South Korea: Damyang Bamboo Park

Cool, green, and rustling, Damyang Bambook Park( Juknokwon) is a stark contrast to the hectic city pace. If you’ve never experienced an actual bamboo forest before, as we hadn’t, this park is well worth a visit. We’ve seen bamboo before, of course, but never so much in one place!

you’ll be amazed at the variety of objects made from bamboo

You’ll be amazed by the variety of objects made of bamboo

Damyang is in Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla Province), one of Korea’s least developed and greenest provinces. They’re known for pesticide-free and organic farming, and fish farming has also taken off in a big way. There aren’t many areas in Korea where bamboo grows, but South Jeolla’s climate is the most suitable on the Korean peninsula for it.

an imposing gate leads you to the entrance of the park

An imposing gate welcomes you to the park entrance

Damyang, 13 miles north of Gwangju, is famous because of its Bamboo Park (Juknok Won), which is the center of bamboo cultivation and craftsmanship.

one of the many gazebos dotted round the bamboo forest

One of the many gazebos that dot the bamboo forest

For many people, the first thing they think of when hearing the word ‘bamboo’ is likely pandas! This Bamboo Park certainly has pandas but not the playful and cuddly kind; although children might not agree. There are a few rather kitschy fiberglass panda bears just beyond the entrance, which are usually surrounded by tourists waiting to have their pictures taken next to them. Otherwise, the bamboo forest is just that: a forest of bamboo— a lot of bamboo.

apparently dozens of movies have been partially filmed here

Apparently, dozens of movies have been partially filmed here

Besides the bamboo, there are, however, an old Confucian school (Damyang Hyanggyo), a small stream and man-made Jukrim waterfall, an art gallery/gift shop, an ecological bamboo exhibition hall, a pavilion and Korean traditional structures, and bamboo gazebos on the grounds of the forest.

Seonginsan Mountain, located behind the Confucian school, was transformed into Juknokwon Bamboo Garden. It was established in May 2003 and is around 16,000 square meters in size (a little over 19,000 square yards).

one of the groups of fiber-glass pandas

A group of fiberglass pandas

Damyang’s Bamboo Park (Juknokwon) is also known as the Juknokwon Bamboo Garden and Juknokwon Bamboo Forest. Sometimes, it’s also billed as a Bamboo Theme Park. It’s a little difficult to classify what this attraction really is. Is it a garden, or a park, or a forest? Well, it seems to fit all descriptions. You’ll also find benches, pavilions, and a café in the park if you want to rest, or simply enjoy the bamboo scenery. It’s also considered to be a place of “green therapy,” regardless of the season. People believe that walking there relieves stress and encourages clean, deep breathing.

the bamboo looks curved as it’s so tall and hard to find in a camera viewfinder

The bamboo looks curved as it’s so tall and hard to find in a camera viewfinder

It can get busy, but the garden area is large enough to absorb plenty of visitors. As with all places in South Korea, the best time to visit is in the morning, before the crowds arrive. This is especially true on weekends; so you should try to get there early. It’s also suggested to give yourself at least 2 hours to visit the park, too.

The paths spread in multiple directions within the grounds, and each of the eight loops has a different name. We encountered the Trail of Luck, and the Trail of Philosophers, which had a statue of a famous philosopher at one end. Other trail names we saw included the Trail of Eternal Love, Trail of the Byway of Memory, and Trail of Thoughts (each of them has a plaque with rather fanciful descriptions). It was fun just to wander for a couple of hours, taking many photos of this unique landscape. It was surprisingly cool in the shade of the forest, which was a nice break from the heat and humidity of a typical Korean summer.

a small waterfall also has a couple of pandas at the top

A small waterfall also has a couple of fiberglass pandas at the top

We were fascinated to see the bamboo trees in different stages of growth in the park. Bamboo is technically categorized somewhere between grasses and trees. Since their use is similar to tree trunks, it has been referred to as ‘trees’ by the Korean Forest Service. From the amazingly tall bamboo to its fine roots to the vines that latch on the bamboo’s stem joints, the bamboo park gave us plenty of things to photograph and learn.

There are many information boards, and we learned a lot of interesting factoids. For example, there are two main varieties of bamboo, 90 different genera, and 1,500 different species globally; Korea has 13 different species, and that this garden has 26% of all the bamboo in Korea. Here in the Bamboo Park it’s mostly thick-stemmed bamboo and black bamboo, with a little borealis amkino too. Since the park is so picturesque, a couple of popular Korean shows and movies were filmed there, and there are boards explaining that as well.

New bamboo appears bright green, and the shoots emerge with a protective sheath. Once the bamboo has grown a bit, the sheath falls off, revealing the vibrant green of fresh growth.

There are many bamboo shops outside the park, and they say that bamboo has 101 uses—these shops certainly prove that. Bamboo is traditionally used in construction, as pulp material, for interiors, and for gardening. Yet, there’s also an amazing array of bamboo products: furniture, woven baskets, fabric, which is surprisingly soft and supple, household goods, even bamboo jewelry, and a bamboo teapot. Bamboo markets are also held here every five days.

We decided we had to sample bamboo leaf ice-cream (delicious, by the way), and a bamboo leaf doughnut with bamboo sugar (nice, but not as distinctive as the ice-cream). We didn’t buy anything made of bamboo, although we were certainly tempted.

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