When my sister and brother-in-law visited Korea, they wanted to spend some time outside of Busan to see a little more of the country. For Shane and I, it would be our first trip outside the confines of a metro area in six months.
We boarded the intercity bus at the Seobu terminal, at the Sasang subway stop. Two and a half hours and one transfer in Hadong later, our at times harrowing ride came to its conclusion in Hwagae (화개). Hwagae is a town I would have known nothing about, except for this great article.
The four of us, not knowing how to get from the terminal to the hanok we’d be staying at, hopped in a taxi and showed the driver our destination’s address. He pulled out of the parking lot. We traveled one hundred yards and got stuck in traffic for seven minutes. Then, we traveled another one hundred yards. When we arrived, the bus terminal was still visible from our current position. I’m fairly certain he and the three other taxi drivers in town had a good laugh at us for the rest of the day.
We laughed too. No matter. The hanok was beautiful. The friendly owner showed us to our rooms, one building of several on the premises. Inside smelled of cedar. The paper covered windows opened to reveal Hwagae village below, buildings no more than five stories lining both sides the river
Crystal, Nick, Shane, and I walked down to the village. We joined the many tourists there that sunshiny Saturday afternoon, families and couples enjoying a day out in the country.
The town’s central attraction, a sizable but not sprawling outdoor market, has been by far one of my favorite markets I’ve seen so far. Hwagae is known for its green tea, so it’s no surprise that many shops sell ceramic teacups, pots, and tea. I sampled dried persimmon, Shane watched a blacksmith at work making trowels. Hwagae’s tourist info center provided us with a map (in English) and a festival and attraction brochure (in Korean).
We grew fatigued as the afternoon wore on, so we knew what we had to do. We stopped in one of the two mini-supermarkets we could find and loaded our arms with beer and Hwagae-brewed makgeolli. Back at the hanok, we sat on the porch and watched the sunset over the mountains, enjoying our drinks, and all was right with the world. An awkward moment ensued when the guesthouse owner invited us into his home for tea, told us he used to look like James Bond when he was younger, and then left us to supervise some construction outside, us sitting there wondering if he was going to return or not. Eventually, we decided he was not going to come back.
Later that evening, we grabbed some galbi for dinner and later still, we watched the stars come out over the mountains of Hwagae.