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Slowing Down in Hadong County

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Slowing Down in Hadong County


Hadong County KoreaMuch has been written about South Korea’s economic miracle. In just 60 years, a nation divided and devastated by war went from international aid recipient to join an elite club of aid donors. Of course, South Korea’s transformation is a testament to the aspirations of its hard working people. But amidst this wildly successful race towards prosperity, many Koreans are asking, “How can I enjoy the ride?”

In recent decades, governments in Canada to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan have sought ways to emphasize their citizens’ “Gross National Happiness” over “Gross National Product.” This desire to improve the quality of life is also taking hold in South Korea, where the term “well-being” began as shorthand for eating healthy and organic food. Today, it’s part of a wider trend that appreciates the conveniences of city life, while recognizing that the urban jungle also has its poisons.

To see this trend for myself, on a recent weekend a friend and I departed Seoul for a radical change of pace and place in South Gyeongsang Province’s Hadong County.

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Korea’s Slow Cities

Hadong County Korea

Located between Mt. Jirisan (지리산) and the Seomjingang River (섬진강) with the sea to the south, Hadong County is known for its beautiful scenery. In fact, the county has largely escaped the development that’s transformed much of rural Korea. In the past this may have been seen as bad luck, but today, Hadong is embracing its newly minted status as one of Korea’s six “slow cities.”

The Cittaslow movement began in 1999, when the ex-mayor of an Italian town was alarmed by the fast-paced, homogenized world. In response, he created the “slow city” movement to encourage regional and traditional cuisine, to celebrate unspoiled landscapes and to respect the rich cultural traditions that exist in the world’s small communities. Today, there are over 100 slow cities around the world, with Hadong and five other Korean towns becoming the first Asian Cittaslows.

Hadong County Korea

One of Hadong County’s most charming towns is Hwagae Village (화개마을). The name means “a village where flowers bloom,” and each spring, a 5-kilometer stretch of riverside road erupts in cherry blossoms. Historically, Hwagae was known for its marketplace, where merchants and buyers from the three surrounding provinces gathered on every fifth day. Today, most Koreans are familiar with the name thanks to a hit song by Cho Young-nam (조영남).

When my friend and I arrived in Hwagae, we received our first taste of the slow city lifestyle at the town bakery. Although nobody was inside, three shelves of packaged goods were for sale. I picked up some cookies and called out for the shopkeeper. While I waited, I saw a handwritten note on the table. It said that she was next door at the beauty parlor. My friend and I went there, but it, too, was empty. The note had also listed her mobile phone number, so we called. As it turned out she wasn’t nearby. Instead, she simply told us to open the cash register and deposit our 1,200 won inside.

Green Tea County

Hadong County Korea

When you live in a coffee-crazed city like Seoul, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Korea has a long tea tradition. The hardy shrubs grow best in Korea’s warmer, southern regions, and the best-known tea plantations are in South Jeolla Province’s Boseong, on Jeju Island, and in Hadong. Among them, Hadong’s tea has been cultivated the longest. According to historical records, in the 9th century, a Shilla king sent envoy Daeryeom to Tang Dynasty China to acquire tea seeds. When he returned, the seeds were planted on the slopes of Mt. Jirisan near Ssanggyesa Temple (쌍계사). The area’s fertile soil and foggy hillsides created the optimal growing conditions for tea, and to this day, thousands of seemingly feral shrubs cover the hillsides.

Hadong County Korea

Of course, tea’s health benefits are well known, and a visit to Hadong’s Tea Cultural Museum (차문화전시관) will explain that the plant’s amino acids and vitamins relieve fatigue, lower cholesterol and even prevent tooth decay. But I found that the most interesting tea education takes place inside Hadong’s many teashops. Walls of ceramic ware and boxes of tea are what’s for sale, but on three separate occasions, my friend and I were invited to sit down for a few cups and conversation.

On Hwagae’s outskirts is Ssanggye Jeda (쌍계제다), a second-generation teashop run by Ms. Park Jeong-sook. Seated on log stools, Ms. Park described the best way to prepare and serve tea. As she talked, I noticed that she used clay cups with wood saucers. She explained that the sound made by the contact of ceramic cup and saucer was an unnecessary distraction from the enjoyment of drinking and talking.

Hadong County Korea

As our conversation topic drifted from tea etiquette to village life, Ms. Park lamented that Hwagae’s traditional culture was changing. While the renovated roads and new facilities were intended to make life more convenient, some of the area’s traditional character was also disappearing. For the resident and visitor alike, it seemed like the main dilemma for places like Hadong – how to preserve the unique character of small towns while enjoying the conveniences made possible by modern daily life?

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Reintegration

Hadong County Korea

After a long day of exploring Hadong County’s many sights, my friend and I retired to Sooryu (수류), a cluster of traditional hanok guesthouses located above the Seomjingang River. Despite our last-minute inquiry, a forecasted storm had caused a few reservations to be cancelled. Although recently constructed, the carpenters were respectful of traditional building techniques and materials, and the result is several gorgeous structures set amongst clay and tile walls and tasteful landscaping. After joining the proprietor, Mr. Jeong Seong-yong, for tea, within a couple of hours we had both fallen asleep.

