The Hadong region and the small village of Agyang are known for the green tea plants that grow wild on the foot of Jirisan. The green tea has been growing here for over 1,300 years, growing naturally along the gentle slopes of the mountains. Known as the King's Tea, the high-quality leaves were grown for royal teacups for centuries. The farmers here still grow the tea naturally, using no fertilizers or pesticides and picking the leaves by hand. The tea fields line the slopes on either side of the Seomjingang (Seomjin river), which flows by Agyang village.
The best time of year is spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the newest leaves from tea plants are picked for the best brew. Unfortunately, the secret's out, so you'll have to fight the hordes of Korean tourists who come here by the bus loads, especially during the Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival, which happens here for 5 days each May.
If you decide to visit in the fall, you can sample the Daebong persimmon, a dried persimmon, which has also been grown for royalty, but only since the early Joseon Dynasty.
No matter what time of year, Agyang's Hwagae Jangteo (Hwagae Street Market) will be going on. This open-air market specializes in medicinal herbs and green tea grown from the region. The small stalls are run by local farmers with ceramic artisan shops and casual restaurants lining the outer edges. Open around sunrise and closing around sunset, the market is a rare glimpse into the older traditions in the area, including one artisan, who still makes iron tools by hand. A good place to pick up some local green tea products is Cheongjeong Teuk Sanmul (tel. 017/552-4985), which is a small shop located in the corner of the marketplace, near the public restrooms.
Ssanggyesa (Ssanggye Temple) (tel. 055/833-7019, 208 Unsu-li, Hwagye-myeon, Hadong-gun) is also worth a visit (especially since the bus that runs to Ssanggyesa stops in Agyang). Originally constructed in 723, the temple was destroyed like many others during the Imjin Waeran (1592-98), but was rebuilt in 1632. The main building dates back to the mid-Joseon period. To the east of the main building, there's a great Ma-aebul, an image of the Buddha engraved in a hollowed part of a rock. It is said that Monk Jimgam, who studied Buddhist music in China, watched the fish swimming in the Seomjingang and composed the "paleumryul" (eight tones and rhythms) of Korean Buddhist music. It is also said that another man, Kim Daeryeom, brought seeds from China and planted the first tea shrubs here during the era of King Heungdeok of the Shilla Kingdom. Admission to the temple costs W1,600 for adults, W for teens, and W400 for children; free for children 6 and under and seniors 65 and over. The temple is open daily 9am to 6pm.
There are a few motels in Agyang just up the road from the Hwagae Jangteo, as well as a handful of hotels along the mountain road on either side of the Seomjin River.
Although this is a tea-growing area, the local cuisine never incorporated the green leaves into their dishes, since they were too busy sending their harvests to the kings. Instead, the specialties of the region are tiny freshwater clams and mitten crabs, which are collected from the Seomjingang. A good place to try the local cuisine is Gangnam Matjib (tel. 055/884-4791, which is just a 100m (328-ft.) walk up the river from the Hwagae Street Market.
To get to Agyang from Seoul, take a bus to Hadong from Seoul Nambu Terminal. There are eight buses daily and the 4 1/2-hour ride costs about W26,200. From Hadong Bus Terminal, take a bus bound for Ssanggyesa (Ssanggye Temple) and get off at Agyang. From the Busan Seobu Bus Terminal, there are two buses a day that go to Ssanggyesa. The ride takes about 3 hours.
If you'd rather travel by train, there is only one daily train that goes to Hadong from Seoul Train Station. It starts at 10:05am, takes nearly 8 hours, and will cost W33,700.
About an hour from Hadong by bus is Cheonghak-dong ("Blue Crane Village"), a once-remote village in Jirisan that didn't have any electricity or even a road leading up to it until the early 1990s. Unfortunately, their neo-Confucian lifestyle has been disturbed by the introduction of television and contact with the outside world. However, they still live in traditional hanok and continue to follow their cultish beliefs.
Just down the road from the village (about a 20-min. walk) is Samseong-gung, the "Palace of the Three Sages," dedicated to the three originators of Korea's foundation myth -- Hwanin, Hwaneung, and Dan-gun. You can't miss the museum building at the entrance, which has a huge blue crane incorporated into the roof. Visitors are supposed to hit the gong three times and wait for a guide. The guide gives a short talk (in Korean only, unfortunately), explaining the rules for visiting. The "palace" shows a glimpse of Korea's cultural history, its Daoist roots, and its ancient shamanistic rituals. If you're lucky enough to be visiting during the third day of the 10th month of the year (usually sometime in early Oct), you can see the Cheonje Festival here.
There are five buses daily from Hadong-eup to Cheonghak-dong, 8:30am, 11am, 1pm, 2:30pm, and 7pm. Ask the bus driver when he will be back so that you can time your trip back.
The rest of Jirisan National Park is covered in the section on Jeolla-do.
Goseong County (tel. 055/673-4101; www.dinopark.net) is located north of Tongyeong and between Sacheon, Masan, and Jinju. This is the best place in South Korea to see dinosaur footprints. Since the discovery of the sauropod prints in 1982, about 4,300 fossilized footprints of dinosaurs have been found along this 6km (3 3/4-mile) coastal rock bed, formed about 100 million years ago, during the early and mid-Cretaceous period. Along with sites in Colorado and on the western coast of Argentina, Goseong is one the world's top three sites for dinosaur prints.
The Goseong Dinosaur Museum, 85 beonji, Deokmyeong-li, Hain-myeon, Goseong-gun (tel. 055/670-2825 or 055/832-9021; http://museum.goseong.go.kr), has exhibits that explain the movements and habits of certain species in the area. It also houses several fossils and skeletons. In front of the building is a giant model of the Mesozoic Era herbivore brachiosaurus, made of steel truss mosaic tiles. The museum is open daily 9am to 6pm March to October, until 5pm November to February.
The real excitement is outside of the museum on the rocky shores nearby. On the rocky area near Sangjog-am are the actual prints from creatures long extinct. The footprints found in the area can be classified into 12 types. They include ornithopods that walked on two legs, iguanodons and sauropods that walked on four legs, and carnivorous theropods. Dinosaur eggs were also discovered at six sites along the coast of Goseong-eup and Samsan-myeon. The eggs were from three types of dinosaurs, and a nest was discovered, almost intact with very little damage. There is conjecture that Goseong may have been a nesting place for dinosaurs.
With Uhang-li and Haenam, Goseong has the highest number of bird footprints found in Korea. These bird prints from the Mesozoic Era led to the discovery of new species, and more research is underway. Not only are the footprints impressive, but the view from Sangjog-am (Sangjokam) County Park is also quite spectacular. Be careful when crossing over the wet rocks to the cave, Sangjok-gul, since it could get a bit slippery from the seawater. Although the area is open daily 24 hours year-round, be sure to call the Korea Travel Phone, tel. 1330, to find out when low tide is so that you'll be able to see the dino prints.
There are only three buses daily to Sangjog-am from the Goseong Bus Terminal (8am, 11:10am, and 4:55pm). The schedule is subject to change, so check on that as well before making a special trip. Buses from Sacheon run a bit more frequently to Sangjog-am County Park. Goseong county's official site is http://eng.goseong.go.kr.
On the way in or out of town, stop in for a lunch of jjajangmyeon (black bean noodles) at Jangbaeksan Suta Sonjjajang (tel. 055/673-8030; 841-1 beonji, Baedun-li, Hwaehwa-myeon, Goseong-gun). For about W5,000 per person, you are treated to a meal and a show as the chef spins and pulls the dough into noodles in just minutes, right before your eyes.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.