Damyang revives bamboo festivalTomorrow, Damyang, a county in South Jeolla province, shakes off the final vestiges of Japanese colonial rule to celebrate Bamboo Day for the first time in 80 years.
The literal translation of the Korean name of Bamboo Day, Jukchui, is “to be drunk in bamboo,” and before the Japanese took over Korea, the Damyang residents immersed themselves in bamboo.
On every May 13 according to the lunar calendar, local villagers would plant bamboo trees and drink wine made from bamboo extract. They would play folk games and set off bamboo firecrackers in the hopes that the village would prosper.
The festivities came to an end in 1920, when the holiday was abolished by the Japanese, who feared that the celebration could expand to a larger anti-Japanese movement.
This year, however, the county will revive the long-neglected event, celebrating what the region is famous for ― bamboo.
Damyang used to be flush with bamboo trees, but not many are left now. Surrounded by mountains, the area is relatively underdeveloped compared to many other regions, and only in the past few years has Damyang begun focusing on its tourist attractions.
During a visit to the region several days before the festival, Damyang was quiet, with few tourists despite the nice weather.
According to residents, many city folks visited in May, when the region holds its annual bamboo festival, which is not a traditional holiday and different from Bamboo Day. Generally, the area is tranquil all year around, except during the bamboo festivals and autumn, when many visit to see the foliage.
In general, there are three major points of attraction in Damyang: temples, natural scenery and food. Tired, burned-out city-dwellers can find plenty of places to rest and replenish themselves, thanks to the quiet beauty of the natural scenery.
Bamboo’s long history
The Damyang Bamboo Museum is not terribly impressive as far as museums go, but it is a good place to find out about the types of bamboo in Korea, what makes it so special and what makes it different from bamboo in other countries.
The first floor of the museum focuses on the plant itself and how in was incorporated in the lives of Koreans.
One display shows the various types of local delicacies that are made with bamboo shoots. In particular, restaurants in Damyang feature a dish with thinly sliced raw bamboo shoots mixed with red pepper paste.
Another display shows how bamboo extract was used to make household items, such as soap and toothpaste. The plant was even used as decorations, as shown in a small exhibition of bamboo jewelry.
The second floor is composed of two large exhibition rooms with bamboo craftwork from the past 20 to 30 years.
More interesting than the main museum, however, are the auxiliary facilities.
There is a separate annex devoted entirely to hands-on workshops that anyone can attend. One can try making bamboo art by weaving small pencil holders or making kites and more complicated baskets.
Another annex displays bamboo work from other Asian countries such as China, the Philippines and Japan.
A couple of shops sell bamboo souvenirs such as mats, fans and bamboo wives. Bamboo wives are loosely woven tubes of bamboo that Koreans used to hold when they went to bed, which was supposed to keep them cool at night in the summertime.
A small park sits behind the museum, with a variety of bamboo swings. A bamboo grove that has thinner, smaller trees is located there as well.
Damyang Bamboo Museum
Tel: (061) 381-4111
Admission: 1,000 won
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., all year round
Where to relax in comfort
The Damyang Resort is a less than 10-minute drive away from the bamboo forests and is noted for its mineral water bathhouses.
Although it is not a luxury resort, the white stucco walls and red roofs of the buildings give it a tropical look and the facilities are modern and clean.
Those who do not want to stay for the night can just buy a ticket for the swimming pool, bathhouses and dry sauna room.
In the bathhouse, there are several different types of tubs, such as the bamboo leaf tub, bamboo extract tub and pine needle tub.
Because Damyang is famous for its bamboo forests, the resort’s employees strongly recommend the bamboo leaf tub, in which bamboo leaves are wrapped in a cotton cloth and left to soak in the water. It is supposedly beneficial for those with cardiac disorders and is said to relieve stress-related health problems and prevent signs of aging.
There are also separate “houses” which consist of one room, a large bathroom and a porch overlooking the outdoor swimming pool. The bath area is equipped with a large, built-in spa for families or couples who want to soak in private.
The hotel is located in the main three-story building, and mineral water is supplied to every room, each of which has cooking facilities. Outside the rooms, there are numerous facilities to meet other needs, such as conference rooms, restaurants, massage parlors and karaoke rooms.
Nearby Damyang Resort is Bamboo Health Land. The facilities are not as upscale as those in the resort, but entrance fees are cheap and it has plenty of mineral water.
Tel: (061) 380-5000
Spa: (061) 380-5111
Admission to the baths and swimming pool for adults is 8,000 won and for children, 7,000 won
Bamboo Health Land
Tel: (061) 383-0001
Admission is 3,000 won for the baths and 5,000 won for the baths and dry sauna.
Take a bath in bamboo
If you don’t visit these forests, you may wander around Damyang without seeing a single bamboo tree. This is because the bamboo trees are on the mountainside.
The Bamboo Theme Park (061-383-9291) is owned and tended by Shin Bok-jin, a former journalist, and has a camping area on the grounds. It is not large, but one can walk among the bamboo trees, listening to the rustling of the leaves.
Juknokwon, where Bamboo Day events will take place, is a collection of bamboo forests on a mountainside.
The hiking trails don’t require special gear ― visitors can saunter in the cool shade, breathing in deeply. Koreans believe that walking in a forest has health benefits and refer to walking in the bamboo forest as “bathing in the forest.”
At both locations, you can see various types of bamboos, from those as thin as an index finger to stout trunks that are thicker than an arm. It takes only about 14 days for a bamboo shoot to turn into a tall tree.
How to get there
Buses run regularly from Seoul to Damyang. It takes almost four hours without traffic. Or go to Gwangju by plane or the KTX train, then take a bus to Damyang, which will cut travel time to about two to two-and-a-half hours.
Travel agencies also offer bus tours from Seoul to certain Damyang attractions, in one- or two-day packages.
by Wohn Dong-hee