Damyang Bamboo Park (Juknok Won)
Cool, green, rustling
If you’ve never experienced an actual bamboo forest before (as we had not), this is well worth a visit. We’ve seen some bamboo growing before, but never so much in one place! Chang wanted us to see this, and we’re very glad that he did.
Damyang is in Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla Province), one of Korea’s least developed and greenest provinces. They are known for pesticide-free and organic farming, and fish farming has also taken off in a big way. There are not many areas in Korea where bamboo grows, but South Jeolla’s climate is the most suitable on the Korean peninsula.
Damyang, 13 miles north of Gwangju, is famous because of its Bamboo Park (Juknok Won), which is the center of bamboo cultivation and craftsmanship.
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 take their picture, but otherwise, the bamboo forest is just that: a forest of bamboo… a lot of bamboo. You’d almost expect to see an actual panda there, but of course you don’t.
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, and a pavilion and Korean traditional structures and bamboo gazebos on the grounds of the forest.
Seonginsan Mountain 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).
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 is 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, as there’s a forest of bamboo, but also benches, pavilions and a cafe can be found throughout the park if you want to stop and rest or just enjoy the bamboo scenery. It’s also considered to be a place of “green therapy” regardless of season. People believe that walking there relieves stress and encourages clean, deep breathing.
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 one should try to get there early.
The paths spread in multiple directions within the grounds and each of the 8 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 were 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. It was surprisingly cool in the shade of the forest, a nice break from the heat and humidity of Korean summers. It’s suggested that visitors need at least 2 hours.
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 about.
There are many information boards and we learned lots of interesting factoids, such as: there are 2 main varieties of bamboo, 90 different genera, and 1500 different species globally; that Korea has 13 different species; and that this garden has 26% of all bamboo in Korea. Here in the Bamboo Park it’s mostly thick-stemmed bamboo and black bamboo, with a little borealis amkino too.
New bamboo growth appears bright green. The shoots emerge with a protective sheath; once the bamboo has grown a bit, the sheath falls off showing the vibrant green of fresh growth.
Since the park is so picturesque, a couple of popular Korean shows and movies were filmed there, and there are boards explaining that.
From mid-September to end of October 2015 the park was going to host the World Bamboo Fair. I wonder how that went? When we were there, workers were busy constructing more pavilions ready for the Fair.
Outside the park are many bamboo shops. They say that bamboo has 101 uses and these certainly prove that. It is traditionally used in construction, as pulp material, for interiors, and for gardening. But, 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 every 5 days apparently.
We decided we had to sample bamboo leaf icecream (delicious), and a bamboo leaf donut with bamboo sugar (nice but not as distinctive as the icecream). But, we didn’t buy anything made from bamboo, although we were tempted.
Definitely worth a visit!