|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.
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
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
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
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
|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).
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.
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.
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.
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
and Photographed by Robert Koehler
The article courtesy of Seoul