Going Green: Exploring Korea's Tea Fields

Taking in the view from the very top of the steep Boseong tea fields might induce a bout of vertigo: row after row of tea shrubs cascade down the mountainside, bending and swirling in a dizzying maze until tea turns to forest far below.

The fields are tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Korean peninsula in the Jeollanam-do region, a slow-moving province rich in farmland and rolling hills that is a long trek from Seoul. But when looking down 350 meters at the endless carpet of technicolor hues, not a single concrete structure in sight, it becomes clear why hoards of visitors make the trek.

The Daehan Dawon Tourist Tea Plantation is the oldest and most well known of the 20 tea plantations in the Boseong area. And even though the plantation’s official name includes the word ‘tourist,’ the expanse of greenery and the sheer beauty of the rolling fields wipe out any guilty feelings about sticking with a well-worn path.

Enter the plantation by strolling down a long gravel pathway lined with shady cedars. If you’re anything like me, the first glimpse of the towering nok cha hills through the trees will leave you at a dead stop, snapping dozens of photo (it’s difficult to take a bad one here). 

After spending some time scaling the steep, wooden steps and wandering through row after row of tea shrubs, make your way back to the entrance where you’ll find a restaurant that serves donkatsu (fried pork cutlet) sprinkled with matcha. If you prefer your green tea independent of your meat, then try some refreshing green tea ice cream before stopping by the plantation’s teahouse to have a cup of Ujeon, the highest quality of tea harvested there.

Before you leave, take about a thousand more photos and indulge in one more nok cha ice cream cone (because they’re that good). And oh yeah—don’t forget your couple t-shirt and parasol.

When to Go

The tea fields are lovely year-round (except in the winter—few things are lovely in Korea in the winter) but visiting in the spring means mild temperatures and possibly witnessing the tea harvest. The plantation holds an annual green tea festival in May, which includes lots of activities—but also more crowds. A non-festival weekend in May is perfection.

Where to Stay

Avoid the town of Boseong, which boasts more farming equipment stores than restaurants or hotels, and instead stay in Yulpo, the area’s attempt at a seaside resort town (featuring a “beach” that is a giant mud flat).

Yulpo is about a 15-minute drive from the fields, which are accessible by bus or taxi. Be sure to book a minbak beforehand, as places fill up in peak season (me and my friends slept on a random family’s floor for $50 because we couldn’t find any vacant rooms).

What to Do

Want a day away from the tea field crowds? Hike the gorgeous Illim mountain, which is covered in pink azaleas during a short period in the spring. You’ll have the trails entirely to yourself, aside from a few ajummas and ajusshis who will either scold you for leaving your skin mercilessly exposed to the sun, or force you to drink soju with them. Or both.

Other ideas:

-Have a few beers and join the hoards of small children in lighting off fireworks on Yulpo's “beach.” Totally safe.  

-Help the rubber-gloved ajummas pluck shelled sea creatures from the sea mud

-Bathe in pools of green tea that promise to remove freckles, among many other things, at the Yulpo Haesu Nokchatang, a typical Korean bath house  (read: cheap, relaxing, everyone is naked). For the record, my freckles were very much there afterward, but getting to chill in a tub of green tea with a seaside view was worth it. 

-Undo any antioxidant effects the green tea has had on your body by relaxing with a nice bottle of soju or makgeolli in front of Yulpo's finest GS25. 

 

Getting There

From Seoul Central Bus Terminal, take a bus to Gwangju (about a 4-hour ride, tickets are 15,000 won). From Gwangju, take a regional bus to Boseong (about an hour and a half, tickets are 8,000 won). From the town of Boseong it’s about a 15-minute cab ride to Yulpo.  The best places are a pain in the ass to get to, right?