Written by: Emily Creasman
Photos by: Emily Creasman
As Spring approaches and as the weather gets warmer, it becomes easier to go outdoors without fear of freezing. Still, the sights aren’t always great as many of the plants and flowers are still bare, evidence of the still dwindling winter. However, there is one place in Korea that has a beautiful and visually magnificent forest year-round. That place is Juknokwon Bamboo Forest in Damyang. With its various winding trails enclosed by endless thickets of towering green bamboo, Juknokwon isolates you in a place of serenity detached from the outside world. Juknokwon is a truly amazing experience that everyone should experience at some point while in South Korea. So, without further ado, here’s a guide on everything I did in Damyang for one day!
By far the best way to get to Juknokwon is from Gwangju. To get to Damyang from Seoul Station or Busan Station, it takes about four to five hours by train or bus. By comparison, from Gwangju it’s only two hours by bus. When I went to Damyang, I was staying in Gwangju near Gwangju Songjeong Station. Gwangju Songjeong Station is conveniently both a subway station and a KTX station, which makes it easy to get around both Gwangju and the surrounding cities.
First, I rode the Express Railroad shuttle train (통근) from Gwangju Songjeong Station to Gwangju Station. The ticket for the train was only 1,000 won. From there, I exited the station and headed to the bus stop. To get to the bus stop, I went up the stairs located near the main entrance inside Gwangju Station to the 3rd floor. There was then a walkway that led me across the station and down to Exit 2.
The bus stop was located right in front of Exit 2 on the left. From there, I boarded Bus 311 for Juknokwon (죽녹원).
The bus driver asked everyone getting on the bus what stop they were going to as to charge the right amount. The driver either heard me wrong or didn’t listen properly because, despite me telling him that I was going to Juknokwon, he tried to tell me to get off at a different stop. This is to say, make sure you’re confident in where you’re going and if you’re told to get off early, don’t! You’ll know when you’ve arrived because the bus will stop directly in front of the Juknokwon entrance. Once I got off the bus, I simply crossed the street and was there!
The ticket booth for the Bamboo Forest is located at the top of the steps at the entrance. I paid 3,000 won for the basic adult ticket which, in my opinion, is an absolute steal. Teenagers and veterans can get in for 1,500 won and elementary school students for 1,000 won. Tickets for the Art Center cost an additional 1,000 won, but I don’t really think it’s a necessary visit.
Juknokwon has 8 walking paths: Good Luck Road, Meditation Road, Lover’s Lane, Old Friend’s Trail, Old Memories Byway, Seonginsan Trail, Philosopher’s Road, and Scholar’s Road. I walked in a loop, going from the Old Friend’s Trail, through the Good Luck Road and Meditation Road to Lover’s Lane, all the way to the back before circling down to Philosopher’s Road and Scholar’s Road to the entrance.
There were statues and other various structures lining each road; my personal favorite statues were the panda statues located along Good Luck Road.
There was also this caricature statue of King Gyeongmun, the 48th king of Korea during the Silla Dynasty.
King Gyeongmun ruled at a time of intense strife, famine, and rebellion and despite his best attempts to strengthen and unify the kingdom, he was unsuccessful. However, according to Korean folklore, Kim Gyeongmun also had another major problem: he had donkey ears. Well – he had giant ears that flopped and drooped like a donkey’s. Embarrassed, the king kept his ears a secret from everyone, including his wife. The only soul that knew was his crown maker and he knew better than to go around telling everyone the king’s secret. However, as the crown maker grew older and approached death, he decided he couldn’t keep the secret in anymore. Out of desperation, he ran deep into a bamboo forest and shouted, “The King has donkey ears!” at the top of his lungs. After that, he was able to die in peace. The bamboo, however, couldn’t contain the secret either and as the winds blew through the forest, the words, “The King has donkey ears…” were carried with it and out into the kingdom. Thus, everyone learned of the King’s secret. As the original tale goes, King Gyeongmun, upset, ordered for the bamboo forest to be destroyed. On the sign in Juknokwon however, it says that after everyone learned of his secret, the King gained confidence and used his ears to listen better, becoming a great king. Either way the story is cute, and the statue fits perfectly in the Bamboo Forest.
Besides the statues, there were plenty of sitting areas lining the path to rest your legs and take in the scenery.
At the back of the forest, there was a small clearing with a few small ponds and hanok-style buildings.
Here, you will find the filming site of the immensely popular Korean TV show “2 Days 1 Night.” I took a break here to sit on the “daecheong maru” (wooden flooring).
There is a hanok-style cafe located in the area along with restrooms and vending machines. I decided to skip the cafe here in favor of visiting the one located near the front of the forest. So, after recovering a bit of my energy, I began the trek back. There are a couple of ways to get back into the forest. I chose to take the Philosopher’s Path which, while pleasant once inside the forest, was rather steep coming from the clearing. However, as I walked up, I ran into a random older couple that wanted to chat with me which made it worth it.
