I’ve been reading Anthony Bourdain’s A Cooks Tour and was thinking about his visit to an old childhood haunt in rural France, and the travel master’s reminiscence about failing to find the perfect meal. The story made me think about my own miscalculations when trying to create the perfect Sunday, with one particular time in mind. It was still a beautiful and almost 100% good afternoon, though things didn’t seem that way at first. Here’s a look at one of rural Korea’s nicest places that I didn’t appreciate until later.
Visiting Hadong for Perfect Sunday Tea
With bellies full from a quick meal of makgeolli and pajeon, we drive to Hadong’s Green Tea festival site but a week after festivities had just wrapped up during the previous weekend. After three months of spring and summer festivals, I’m burned out on the crowds and thought this would be a good idea. We’re coming into this expecting something reminiscent of Boseong’s beautiful tea plantation and a truly lazy Sunday, with some of Korea’s finest scenery.
Picking up some green tea and sampling a cup or twenty alongside some beautiful mountains sounds like a plan for the simple, perfect Sunday afternoon to me. Hadong is where Korean Green Tea got its start, and I’ve wanted to visit for a while after driving through towards somewhere else just weeks before. The day starts with a walk around Ssangyesa Temple a little lunch, before we search for folk villages that don’t appear as advertised.
I’m starting to notice that Hadong is much quieter than previously expected. There are smaller and less conspicuous teafields all around, and that’s a nice contrast to the larger than life scenes in Boseong. However, everything is closed and even the Green Tea Cultural Center is a veritable ghost town. I feel like we’ve stumbled into the mind of George Romero as an army of zombies awaits us from a dark corner or alleyway.
Green mountains surround the empty parking lot and form a beautiful scene but I’m getting anxious because our plans surrounded a boisterous and buzzing place. I realize that it was far too easy to park here and that should have been hint number one. Nevertheless we walk on rocks and cross the stream that must have been a big highlight during yearly festival that finished up the week before. Some kids are playing a game of underwater chicken or something nearby and I notice a couple is trying to create the perfect selfie background. After the fifteenth take, they get it.
Even the tacky yet creatively designed Americano shops are shuttered and I’m starting to consider this day a failure, as the promises of tea have ended with closed doors and lights off. Did I miss the memo? Everyone must have bolted immediately after the festival closed and moved onto the next place. I feel like a carnival chaser who’s always one step behind the show.
We get in the car as my spirits dwindle, though my wife is enjoying it all. She keeps telling me to relax and that the point is to savor the day and our time here, regardless of the outcome. The GPS is ready and I want to embrace the drive, because we are in one of Korea’s most beautiful areas after all.
All of a sudden, there it is. Too good to be true, I think. I see that familiar tea sign (茶) that had burned us on so many occasions today and notice something different. Cars appear to be parked outside and what’s that? The lights are on! I think this could be promising and slam on the brakes, parking on the side of the ride and drawing a horn or two from the cars that pass by.
Cautiously walking to the door, I had no idea how wonderful this place would turn out. Upon walking in, my eyes don’t know how to process the clever woodwork spread throughout the room. A lady seats us at one of the four tables inside, as another couple is ready to order nearby. The scene is truly unbelievable, as we approach our all wooden table and seats.
From the outside, one would never imagine that this place would possess such a colorful mishmash of teacups, woodwork, and various pieces of art strewn about. Organized chaos is the best way to design an establishment in my opinion, and this lady has done well. It’s almost like a cartoon inside, and I still can’t figure out how she pulled off so a cool yet seemingly disorganized setup.
I still can’t process this interior as the tea arrives and is ready for us to start brewing. Hadong’s wild tea was served up to quite a few kings during Korea’s dynastic period, but my excitement is mostly focused on the impending caffeine boost. The tea steeps for a few minutes, and we lift the lid to make sure it’s ready.
I’ve grown to love loose-leaf green tea and that’s not just the caffeine addict talking. Actually thinking about the drink in front of me helps curb any impulses and a desire to chug. Relax and let it sit before the first sip, which is always the best part. Everything else is imitation of the first cup of Hadong’s finest that immediately shoots our energy levels back up to normal.
After the post-boost shock settles, I imagine a life of growing my own tea with a shop like this to serve customers. No big deal if anyone comes, as long as I’ve got this wonderful leafy substance to get me through my later years. I’d have books lining the walls and buy a record player to fit in with all the other hipster stuff to show that I’m still cool enough to hang.
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Lofty dreams indeed but not permanent ones, as we finish the last cup and realize it’s time to go. There’s more of Hadong to see and now that the King’s brew has lifted us up, we make time and visit to Hadong’s Hwagae Market and stop along the beautiful Seomjin River. As the day ends and turns into the next week, my mind can’t move away from the tea and that house, shop, or whatever it was that saved us from the death on that day.
I’m unable to stop thinking back to that hour or two we spent trying to create the perfect weekend somewhere else. That moment, that tea, that place was all enough and I should’ve realized it. What’s better than an afternoon sipping on the King’s tea in Hadong with beautiful scenes all around? Tell me and I’ll go there immediately, but I guarantee that it won’t match up. Hadong served up the perfect Sunday tea and I’ll stand by it, as long as the King’s brew is still around.
What’s your perfect Sunday? Is it similar to this or different? Leave a comment and let’s get this conversation started!
How to Get to Hadong (Courtesy of Korea Tourism)
Travelers from Seoul with go from the Nambu Bus Terminal through an intercity bus bound for Hadong, getting off at Hwagae Terminal.
The Green Tea Cultural Center (차문화센터)
1. From Hwagae Bus Terminal, walk 180m to Hwagae Intersection (화개삼거리).
2. Take a bus that follows the Gurye-Sinheung (구례-신흥) route to the Ssanggyesa Temple (쌍계사입구) bus stop.
3. Walk to the Yonggang Intersection (용강삼거리), turn left, and cross a bridge.
4. Turn right after the bridge, and after walking straight for 300m, you should see the Green Tea Cultural Center (차문화센터).
Hwagae Market (화개장터)
1. From Hwagae Bus Terminal, cross the Hwagaegyo Bridge (화개교).
2. Walk straight for 100m and you can’t miss Hwagae Market. If it’s past morning, you should see tons of cars trying to park and crowds walking towards the market.
Ssanggyesa Temple (쌍계사)
1. From Hwagae Bus Terminal, walk left towards Seomjingang River (섬진강) for 170m.
2. At the Hwawgae Samgeori 3-way Intersection (화개삼거리), take a Gurye-Sinheung (구례-신흥) route bus to Ssanggyesa Temple.
3. Ssanggyesa Temple is located 150m away and should be easy to find, as it gets crowded during days with nice weather.
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