The first week of May coincides with Labour Day, Children’s Day, Buddha’s Birth, and this year — the elections. In Korea, it’s rare to get these many public holidays (the next being Chuseok) in quick succession. While public holidays don’t eat into Basil’s annual leave; it isn’t the easiest time to travel around the country. Suncheon’s Wetland Reserve and Boseong’s Green Tea Fields, in Jeollanam-do, were always on my travel list. With temperatures steadily rising and snow melting into greens — the timing was perfect.
Jeollanam-do lies in the southwestern region of Korea and can be easily reached either by KTX or intercity buses from Seoul or other cities. If you’re travelling during the first week of May; it makes good sense to book your tickets a week or two before your trip. KTX is almost double the price of an intercity bus (Kobus) and takes roughly half the time. Most buses for Jeollanam-do depart from Central City Terminal (Honam Line) — easily reachable by Express Bus Terminal Station (Seoul Subway Line 3, 7 or 9).
At 5 am, we hailed a cab to Central City Terminal. Our chatty cab driver tried to make a conversation with us. After exhausting my limited Korean vocabulary; it was back to staring at the empty streets of Seoul. We reached pretty fast and spent the rest of our time walking around the terminal. If you make an online purchase, you need to get a printed ticket at the terminal; alternatively, download the QR code of the booking. After some confusion with our booking and help from a staff member — we were on our way. Five and half hours later, we reached Suncheon Bus Terminal.
It was a very wet, rainy day and the terminal was a mess. The tourist information booth was empty and there didn’t seem to be anyone who could’ve helped us. We walked toward the main street and tried searching for a bus to Suncheonman Bay National Garden (순천만국가정원) when we actually had to go to Suncheonman Bay Wetland Reserve (순천만습지). It’s easy to confuse the two when your feeling cold, wet, and groggy after a long bus ride. Even if you can’t read Korean, like us, try printing the Korean names for these sights, as very few people (virtually nobody) speak English in this region. After standing on the wrong side and trying to use Google translator to read the stops in English; we shortlisted 3 buses to the West Gate. Fortunately, T-Money cards are accepted on all local buses.
Suncheonman Bay National Garden was a 20 minute ride away. After a cup of hot noodles for lunch and buying entry tickets; we tried to make sense of the map. At this point, we were still confused with the exact location of the Wetland Reserve and thought it might lie in the vicinity of the Bay Garden. Our plan was to observe sunset over a vantage viewing point. Frustrated with the rain and grey skies — we continued walking. In hindsight, we should have asked for assistance at the tourist booth.
Inside, instruction boards direct you toward different points of interest. I was still feeling queasy after our bus ride and felt disappointed with the rain spoiling our evening sunset view. Basil seemed unaffected and focussed his energy to his lens. Exhibits of giant dung beetles and odd looking trees caught his fancy.
Korean Traditional Garden
A wooden bridge leads you towards the Korean Traditional Garden. In the light drizzle, greens burst out of the dreamy landscape. I tried to divert my mind with the beauty of the location.
It was a public holiday and it was hard to escape people. Surprisingly, it didn’t bother me much. For a change, it was nice to be surrounded my families (it’s a comforting feeling when you’re away from yours) and people of all age groups — children in strollers and elderly in wheelchairs. These pictures would adorn many picture frames and probably form a memory for many.
Woody Mountaintop View
The last leg of the Korean Traditional Garden is a steep climb towards the top of an observation point. By now, I was beginning to feel better and even if this is not what I had expected, the fog and rain seemed enchanting. En route, we passed a couple of landscaped forests and meditation paths. The view of the sprawling area of the gardens and city, below, was spectacular. The clouds didn’t show any sign of retreating.
We took the boardwalk to descend from the observation point. Towards the base, to the right, visitors were queuing for the SkyCube. The SkyCube is an automated, unmanned trolley used to transport tourists from the Bay Gardens to Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve. And, that’s what we didn’t realise back then. Instead, we walked towards the WWT Wetland Zone.
Suncheon Bay WWT Wetland
This zone is modelled on the principles of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, or WWT. Ducks, geese, and other pretty birds pecked for food or swam in the water.
The flamingoes, in the Water Birds’ Playground, put on quite the show for us. It was spontaneous and uninhibited. Observing wildlife can also provide surprising insights into human behaviour. The closer you look at other species, in the wild, you begin to realise how similar we truly are. Do any of these traits look familiar?
Some unwittingly joined the show.
While others didn’t flinch.
We continued our walk on the Sky Garden — landscaped over — the Suncheon Bay International Wetland Centre. There were fewer tourists here and the quiet was rewarding.
The Dream Bridge connects the two halves of the Bay Gardens — separated by the Dong-cheon River. The bridge is decorated with the paintings of 145,000 children, from across the globe; in the hope that their dreams would be carried in the wind. Under the bridge, tourists pedalled their boats against the force of the river. The rain intensified and we walked without a clue of where we were going. We could see the SkyCube make rounds over the track.
We managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Dutch Garden in the World Garden Zone.
Leading away from the World Gardens and loud visitor banter; we followed the quiet path towards the Wetland Biotope. En route, we passed the Kindness Forest — designed for those who may be physically challenged and want to experience nature without much discomfort. It was nearing 5 p.m. and our legs were slowing crumbling. We chose a quiet spot to observe birds peck at the water, call out to each other, and drops of rain fall on the wet mud.
Suncheon Lake Garden
We slowly made our way to the Suncheon Lake Garden — designed by Charles Jencks. The elements of his design are inspired by the mountains and lake that dominate the natural landscape of Suncheon. From a distance, the green tuff-like cones looked odd. People walked in circular motion — as if in a silent trance.
We had given up on sunset over the bay. Strangely, we were content with our experience for the day.