The town of Boseong is small and ugly, like most Korean towns, but set amid pleasant rice fields, and is so small and quiet that you could start to like it after a while. Although heavily touristed, the locals seem unused to foreign visitors; more than one old woman literally stopped in the street and stared at me until I passed out of sight. But tourists don’t come here for the town, but for the famous green tea plantation nearby.
The short bus ride to the plantation – on a bus proclaiming Boseong to be ‘the green tea capital of Korea’ – took us down to a forested valley with a busy carpark. A small but steady crowd were ambling along a tree-lined path that led through some hills. Entering any tourist site in Korea requires a brief mental preparation. The crowds of families and tour groups – even in their own country a lot of Koreans prefer to be shepherded from place to place on a tour bus – are everywhere; giant, expensive camera lenses swing casually from shoulders, dogs in patterned outfits are carried around by their owners, and couples stroll hand-in-hand wearing bright, matching ‘couple tees.’ All manner of green tea products were for sale – green tea cookies, ice-cream, chocolate, soap, face masks.
Once you reach the tea fields though, you forget all that. Between shoulders of dark pine forest the tea bushes roll down towards you in gentle, winding ranks. It’s an incredibly pastoral scene, and the place is large enough to absorb the maddening crowds with their toys and pets and cameras. Follow the dirt track up towards the top of the hill, and the view of the fields below is superb. Beneath the hazy sky you can just make out the beginning of the sea beyond the forest.
Living in Seoul, you forget how green and beautiful other parts of Korea can be. Actually, living in ‘the Republic of Seoul’ can make you forget that South Korea is more than just its massive concrete capital. So a visit to a place like Boseong is as green, calming and restorative as the tea it produces.
Boseong is located in Jeollanam-do in Korea’s southwest. Buses from Gwangju city bus terminal take over an hour. From Boseong’s bus terminal, buses run the short trip to the tea fields. Make sure you cross the busy road and catch the bus back to Boseong from the other side or you’ll end up at Yulpo beach. It’s a long half day trip from Gwangju. Saturday on a long weekend, the crowds are manageable. Sunday would probably be a different story.
If you want to see what a tea plantation looks like in a cooler climate, Southeast Asian hill station, check my previous entry about the Cameron Highlands.