From the Philosopher’s Road, I walked down the Scholar’s Road to Bonghwangnu Pavilion, a 2-story hanok-style observatory building that doubles as a cafe. The cafe serves up a variety of drinks including bamboo-flavored ones and has an impeccable view of the city below.
I originally planned to get the bamboo sikhye (sweet rice drink), but they were sold out, so I opted for the bamboo tea instead. I had heard that the bamboo tea by itself wasn’t that good, but I personally thought it was tasty! The best way I can describe it is that it tastes like something that’s matcha-flavored but not containing any actual matcha powder. It has the same taste profile as matcha: earthy, a bit grassy, slightly sweet, slightly nutty… but much less strong. I would say that if you like matcha you’d like this, if you don’t like matcha you wouldn’t like this, and if you’re on the fence about matcha…then maybe try it because you might like it better!
It took me about 2.5 hours to finish walking through the Juknokwon. That included me spending extra time at each location to take pictures, so it doesn’t take that long to see everything– especially if you decide not to go all the way to the back of the forest.
After my tea, I headed out from Juknokwon and across the bridge towards Noodle Street, a road with restaurants and tables lining the river. Damyang is famous for its noodle dishes, evident by the fact that they have an entire street dedicated to it. The restaurants here are only store fronts; customers order and then pick a table on the other side of the street to eat at. The food is then carried out to each of the tables.
I ordered the spicy mixed noodles with young summer radish kimchi (열무비빔국수) and boiled egg with medicinal herbs (한방약계란) from 옛날진미국수 (there’s no English name for this). The noodles were absolutely delicious. They were spicy, refreshing, and packed with flavor. Just what I needed. The weather was also lovely outside, so eating my meal near the river was really pleasant.
I saw many people ordering the welsh-onion pancake (파천) as well. It would have been too much for me to eat alone so I didn’t order it, but it looked tasty so if you go in a group then I’d recommend getting that too! Damyang is also known for their daetong-bap (steamed rice in a bamboo stem), which you can try at the Bamboo Shoot (Juksun) Food Village next to Juknokwon. I didn’t get the chance to try it myself, but I for sure will if I ever return!
After my lunch, I wandered around the stream and peaked at the surrounding stores. There wasn’t a whole lot open (I went on a Monday), so I headed over to the Bamboo Shoot Food Village and to a cafe called Algaeng. I ordered their recommended Tropical Punch Ade but found it too overpoweringly sweet so I ended up just eating the fruit out of it. Nevertheless, the place had a nice view and was rather cozy inside.
If you continue up the road from Algaeng, you’ll find some souvenir shops and can actually re-enter the bamboo forest, though I’m not sure if that’s technically allowed. All the souvenir shops in the area sold basically the same things: bamboo tea, panda plushies, and a variety of wood items including some locally made bamboo utensils. I bought a bag of bamboo tea for 10,000 won. If you’re still hungry, you can try the popular bamboo ice cream (which I’ve heard is very good), bamboo stuffed breads (a local recipe), or sweet rice donuts from one of the food stalls nearby.
To wrap up my Damyang trip, I walked along the stream at the Yeongsangang Culture Park. There was a small scooter rental shop near the Bamboo Shoot Food Village and I saw many couples riding them along the road here. There were also mini “car” rentals for kids and a cycle rickshaw service that were both popular among families. Even though the trees lining the path were all bare, the scenery was still lovely.
I would also like to add that just a short way away from Juknokwon is the Damyang Metasequoia-lined Road. The metasequoia trees were planted along the 8.5-kilometer-long road by the Park Chung-Hee administration in the 1970s. Now, the path is considered one of the most beautiful roads in Korea. I didn’t get to walk this road on this trip, but it will definitely be the first place I go when I visit Damyang again!
To get back to Gwangju, I headed back to the front of Noodle Street to the bus stop. I ended up taking the exact same bus as the one I took to get there as I made one more stop before returning to my accommodations. The buses leaving from Damyang all have similar numbers (311, 311-1, 311-2, 311-3). I believe they have similar routes as well, with only slight deviances in the stops they make. Just make sure of the stop you want to catch the right bus! Once again, be direct with the bus driver about where you want to go. The buses leaving also took a bit longer to arrive than they did at the Gwangju Station stop.
I’ll be honest and say I didn’t expect much from Damyang going into this trip. I had just learned about the place a short while before going and went almost on a whim because I was in Gwangju. That being said, visiting Damyang ended up being one of my favorite things I’ve done in South Korea this year. From the tranquility and beauty of the forest to the delicious food, to the kind people I met along the way; this trip truly was a healing experience. I went just last month but am already looking forward to the day I get to return! I highly urge you to visit Damyang if you have the chance. You won’t regret it!
Juknokwon website: http://www.juknokwon.go.kr/index.juknok
Gwangju Seongjeong Station: http://naver.me/FvnbxzqY
Gwangju Station: http://naver.me/FKKdpsjn
옛날진미국수 (Noodle Street Restaurant): http://naver.me/GIqtzMRS
Algaeng Cafe: http://naver.me/x0aEOUbd