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The Scent of Green Tea
When spring arrives, few places in Korea are as spectacularly beautiful as Boseong. Located on the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula in the southwestern province of Jeollanam-do, Boseong is a land of rolling hills covered in verdant green tea fields that cover the hillsides like an emerald blanket. In the fields, workers busy picking the year’s harvest mingle with couples and families strolling about the perfectly manicured rows of tea bushes. If you’re lucky, the early morning mist will be hanging in the hillsides, providing a romantic setting second to none. Boseong is about more than just fairy-tale walks amidst tea fields, however. Not far from the tea fields, in the small railroad hamlet of Beolgyo, visitors can learn about the tragic cauldron of colonialism, polarization and war in which modern Korea was born.
Green tea
When Koreans think of Boseong, they think of green tea. Green tea has a long history in Korea. The drink came to Korea in the ninth century AD, when a Korean envoy brought back tea seeds from Tang China. The seeds were planted on the slopes of the Jirisan Mountains near Ssanggyesa Temple, where they took root and prospered.
The plantations in Boseong, however, are of much more recent vintage. In the 1930s, colonialists from green tea-mad Japan took notice of the hillsides of the coastal town, blessed with soil, humidity and day-night temperature differences perfect for tea cultivation. In 1939, the Japanese established the first commercial tea plantation in the area, with their tell-tale attention to landscaping and ascetics.
In 1945, with Japan’s defeat in World War II, Korea’s Japanese overlords went home, and Boseong’s lone tea plantation fell into disuse. In 1957, however, a Korean capitalist purchased the old tea fields and established Daehan Tea Plantation. Soon, more tea plantations were established nearby, stretching all the way to the coast. Boseong’s tea industry flourished, and today, the town accounts for some 40% of Korea’s green tea production.
The most-visited plantation is the aforementioned Daehan Tea Plantation. This is the oldest, largest and most beautiful of the area’s tea gardens. The plantation bills itself as a “watercolor-like tea field,” and this is no exaggeration. Spread out over some 561 hectares of hillside, the fields are a pleasant mix of rows of green tea and beautiful forests.
Before you get to the tea fields, however, you must walk along a wooded path lined by a running brook and towering Japanese cedar trees, This walkway, shaded by a canopy of green not unlike the vaulted roofs of the great cathedrals of Europe, is just as famous as the green tea plantation itself. Keep your eyes open — if you’re lucky, you’ll spy the occasional squirrel or chipmunk scurrying about the woods.
The green tea fields are criss-crossed with walking paths and flights of stairs. There are viewing galleries strategically placed throughout — you’ll have no trouble finding them. In spring, the fields release the strong scent of green tea — the aroma is truly enchanting, and when the trees begin flowering, it’s as if you’ve entered paradise.

Entry to Daehan Tea Plantation is 1,600 won. Below the fields, there is a wooded pond where you can enjoy green-tea ice cream or just a cup of tea. The plantation also has restaurants (specializing in green-tea food products), shops and other visitor facilities. If you’re looking to purchase tea by the bulk, this might be a good place to do it.
Besides Daehan Tea Plantation, there are several large plantations that continue all the way to the port village of Yulpo. In fact, just a five-minute walk up the road from the entrance of the Daehan Tea Plantation is the Botjae Tea Plantation, which offers visitors magnificent views of terraced hillsides stretching all the way to the sea. To get to the tea plantations, just take a local bus from Boseong Bus Terminal — the nice people working at the terminal will tell you which bus to board.

Sea Water and Tea

If walking amidst hillside green tea fields, drinking copious amounts of green tea and eating green tea-flavored food doesn’t satisfy your green tea craving, you can always take a relaxing bath in the stuff.
After you’ve spent an hour or two at Daehan Tea Plantation, get on the same bus that took you there and take it to the beach village of Yulpo. Yulpo Beach is a pleasant enough place to stretch your legs — its sunrises are especially nice. The real reason you’d want to come here, however, is to relax in Yulpo Haesu Nogchatang, a spa that specializes in baths of seawater and green tea.
OK, bathing in sea water mixed with green tea leaves might seem like an odd way to conclude an afternoon — and indeed, the smell takes a second to get used to — but it’s an incredibly rejuvenating experience. An hour at the spa and you’ll be as good as new. If taking a dip in a pool of green tea isn’t your thing, there are also plain seawater and fresh water baths, too. Basic entrance into Yulpo Haesu Nogchatang is 3,500 won.

