder and distant lightening.  We packed up just in time for a torrential rainpour!  Drove back across the seawall through the storm and found Gunsan Air Base to drop off Bryan for a bus ride home.  The kids and I then continued out of the rain to the cute town of Damyang where we lucked out with a clear spot in the weather to visit the bamboo grove.  The forest (Juknokwang) was beautiful, and kid Z super enjoyed this place; its interesting what the kids find fascinating.   We ran around, played at the playground, shook the rain from the bamboo and had a great time!

From there we drove south along local roads – Kid Z had fun sitting up front navigating for me – to the Wolchulsan national park where she and I chose the southern campground for the evening.  Well, we arrived to find that we needed to hike in the campground, but were not super prepared for the ½ km ALL UPHILL Korean style stone path route.  I through the necessities into a duffel and carried the handles backpack style and each kiddo carried their backpack with an extra something, and we made it just fine.  I do have some bruises on my shoulder blades, though!  Ouch. 

We spent the afternoon and evening putzing around on the creek and following the water down some neato waterfalls.  When the bugs got too bad we retreated into the tent and noticed the silence!  WOW.  It was so nice to be actually out in the woods without anyone else around but a wild cat.  Yep.  An orange, wild, stub tailed kitty meowed loudly at us a few times and dug through our trash.  It was kind of comforting to hear him yeowl at us while doing some schoolwork.  Too funny!

In the morning there was no sign of kitty, but a beautiful day was brewing.  We played for a bit and walked up trail a little further to see the pretty rock outcroppings and then packed up and hauled our junk back to the car.  Down was way easier!  Our next stop was the area called Boseong which is famous for green tea growing.  We found the tea museum closed….it’s Monday, so not unexpected… but found a visit to the Dehean Tea Plantation quite amazing.  The tea shrubs are arranged in rows along some super steep sections of mountain.  Most Korean mountains are incredibly steep, so they are often left alone. 

Having the tea grow up was simply gorgeous.   Kid A was fascinated and found it a joy to lead me around via the map…he chose our route and wanted to be sure to see it all.  Kid Z, on the other hand, was sleepy and in need of some alone time.  She took a different route and met us at checkpoints along the way.  I found the whole morning just lovely!

From there we drove further south to the coast a Yulpo where we visited a green tea and seawater sauna.  After 3 nights tenting it, the whole body scrubby felt amazing, and looking out along the beach while soaking in tea made it even better.   The kids, as always, love a sauna…. Especially dipping between the super hot and super cold.
In the evening we drove to the island of Wando, and found it less exciting than expected. 

It is pretty, but super hazy down here today, maybe we will wake to a clear day tomorrow and be more impressed.  Since we are all nice and clean I paid for a motel.  The kids were excited to see Motel Zeus was an option, and it ended up being the right price and right on the water front, so it was perfect for us!

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