On an overcast Sunday earlier this summer, bored from the bad weather that’d been plaguing Jeollanam-do, Stephanie and I set out to find something beautiful. Living in Jeonnam, we have a good deal of options for beautiful locations, like many other provinces, but one area in particular always comes through. Jirisan National Park has long been a favorite of ours for its beautiful scenery, noisy mountain streams, and incredible mountains. While probably not considered to be the “Most Beautiful” by Koreans, this huge park is absolutely stunning. While not actually in this range, the mountains in Hadong are veins off of the park. We are always drawn back to Jirisan and the surrounding towns. Gurye is easily the most common access point for the Jiri Mountains, but to the South East of the park lies Hadong. We picked Hadong as a welcome retreat from the overcast weather, hoping that our love of Jirisan valley towns would save the day from utter boredom.
Hadong // SOUTH KOREA
The drive into Hadong is a curvy one. While the scenery and majesty of those mountains pass your window, you’re forced into starting strategically around the next blind switchback, shifting your weight for the opposite curve to come. When you do finally arrive, the dizzying drive is met with dizzying vistas in almost every direction. The river in Hadong is quite nice and along it you’ll find the yearly plum festival in spring (Hadong Maehwa Festival). Carrying on north-bound, we had a destination in mind just out of town;
1. The Expansive Rice Fields
Just outside of the small town of Hadong, there is a valley of rice fields renown for its beauty and symmetry. While many rice fields in Korea are oddly shaped to fit into whatever space is available, this valley has mostly square fields at the foot of towering mountains, with parks and decorative trees planted in the middle of it all. Truly a unique sign in Korea. You can hike/drive the mountain directly behind the field to get a view of how expansive they really are. In the fall just before they harvest the rice, there is harvest festival held and the fields are burned in areas so when they are viewed from above, you can see the patterns and words they spell out.
2. Hannsansa Temple
This temple is named after the mountain it is built upon and offers a scenic overlook of the rice fields. The temple is small itself, but the view is pretty incredible and it makes for a great place to stop and just enjoy the beauty of the countryside. We liked this temple as the place was starting to get overgrown with moss and made the place seem to be lost in time and secluded from people. This is also one of the places where you can find a good clean public bathroom, so in my book, that is always a bonus in Korea!
3. Maehwa Festival
Every March across the river from Hadong, technically in Gwangyang, is the Maehwa Plum Flower Festival. These small white flowers are the signal for the start of spring and the orchards sweep across the sides of the mountains and through the villages. Flowers start to bloom, birds return to flight, and festivals celebrating the changing season resume to lure people back into the world after a cold hibernation. While the cherry blossoms of April get the majority of praise when it comes to Korea’s beautiful spring blossoms, the Maehwa Festival in Hadong comes a month earlier. It is this festival that truly welcomes the warmer months and kicks off the festival season in the year to come.
4. Green Tea
While Boseong gets most of the praise when it comes to the country’s green tea, Hadong also has it’s own fields and flavor. Being more off the beaten path than the more famous fields in Boseong means that you can enjoy an exceedingly relaxing and genuine experience while sipping from hand thrown pottery in the middle of the countryside. Walk along the fields and take photos without worrying about them being ruined by hordes of people. Afterwards, be sure to check out the Green Tea Cultural Center which is also located outside of town. Check out this post to learn more!
The river that runs through Hadong is the perfect place to set up a tent. For those of you who like your camping to be in an actual paid campsite, check out this location that is just north of town. They have showers and toilets which can be pretty necessary when you don’t want to rough it. You will need to bring your own supplies, however. If you like going a bit more off the grid, you can always set up your tent right on one of the sandy bars that is adjacent to the river. Guerrilla camping is perfectly fine in Korea, but please make sure to take ALL of your trash with you when you leave! Check out our friend’s post about camping in Hadong, here.
6. Jirisan Mountain
Hadong happens to be one of many trail heads that make up the Jirisan Mountain range. If you are spending the weekend in the area, consider using one of your days to hike to the top of the tallest peak on the South Korean mainland! There are plenty of smaller peaks for hikers who just want to leisurely enjoy a nice walk, too. Most of the trail heads can be found near the Green Tea Cultural Center and since the trails are not as popular here, you can enjoy hiking in relative seclusion.
7. Plum Wine
Plums and the Fermentation Pots for the Wine!
All of those plum trees are not just grown for the fruit alone, but mostly for making Korean plum wine! This sweet and often overlooked alcohol can also be found in most convenience stores across the country, but Hadong is where they are all grown and made! Take a walk around one a the many fields to see how they are grown. These fields are also great places for impromptu photoshoots! There are many shops around town that sell the wine, so grab a bottle for your picnic or camping trip.
8. Geumosan Mountain
Yet another hike near Hadong, Geomosan definitely stands out from other hikes you can do around Korea. At the top is Yaksaam temple sitting picturesquely amongst the rocky outcroppings and overlooking the sea that stretches clear out to Namhae Island. The mountain is a good hike and is around 850 meters high which can take you anywhere between 4-6 hours to hike depending on what kind of shape you are in and how often you stop to rest and take pictures. You can also hike halfway up to the platforms and camp out for the morning sunrise!
9. The Cherry Blossom Festival
Most areas of Korea have their own festivals to celebrate the beautiful blossoms in spring, but we think that Hadong’s festival stands above the rest in sheer size and scenic beauty. The roads in and out of Hadong? All cherry blossoms. The trees surrounding the river? All cherry blossoms. The trees leading up to the Jirisan mountain range? All. Cherry. Blossoms. You could literally walk all day long underneath these trees and never need to backtrack. If you plan to visit this festival, try getting there on a Friday night to miss the traffic getting into Hadong because it can get quite thick on the weekends.