Remains of a Tortured Past

About 45 minutes by bus east of downtown Boseong, on the road to Suncheon, is the village of Beolgyo, made famous as the stage for Korean novelist Jo Jung-rae’s magnum opus The Taebaek Mountains (later made into a 1994 film by renowned director Im Kwon-taek).

The history of Beolgyo — so graphically depicted in The Taebaek Mountains — is a microcosm of the history of the painful birth of the Republic of Korea. During the Japanese colonial period, the village was developed as a transportation hub connecting the interior with coastal ports. Colonial administrators also engaged in ambitious but divisive land reclamation projects that widened the gap between the town’s wealthy landlords (who, for the most part, collaborated with and benefited from colonial rule) and the poor peasantry. Liberation from colonial rule in 1945 changed little — badly needed land reform was not enacted, the landlords who had grown wealthy collaborating with the Japanese grew even wealthier, and the new national police was composed mostly of Koreans who had served in the colonial police.

Tensions hit a peak in 1948, when communist-led elements of the South Korean army mutinied and took control of nearby Yeosu and Suncheon. The mutineers spread out from Suncheon to take over nearby towns, including Beolgyo. Rightists and landlords who hadn’t fled were executed. The mutiny collapsed, however, and rightist forces retook Beolgyo. Leftists (and suspected leftists) were rounded up and executed; those who managed to escape formed guerrilla bands in the surrounding mountains and launched raids into the village at night. An atmosphere of terror and violence held sway straight up to the Korean War.

Many of the sites described by Jo in his novel (or seen in Im’s film) can still be found in Beolgyo. If you read Korean, Boseong train station hands out maps of the relevant sites. They include the Namdo Inn, a Japanese black-shingled inn where counterinsurgency forces lodged; a Japanese bank used as a financial collective; the Sohwa Bridge, a colonial-era bridge under which rightists and leftists traded executions in the lead-up to the Korean War; a beautiful Joseon-era stone arch bridge (Treasure No. 304); and perhaps best of all, the Hyeon Buja Jip, a beautiful landlord’s home that, with its incorporation of Japanese influences, is perhaps a perfect representation of the times. From the second floor of its Japanese-style front gate, you can sit and look out over the reclaimed lands — built with Korean labor and farmed by Korean tenant farmers — that were at the heart of the tragedy that would come. Next to the Hyeon Buja Jip is a new museum dedicated to Jo Jung-rae and The Taebaek Mountains; currently undergoing finishing touches, it will open later this year.

How to Get There

Buses to Boseong depart from Seoul Express Bus Terminal. The trip takes about five hours. If buses aren’t your thing, you can take a five-hour train ride from Seoul’s Yongsan Station to Suncheon, and take an hour bus ride to Boseong from there (buses to Boseong depart from Suncheon Intercity Bus Terminal).
There are frequent buses to Beolgyo from Boseong Bus Terminal (or Suncheon for that matter).

What to Eat

If you like good food, you’ve come to the right place. The province of Jeollanam-do is famous for having some of the best food in the country. In Boseong, the specialty dish is nokdon samgyeopsal, grilled pork made from pigs fed green tea leaves. This, however, is only one of the many dishes into which Boseong restaurateurs have managed to inject green tea.
In Beolgyo, the town specialty is the ggomak, the ark shell clam. These are picked out of the mud flats of the South Sea shore and served with vegetables and hot sauce.

Where to Stay

In downtown Boseong (a pleasant if fairly nondescript place), there are a number of motels and inns. This writer stayed at the Boseong Tourist Hotel (061-853-7474) close to the bus terminal —at 45,000 won a night (with Internet), it was perfectly adequate. The beach town of Yulpo also has a large number of minbak (home stay) facilities available, too, and a very well appointed condo, Boseong Dabeach Condo (061-850-1111), which might be worth the money (rooms begin 180,000 won during the high season) if you can get four people together.
A word of warning, however — during the high season, you may want to find a place early. Give the people at Boseong County’s tourism and culture division a call at (061) 850-5224 for assistance.

- Search Accommodations in Boseong

[Find out more!]
- Boseong Green Tea Festival
- Recommended Places to Visit in April and May
- First-Ever Jeolla-do Flavor Tour A Success!
- Boseong Tea Plantations & Yulpo Seaside

Written and Photographed by Robert Koehler
The article courtesy of Seoul magazine
Date 05/19/2008

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