7 must-visit places in the southern region of Korea

Published October 27, 2022, 4:31 AM

by Rey Ilagan

A flavorful adventure outside of Seoul and Busan awaits

Omija tea, the traditional Korean medicinal drink made from omija berries, is known to have five flavors: sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and spicy. Omija, or 오미자 in hangul, which literally translates into “five flavors,” is from the Schisandra plant or Magnolia vine, which originates from China, Russia, and Korea.

Recently, the Korea Tourism Organization Manila Office organized a tour of the southern region of South Korea during the summer season. Manila Bulletin Lifestyle and other Philippine media outlets were able to taste the delicious omija iced tea at Awon House in Wanju, Jeollabuk, offering a refreshing rediscovery of Korean tourism.

Overlooking the Jongnamsan mountain, the remote village of Awon is home to centuries-old hanoks and beautiful gardens with a peaceful and refreshing milieu. In 2019, Awon became the setting for BTS’ “2019 Summer Package in Korea” music video, propelling it into further popularity.

This season, with the reopening of international tourism in Korea in full swing, it is the most opportune time to get a taste of what the country has to offer. Starting Oct. 1, 2022, the mandatory PCR test upon arrival in South Korea is lifted for visitors, but the website-based Q-code registration continues.

Hopefully, the following suggested destinations tickle your senses and taste buds just like the omija tea.

Hanguk Jip Restaurant

1. Awon Museum and Gallery in Wanju

Awon Museum and Gallery was originally built in Jinju, Gyeongsangnam but later moved to its current location in Wanju. Withstanding the changes over time, the 250-year-old house still charms with its architecture, design, and style, maintaining “the dignity of a scholar’s lifestyle from the Joseon era.” Awon is divided into four spaces: Cheongjiin-Manhyudang Hall, Sarangchae-Yeonhadang Hall, Anchae-Seolhwadang Hall, and Byeolchae-Cheonmokdasil Room. Since it’s a hotel as well, guests can spend the evening in one of its beautiful accommodations.

With its reputation of serving the best bibimbap in the county, the 65-year-old Hanguk Jip Restaurant must be in your must-visit restaurants’ list. In 2011, the family restaurant was named by the Michelin Guide to offer the best bibimbap dish in the world.

2. Hanok Village in Jeonju

A known popular tourist site, the Jeonju Hanok Village is a must-visit for traditional cultural experience with its enjoyable sights, cuisine, hanji, hanbok or traditional clothing, and hanok or traditional house. Visit the Hanbyeokdang Hall, Gyeonggijeon Shrine, Pungnammun Gate, and Jeondong Cathedral. For a sumptuous Korean full course meal, head to Damun Hangjeongsik made famous for its abundant banquet-style dining experience.

3. Damyang Metasequoia Lined Road and Juknokwon in Damyang

Hailed as one of Korea’s most beautiful paths in 2002 by the country’s forest service, the Damyang Metasequoia-lined Road is a destination not to miss for its scenic charm and ecological importance to the county. Stretching 2.1 kilometers with 487 trees, the attraction is a designated natural forest cultural asset as Korea’s “first tree-lined path developed using farmed saplings.”

Take a stroll at Damyang Metasequoia Lined Road

Visitors must also try bamboo forest bathing at Juknokwon, as the trees help relieve stress, soothe the mind, increase happiness, and improve brain function by absorbing more CO2. The cultivated bamboo forest of Juknokwon, which opened in March 2005, sprawls 310,000 sqm. featuring eight trails with different themes. A stroll at Juknokwon can be a refreshing experience. Try strolling at Meditation and Unsudaetong (Good Luck) Roads, at Lovers’ Lane, Old Friends’ and Seonginsan Trails. There are also other trails to try.

One popular dining establishment for both tourists and locals is Naldo Yedam, where you can have their special bamboo container rice set with tteokgalbi. In my opinion, it was one of the best meals during this trip.

The author experiencing a traditional Korean heritage and cultural show at Wolbongseowon

4. Wolbongseowon and Asia Cultural Center in Gwangju

Experience traditional Korean heritage with Wolbongseowon’s tea ceremony and cultural performance. The Confucian academy was built in 1578 and was home to Kim Gyehwi and other Confucian scholars who honored the study and virtue of Joseon era’s most famous scholar, Ki Daesung. Through the centuries, the academy underwent a lot of changes including site relocation, shrine preservation, and the addition of halls such as Bingwoldang, which stands today as a designated monument.

Immerse yourself at Asia Cultural Center with its integrated art and cultural organization as the region’s foremost repository in the heart of Gwangju. The center is home to cultural exchanges in Asia with content creation, production, exhibition, performance, and distribution. ACC houses several sections and building clusters, including ACC Archive and Research, ACC Creation, ACC Theater, ACC Children, and ACC Cultural Exchange.

Other sites to visit in Gwangju are Leenamnam Studio, a modern museum, cafe, and creative space in one; and Yangrim Penguin Village, a charming art-centric area named after the way elderly people walk. For an unforgettable trip, dine at Mimiwon in Gwanju for its beef mini pancakes and stone hot pot rice.

5. Green Tea Fields in Boseong

Take a breather at Boseong Green Tea Fields or Daehan Tea Garden. With 70 years of history, Daehan Tea Garden is the country’s foremost large-scale plantation, producing high quality green tea. It has been selected by numerous entertainment companies as filming sites for “Legend of the Blue Sea (2017),” “Summer Scent (2003),” and “Rebel: Thief Who Stole The People (2017).” For a gastronomic feast, the nearby Daewonjung serves delicious kkomak jeongsik or cockle dish, the house specialty.

Boseong Green Tea Fields

6. Suncheonman National Garden and Suncheonman Wetland in Suncheon

Home to 790,000 trees in 505 species and 3.15 million flowers in 113 species, the impressive Suncheonman Bay National Garden, declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2018, was the home to the 2013 International Garden Expo (IGE). After a decade, the site will hold its sophomore undertaking for IGE 2023. Thematic gardens by countries are sure must-see attractions of the garden, as well as the Yongsan Observatory and Wetland Reserve, a 20-minute sky pod ride from the garden.

Suncheonman Wetland in Suncheon

7. Arte Museum Ocean and Cable Car in Yeosu

Immerse in an art-filled sensory experience at Arte Museum Ocean. Perched on the second floor of the Yeosu Expo Center is a gateway to modern light and projection wonders. The museum, a favorite among students and connoisseurs alike, houses several exhibits distributed in 10 rooms— Flower, Beach, Pink Lagoon, Coral Reef, Star, Moon, Waterfall, Wormhole, Wave, and Garden. At the end of the tour, there’s the Arte Tea Bar to quench your thirst and a museum boutique filled with souvenirs and trinkets to take home.

When in Yeosu, the best view is from the top via the Yeosu Cable car. Crossing over the Dolson Bridge, this experience is a must-try ride. Geobukseon Sanghoe in Yeosu serves octopus and pork slices served with vegetables. If you’re craving for more seafood in Yeosu, try Yeonhwajeong Restaurant and its grilled fish and braised cutlassfish.

For more information and updates, visit the Korea Tourism Organization Manila Office’s social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram. Visit the website here: https://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/KOO/manila.jsp

Photos by Rey Ilagan/MB