Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
36Trip End Aug 26, 2012
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What I did
Gwangju is quite far from Daegu and there is no direct train (you can do a train but the route is not easy nor convenient). Aside from driving, the only other option is via bus. I caught the 7:20am bus and was soon on my way. I've made the trek from Gwangju to Daegu in the past and while the journey is 3.5 hours long, there is a short stop in the county of Geochang. Despite the length of the trip, I always enjoy the ride since it takes you through some breathtaking scenery of small villages nestled in the valleys. Plus, since it is rainy season, everything is very lush, verdant, and green.
The bus heading to Damyang eventually came at noon and unlike other city buses, this one cost 2,400 won. The ride took about an hour due to traffic and went through some pretty rural areas. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous since the bus was going out into the boonies and from the looks of it, the chances of having another bus come along soon was slim. However, I stayed on and hoped everything would go smoothly. Luckily, everything did although the bus driver almost blow past the designated stop. If hadn't been for me looking up by chance and seeing the sign, I would have missed it.
The bus dropped me off almost right across the street from the Garden which is essentially in the middle of nowhere. However, there was a rather steady stream of tourists going in so I knew I was in the right place. The entrance fee to the Garden was a very modest 1,000 won ($.87). On the way up to the site, you'll pass by a nice bamboo grove. I'm not sure if that is the famed "Bamboo Forest of Damyang" but it worked for me.
The Garden itself is quite small but filled with lush vegetation, numerous trees, a couple running streams, a Koi pond, and a small bamboo forest surrounding it. In addition, there are three small buildings with open porches where visitors can seek respite from the heat (you can't go inside the buildings though). Inside each of the buildings' open porches are poems written in Chinese calligraphy. Outside the Garden is a small nature path that one can take but as I found out, it ultimately leads to private property since I eventually ended up right by a cornfield.
Since the Garden is rather small and compact, it can be seen in about 30 minutes. However, if you want to just relax and take in the scenery, it can take longer. This is especially nice since the large amount of vegetation is thick and creates a nice shade over the entire area. When I was done in the Garden, I left the site and waited for the bus that took me the site. Since I was way out in the countryside, I had a feeling I was going to be waiting for awhile. However, I only waited about fifteen minutes when I saw a bus come. It wasn't the same one that brought me here but when I found it out was heading to Gwangju, I decided to take it and worry about whether it would get me close to the Bus Station later.
The final adventure of the day was getting on the bus heading back to Daegu. The bus was scheduled to depart at 2:40. I got my ticket at 2:38. I then had to literally sprint to the complete opposite end of the terminal. I ended up getting on the bus just as the ticket agent was getting off the bus. Never have I made a bus so close to departure time before.
While most people who visit Gwangju stay overnight, I was on a rather tight schedule and had to make this a day trip. Even though Soswaewon Garden was smaller than I thought it would be, I'm very glad I made the journey. I had been putting off this site for months and not only did I get to see a small bamboo forest but I also got to see a part of rural Korea that is a nice break from the voluminous tower blocks that dominate the cities.
*In order to get to Soswaewon Garden from Daegu, take a direct bus at Dongdaegu Station (the station right by the subway stop exit). The cost for a bus will be 19,000 won except for the 8am bus which is 13,000 won. The bus will take 3.5 hours and will make a pit stop about an hour and a half into the trip in Geochang. Upon arrival at Gwangju's U-Square Bus Terminal, head out to the bus line just beyond the taxi line and go to the far end until see the sign for Bus 225. The bus comes once an hour except for 11am and 3pm. The fare to Damyang will be 2,400 won and will take anywhere from 40 minutes to one hour depending on traffic. Once you're out in the country, be on the lookout for the sign for "Soswaewon." It is easy to miss if you aren't paying attention and the driver may not stop to remind you.
*In order to get back to Gwangju, you can either wait for Bus 225 or do what I did and take Bus 187 (it came by before the 225). The fare is 1,200 won. There might be other stops it makes closer to to the Main Bus Terminal but if you want, get off at the "Gwangju National University of Education" stop and catch a taxi to the Bus Terminal. The fare should be 4,000 to 5,000 or slightly more depending on traffic.