The next morning, despite the forecast we awoke to a high blue sky and thin bands of low clouds that lingered beside the foothills. After taking a short walk to enjoy the view, we packed our things and reluctantly prepared to leave. Approaching Hwagae for the last time, we stopped at the Mogyeon Tea House (목연찻집), but this time it wasn’t for the tea. After 36 hours of winding down in one of Korea’s slow cities, it was time to prepare to reintegrate into fast-paced Seoul. Scanning the menu, after 12 different kinds of tea we rejoiced at #13’s feistier option: coffee.

Sights Not to be Missed

Beyond sampling Hadong County’s fine teas and natural beauty, there are a number of popular tourist sites in the region that are worth checking out. Here are just a few of them:
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Hadong County Korea

Choi Champandaek (최참판댁)
Located next to the picturesque rice paddies of Agyang is a hillside village that recreates the setting of Gyeung Ri Park’s epic historical novel, Toji. The sprawling grounds feature many thatch and tile-roofed homes, several working farms, animals and vendors proffering traditional gifts.

 

Hadong County Korea

Hwagae Market Spring Flowers Festival (화개장터 벚꽃축제)
Each spring, much of Korea’s southern provinces is covered in spring flowers, most notably the yellow gaenari or forsythia, and the pale pink blossoms of cherry trees. The roads that line either side of the Seomjingang River are a favorite place to see the flowers and the kilometers leading up to Hwagae Market are some of the best.

Hadong County KoreaHwagae Market (화개장터)
Located in the center of Hwagae Village is a famous market that’s long been a place of commerce for three provinces (and the topic of a popular song). Better known as “Hwagae Jang-to,” it’s also a great place to purchase beautiful ceramic ware, bags of medicinal roots or to sample a local specialty – soup made from freshwater marsh clams.

Hadong County Korea

Samseonggung (삼성궁)
Located about one hour from Hwagae Village high up on Mt. Jirisan is Samseonggung. The sanctuary was erected in 1983 in honor of the Emperor of Heaven (Hwan-in), his son Hwanung, and his grandson (and the mythical founder of Korea), Danggun. The cultural-nationalist compound includes hundreds of stone pagodas.

Ssanggyesa Temple (쌍계사)
On the southern slopes of Mt. Jirisan is Ssanggyesa Temple. Founded in 723 during the Shilla Dynasty, most of it was destroyed during the Japanese invasions of the late 16th century and reconstructed in 1975. The temple complex contains several cultural assets, including one national treasure: a 3.6-meter tall stele built in the 9th century to celebrate the life of the famous Buddhist monk, Hyeso..
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11 Comments

18 October 2010 19:28

eastlandgrl

interesting, thanks

3 November 2010 17:27

Discovering Korea – All Destinations

[...] Slowing Down in Hadong County [...]

22 December 2010 18:22

wahyu

wunnerful scenery ^^

6 March 2011 21:26

Mary Fung

Ahnyong Matt,

Cud u pls tell me how can i contact the Jeong family who operates Sooryu?

15 July 2011 19:16

Rose

I read your review and information about Hwagae, and we decided to make this a destination for a weekend adventure back in March. It was great! Thank you for the thorough and informative article! We stated at the hanok you recommend and had a great time!

July 23 2011 22:25 pm

Matt

Hi Rose,
That's so great! I read your post and admit that I chuckled about your taxi "ride" from Hwagae-jangteo to the hanok guesthouse... I probably should have mentioned it was a very walkable distance. Anyhow, it's quite cool that you and your friends ventured off the beaten expat path. Plus, you all seem quite patient with the inevitable delays and detours that come with traveling in a foreign land!
Glad you enjoyed yourselves, and I look forward to reading about your future Korea adventures!
Best, Matt

7 August 2011 04:44

Rue

Hi Matt!

How do we reserve a room at Sooryu?

August 11 2011 07:51 am

Matt

Hi Rue,
With regards to Sooryu, the Korea Tourism Organization has listed the number here, although I'm not sure how well he speaks English. If not, I assume the general KTO number (also on that page) could be called and they might be able to arrange the reservation for you.

Good luck!
Best, Matt

13 September 2011 12:09

Jasmine

Hi Matt,

I chanced upon your blog by mistake and yours is one of the few I have absolutely no regrets chancing upon by accident! Excellent resource! I will make a trip to Seoul in 2 weeks time and will refer to it as my “Kelley Guide”! Only thing is that, having read your guide, 7 days in Korea seems far too short! Do keep up the great work. I look forward to discovering more through your insights!

31 March 2014 13:09

Marieke

Dear Matt,

What a great website you have! So much to learn from you. I am studying in Seoul for one semester and I’d love to see the country side of South-Korea, like the green tea fields. Therefore I am planning on heading to the south for a couple days in the beginning of May. Could you recommend a hotel for a two persons (me and my boyfriend) in the countryside area, so we get to see the real Korea? You can also reply to my e-mail address. Many thanks in advance.

Best regards,

Marieke

March 31 2014 13:53 pm

Matt

Hi Marieke,

Thanks for your note. You know what, I don't really have specific hotel suggestions. I would, however, suggest you consider staying in something like the hanok-style inn I mentioned here. I think your best bet would be to contact the Korea Tourism Organization folks or a local office, and hopefully they can suggest something other than the typical "love-hotel"!

Best, Matt

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