Daenamugol - Damyang Bamboo Forest

A visit to Daenamugol (대나무골), a bamboo forest in Damyang (다먕), South Korea.

Traditional buildings peeking through the bamboo in Daenamugol

A couple of weekends ago was Valentine's Day weekend. A time for smarmy romantic comedies and spending too much for chocolates that will be 80% off the next day. I'm single, so none of that matters to me, except the discounted chocolates, of course. Then again, in Korea, the traditions Americans grew up with, where the man gives his sweetheart flowers and chocolates is reversed: the woman is expected to deliver gifts to the object of her affection.

I think some of my students have crushes on me... 

Anyway, my friend John was paid a visit by his girlfriend, who lives up in Incheon (about 3.5 hours by bus from Gwangju), to celebrate the holiday. They were kind enough to allow me to be the third-wheel on their weekend adventures. Saturday's adventure was, as previously mentioned, to Daenamugol bamboo forest. 

Before I really get going, I just want to mention a little technicality that irks me in the idea of a bamboo forest. Bamboo is not a tree. Bamboo is a grass. Really, it should be called a "bamboo field," or, at most, a "bamboo thicket." But that's just me arguing semantics, and that really isn't interesting, so for the sake of clarity, I'll just (begrudgingly) keep calling it a "forest." 

Daenamugol is a place for couples. Too bad John and Fabi let me tag along...

Daenamugol, on the other hand, is fantastically interesting. Inside the park there are three square kilometers of bamboo growth. I know that doesn't really sound like much, but when you're in the midst of it, it feels like it goes on forever. I did my best to capture this feeling, but I really want to return to try again. It really is a magical place.

Bamboo shoots in Daenamugol

The bamboo towers above you, shrouding you in thick, green shadow. Though the area is packed with tourists, you somehow manage to get a sense of isolation for the nearby city. The thickets of bamboo quickly deaden sounds so that even the laughter of families and lovers just around a bend in the path are soon lost to your conscious perception. If you prick up your ears, you know you are not alone, but the ability to separate yourself so totally from the sounds of other people is something I had not yet experienced in my time here in South Korea.

 Daenamugol bamboo forest near sunset

Daenamugol bamboo forest near sunset

A part of me feels sorry for John and Fabi for letting me tag along on their adventure to this wonderland. It's a perfect date spot. Sure, there are other couples everywhere, and the evidence of their passing is visible on nearly every bamboo pole within a meter of the trail - couples regularly carve their names into the greenery. Despite the presence of the teeming throngs of tourists, it is rather easy to separate yourself from the masses. Everywhere there are small, unpaved footpaths forking off from the main road, inviting lover's trysts even in this highly-visited area. The Koreans are not big on PDA.

Traditonal villages traditionally mean traditional kimchi pots. Which is okay, because I love kimchi, and the pots it's kept in.

From the top of the mountain inside Daenamugol during the blue hour. The lights of Damyang peek through the mists.

Aside from the lovers, Daenamugol is famous for its appearance on Korean dramas. If you want more information on that, google it, because I don't find it interesting enough to go into detail about. Sorrynotsorry.

The park is not limited to bamboo. In addition to the forest (which I nearly forgot to mention is also a nesting habitat for local birds), there is a type of traditional "theme park" aspect to the area. Traditional games (made of bamboo, of course) are set up around the park for people to play. We tried our hand at these games and found them to be much more difficult than they appeared to be. (In case you were wondering, one was like bamboo-javelin-darts, and the other was a ring-toss akin to horseshoes.) The traditional village also included what appeared to be traditional rental cottages so that you could stay in the park over the weekend if you so desired. 

Because these traditional lodgings were so picturesque, and because it was Valentine's Day weekend, I thought I would try my hand at some couple's photography, which means, of course, BONUS PICTURES!

Couple's photography, Mortal Kombat style. 

Despite being thoroughly worn out by the day's hiking around Daenamugol, the next day Mr. Kang had promised to wake us up exceptionally early so we could go out to Naju and celebrate his mother's and brother's birthdays. There isn't much to say here, except that we enjoyed a traditional Korean party with a lot of folks a lot older than us. This means a lot of drinking, a lot of eating, and quite a bit of singing. It was the last part that made an impression.

John and Fabi talk to Mr. Kang's mother.

Two party guests sing an elegy about the Korean War, which brings a man to tears. 

Mr. Kang explains the elegy to John, and why the man is crying about it.

Until my next misadventure, hope you stay well and have a few misadventures of your own.