On an overcast Sunday earlier this summer, bored from the bad weather that’d been plaguing Jeollanam-do, Stephanie and I set out to find something beautiful. Living in Jeonnam, we have a good deal of options for beautiful locations, like many other provinces, but one area in particular always comes through. Jirisan National Park has long been a favorite of ours for its beautiful scenery, noisy mountain streams, and incredible mountains. While probably not considered to be the “Most Beautiful” by Koreans, this huge park is absolutely stunning. While not actually in this range, the mountains in Hadong are veins off of the park. We are always drawn back to Jirisan and the surrounding towns. Gurye is easily the most common access point for the Jiri Mountains, but to the South East of the park lies Hadong. We picked Hadong as a welcome retreat from the overcast weather, hoping that our love of Jirisan valley towns would save the day from utter boredom.
The drive into Hadong is a curvy one. While the scenery and majesty of those mountains pass your window, you’re forced into starting strategically around the next blind switchback, shifting your weight for the opposite curve to come. When you do finally arrive, the dizzying drive is met with dizzying vistas in almost every direction. The river in Hadong is quite nice and along it you’ll find the yearly plum festival in spring (Hadong Maehwa Festival). Carrying on north-bound, we had a destination in mind just out of town; a valley of rice fields renown for its beauty and symmetry. While many rice fields in Korea are oddly shaped to fit into whatever space is available, this valley has mostly square fields at the foot of towering mountains, with parks and decorative trees planted in the middle of it all. Truly a unique sign in Korea.
We began by visiting the temple atop the adjacent mountain to say “Hi” to Buddha and check out the scenic overlook. Hansan Temple (Hansansa) is a small temple but its views of the rice fields below are stunning. We spent about 45 minutes exploring the temple and waiting at the scenic overlook waiting for the haze to burn off before we decided to just head into the fields we could only vaguely spy below. For the next few hours we drove farm road crisscrossing the valley, stopping regularly to take pictures and hunt for that elusive photo of a white crane up close. The lighting wasn’t ideal, but it improved slowly. Besides the rice fields, there is a park with a nice pond (with fish jumping and needing to be angled by me) in a park that has a beautiful walkway around the banks and a few small pavilions for daytime relaxation. Afterwards, we drove to the grassy knoll with a massive set of trees in the middle. Surrounding the two behemoth trees is a grove of plum trees that we were happy to explore. Really peaceful and scenic area.
After all of our walking and hunting for blue skies, we decided to backtrack into Hadong-proper for its river park and sandbars. This park is very long as it stretches along the waterfront, and was host to hang-gliders the day we visited. I’d assume that they favor the area for its large and easy-to-spot landing area by way of sandy beach. We spent some time lounging in the soft sand and taking pictures before heading back to Yeosu before sundown. We were tired from our unexpectedly amazing afternoon and all that Hadong had to offer. We had neglected a visit to the fortress on the mountain behind the temple, but that will need to be saved for our return trip.