(Traffic &) Boseong Tea Plantation
June 6 is Korean Memorial Day, so it made for a nice three-day weekend right after Marcia arrived in Seoul (late Friday night). This was the fourth time that Alex and I have traveled within Korea on a Korean holiday (weekend), so we should have been better prepared for the insane traffic and hour-long queues at service areas off the highway. But, being the naive, maybe-this-time-will-be-different, people that we are, we were hopeful that most people would have started their holiday traveling on Friday evening, or would have left early Saturday morning or late Saturday morning (maybe getting a late start due to partying the night before?)… making mid-morning Saturday the most ideal time to head south. We were wrong. I can’t say for sure that early Saturday morning or later in the day would have been better, but I think the traffic was bad — ALL day.
The GPS told us the distance between Seoul and Boseong (waaaaay down south) was a (mere) 350 km (217 miles). To put this into perspective, that’s roughly the distance between Washington, D.C. and NYC. Naver Maps (Naver is the Korean Google) estimated it would take us 4.5 hours to drive (without traffic). It took us a whopping 10 hours – with one 5-minute bathroom break (let’s just say we didn’t use the service area because the line to get into the PARKING lot was half a mile long) and a quick lunch break (in some random town off the highway). Marcia was jet lagged and Baby M was NOT happy being confined to a carseat for so long. (Marcia had to get REALLY creative, trying to entertain a bored/frustrated/wanting-to-crawl/stand/anything-but-sit baby.)
It took us five hours to drive the first 100 km (60 miles)!! The traffic out of Seoul was crazy. And for most of those first 100 km, the highway (a “major” highway connecting Seoul to a few bigger cities in the middle of the country) was only two lanes. The infrastructure just couldn’t handle all the traffic! On the other hand, further south, the highway opened to four lanes and we were one of the few cars on the road. Go figure.
We arrived at our accommodation before it got dark (thank goodness, because it was hard to find!). We had booked a traditional Korean house (hanok 한옥) because 1). When would we have the chance to do so again? 2). Due to booking at the last minute and the lack of “outstanding” hotels in the area, our only choice would have been a love motel (and even though the rooms might have been “clean,” it made me uncomfortable to have Baby M stay in one…).
The hanok was owned by a friendly, elderly couple who barely spoke any English. Due to our late arrival, the fact that there were no restaurants nearby, and Baby M’s bedtime, we ate some snacks for dinner (for those of you who know me… I went to bed cranky) and went to bed. On the heated floor (heated from burning logs). We each had a thin mat to sleep on. Actually, Alex and I didn’t mind it so much, except that it was too hot. My back was burning up through the mat!
The next morning, we ran into fellow Samsung expats! What are the odds?! They too had run into horrible traffic the day before and had gotten in even later than us!
We sat on the floor and had a traditional Korean breakfast (lots of banchan/side dishes with a soup and rice). The lady owner was very proud that all of her vegetables were organic, grown in her own garden.
The green tea plantation was packed (I’m never traveling within Korea over another holiday…). Since it was the “off” season (the green tea festival was held in May), some of the tea bushes were a little unkempt. No matter. There was just a sea of green. Very pretty. Who knew that tea could grow on (terraced) hills? We walked a little, then sat down to a green tea themed lunch (green tea noodles, green tea infused rice). The food was just ok. The (second) green tea ice cream we had (don’t bother with the slushy soft serve in the parking lot!) was really good though!
Alex and I left Marcia with the stroller and hiked up the path (Baby M promptly fell asleep in the carrier) to the top of the hill (20 minutes). From there, we had a pretty good view of the entire plantation, as well as the sea. The path down was a little trickier to navigate due to slick, muddy trails, so I was glad to get back onto level ground.
We exited the parking lot from a side entrance (the front entrance car path looked like a parking lot!) and decided just to drive around. There were many mountains covered by trees, as well as endless rice fields (most of them newly flooded) in between. It was a very enjoyable drive through rural Korea (made even more enjoyable because there were no cars on the road)! (Can you tell that we are sick of the city life?!) We had katsu for dinner (in some random town, probably the worst meal I’ve ever had in Korea), before heading back to our heated floor/beds.
Monday morning, before we left, the husband/owner told Marcia that she was his best friend, and gave her a hug (“American style goodbye”) — it was really cute! We were expecting AWFUL traffic again, but the first 200 km was pretty clear. We hit traffic near Seoul (same as when we left), but it was much more manageable than Saturday. It only took us eight hours to get home (this included a leisurely service area lunch, getting gas twice, and letting Baby M play in the front seat for a while).
So… an 18 hour round-trip journey to see a tea plantation (at which, we only spent a couple hours)… was it worth it? Not really. It would definitely have been worth a four hour drive (one way), if only to see something different. The countryside and the south of Korea were nice to drive through, but I think nothing is worth all that traffic. I kind of don’t understand why Koreans choose to go on road trips (and spend hours crawling along at 5 km/hour, and an hour waiting for a parking spot at a service area) during the holidays. I know… It’s when people have time off work. But, you can be sure we won’t be on the roads during the next Korean holiday!
Daehan Dawon Tourist Tea Plantation (Boseong Green Tea Plantation) (보성녹차밭 대한다원) is the biggest tea planation in the area. There are others, but we didn’t look around.
Links with more information, including address, hours, and cost: