Gwangju 518 MemorialPark Sculpture Underneath

An unexpected detour to Gwangju 광주시 and Damyang 담양군

In Korea, Sponsored by Jaclynn Seah6 Comments

I do a lot of travel research for my blog and writing and I’m constantly finding new amazing places that I want to visit, but sometimes the reasons I end up travelling to a particular place are surprisingly mundane.

I like South Korea, and while I have been there multiple times (including my first ever solo trip), most of my time was spent in its capital city Seoul. When I headed back to Korea on my career break, I was eager to see more of the country, and with 3 days to spare, my Gangnam hostel owner Big John recommended his home town Gwangju 광주시. And that is how I ended up on a 3 hour bus ride heading south to Gwangju in the middle of winter with nothing but some internet research to guide me on what to do.

It really is as simple as that – I had 3 days to spare and wanted to see someplace other than Seoul.

Pin it: Visiting Gwangju and Damyang in Jeolla, South Korea

I was lucky to have a very local experience in Gwangju, thanks to the great people I met at the wonderful hostel Pedro’s House that I stayed in. I got to hang out with locals at their Christmas parties, and the Gwangju folk also taught us a little about why they are proud to live in what’s known as the nation’s most democratic province – the lovely A even took us to my first ever protest rally!

I did manage to squeeze in a little sightseeing as well – while I missed out on Gwangju Biennale, I managed to check out some of the arts and culture, and even made a daytrip to nearby Damyang – a much less well known bamboo forest compared to Japan’s Arashiyama but no less beautiful.


The Gwangju Uprising and Democracy in Gwangju

One reference you will see all around Gwangju is 5.18 which refers to 18 May 1980, the day that the Gwangju Uprising or Democratic Movement against the South Korean Government led by then-leader Chun Doo Hwan. It is unfortunately known as the Gwangju Massacre because many of the students and citizens who were a part of this demonstration were fired upon, beaten and killed by the army.

May 18 Memorial Memorial Park

Within walking distance of the hostel was the 5.18 Memorial Park park. It was late afternoon by the time I set off for the park, and we managed to catch a marvelous sunset at this observatory or Owol-ru that we found.

Gwangju Lookout Point

Look at that orangey sky!

Gwangju Lookout Point View

Dreamy wintery view of Gwangju

Not far from the lookout point is The 5.18 Memorial Culture Centre which is also an art space with an auditorium and other . It was closed at that time but it has a huge outdoor sculpture area which we decided to explore a little more of.

Gwangju 518 Memorial Park Sculpture

The sculpture area has all these empty flagpoles of sorts

Gwangju 518 Memorial Park Unity Square

A short distance away is this plaza called Unity Square. There’s usually a fountain going but not when we were there

Gwangju 518 Memorial Park Sculpture Doorway

Looking out – you’ll see lots of these sorta statues all over Gwangju

Gwangju 518 MemorialPark Sculpture Underneath

You can go underneath the sculpture area to this room with a statue and more carvings of names on the wall

Protests in Gwangju

Our local friend A told me that since the uprising, Gwangju citizens are fiercely protective about their democratic rights and ready to speak up and stand up for what they believe in. She took me and two other hostel mates to check out the weekly Saturday protests happening in downtown Gwangju against then-President Park who was in the midst of being impeached.

Gwangju Protest Candle

Protesting!

It was a truly eye-opening experience for me – read about my first-ever protest experience for more. It was also the most well organised large scale gathering I’d witnessed.

The current President Moon Jae In is looking into 5.18 and other past events as South Korea reflects on its past and possibly uncovers the truth behind the chaos of these events – it’ll be interesting to see what happens from here.


Arts and Culture in Gwangju

Gwangju Biennale Museum

Gwangju Biennale Museum

I love checking out art biennales and festivals, so I was kinda bummed to find out that we just missed out on the Gwangju Biennale. I only had a morning left for exploring, so out of all the museums in that area, I picked the free one to check out.

Gwangju Outdoor Amphitheatre

There was a lovely outdoor amphitheater nearby

Gwangju Folk Museum

Free entry and lots of interesting little exhibits about Korean culture and traditions, the Folk museum is worth a quick stroll just to learn a little bit about Korean heritage. Read more about the Folk Museum in English.

Gwangju Folk Museum Exhibits

Typical old Korean doorway

Gwangju Folk Museum Farming

Farming back in the day

Gwangju Folk Museum Food Exhibit

Typical Korean dishes

Gwangju Art Street and Daein Market

In the evening, we headed over to Daein Market, which is usually open only during the day but every alternate Saturday, they hold a flea market in the evening which basically consists of lots of little stalls of food, knick knacks and games.

Gwangju Daein Market Entrance

Entrance

Gwangju Daein Market

It was quite crowded! Our dinner was basically all the snacks and street food we could pick up

Opposite the market complex is Art Street, which I think is probably more exciting during the day. It’s a tad quiet at night, but you can see it has lots of sculptures and murals, so I definitely have to come back in future and maybe during summer to see for myself.

Gwangju Art Street Night

Quiet at night!

Gwangju Art Street Murals

Lots of murals hidden in the alleyways


Must eat in Gwangju: Tteokgalbi

One of the local dishes to eat in Gwangju is Tteokgalbi, a grilled short-rib patty with minced pork and beef so famous it has an entire street dedicated to it in Gwangju. I’ve had galbitang before in Itaewon, but I was eager to try Tteokgalbi, so me and my friend K headed to Songjeong to find the Tteokgalbi Alley. There are plenty of restaurants serving Tteokgalbi, we just randomly picked one to go in and it was pretty good.

There is apparently a particular restaurant called Songjeong Tteokgalbi that’s famous.

Gwangju Tteokgalbi Restaurant

The restaurant: Jongkajap

Gwangju Tteokgalbi Spread

This cost 24,000 KRW in total for 2 of us

Gwangju Tteokgalbi

Tteokgalbi


Daytrip from Gwangju: Damyang 담양군

One of the highlights was the day trip out to nearby Damyang with some hostel mates. Damyang is famous for its greenery, in particular its bamboo forest Juknokwon.

Juknokwon Bamboo Forest 죽녹원

I was pretty excited to visit Juknokwon Bamboo Forest and it definitely didn’t disappoint – it’s a beautiful park to wander around, and there’s even a little art museum near the start which is nice to poke around in. The beauty is of course just wandering the little paths in the compound.

Damyang Bamboo Forest Up

Remember to look up!

Damyang Bamboo Forest Selfie

Pretty backdrop

Damyang Bamboo Forest Lake

There’s a nice lake and boardwalk amidst the gardens

Damyang Bamboo Forest Leaves

A look at the forest floor

Damyang Bamboo Forest Wefie

Shoutout to my travelling companions that day M and K who were also staying at Pedro’s House

I wish I had time to check out the nearby Metasequoia Road which is a beautiful straight stretch of road lined with some statuesque beautiful Metasequoia trees!

Korea Bamboo Museum

Besides the bamboo forest, we also checked out the Bamboo museum. I wouldn’t spend too much time here but it’s interesting seeing the history of bamboo and the bamboo by products you can create. We really wanted to try the  bamboo ice cream which was unfortunately sold out.

Damyang Korea Bamboo Museum Building

Korea Bamboo Museum

Damyang Korea Bamboo Museum Exhibits

Exhibits in the museum

Damyang Korea Bamboo Museum Diorama

A mini diorama

Getting to Damyang from Gwangju

Take the purple bus 311 from Gwangju Bus Terminal at U Square. It’ll take about 50 minutes to get to Damyang.


How to get from Seoul to Gwangju

By Bus:

Gwangju is a 3 hour bus ride from Seoul – I took the subway (you can take line 3, 7 and 9) to the Express Bus Terminal and bought a general ticket from the bus station that cost me 17,600 KRW (about S$22) 1 way.

Gwangju Bus Ticket

My bus ticket

By Train:

The KTX trains are much faster at under 2 hours to get from Yongsan station in Seoul to Gwangju, but also cost about 3 times as much with tickets going at around 47,000 KRW (S$60). There are cheaper trains priced at around 20,000-30,000 KRW, but with a 4 hour journey you are probably better off taking the bus which is faster and cheaper.


Accommodation: Stay at Pedro’s House

My stay in Gwangju was hosted by Pedro’s House, which is a lovely little hostel in Ssangchon-dong – I had a nice private room at Pedro’s House II, located a short distance away from the original Pedro’s House building and above the fairly new Voyagers Cafe which also belongs to Pedro, and an absolutely lovely place to hang out in when you want to hide out from the winter chill.

Gwangju Voyagers Cafe

Welcome to Voyagers!

Gwangju Pedros House Breakfast

Breakfast was never just common eggs and toast, every morning it was hand prepared by Pedro and always something special

Gwangju Pedros House Room

My room could sleep 2pax! It had its own attached bathroom behind me as well

Pedro is always very dapperly dressed and an avid traveller himself with a great eye for design, evident in the warm welcoming decor of the cafe which is filled with knick knacks that he’s brought home from all over the world.

Gwangju Pedros House Wefie

Me with the dapper Pedro and a fellow hostelite K who hung out with me in Gwangju and Gangnam

Check out Pedro’s House website here or make a reservation via booking.com

Affiliate link above – which means if you book through this link, I get a small commission but at no extra cost to you. Think of it as helping me keep this website going!

 

Have you been to Gwangju? Tell me what I missed out on. Read about my visits to Seoul and other provinces for more inspiration on visiting South Korea.

Comments

  1. This is the best kind of travel, when you have the time to follow people’s suggestions and check out somewhere not discovered by many others. Sounds like you had a pretty informative time there as well as trying out yummy food. I have no idea how to say TTEOKGALBI but it sounds delicious!

    1. Author

      Yeah I love the flexibility of just being able to go with the flow :)

      Well I say it something like ‘dok-gull-bee’ if that helps!

  2. Wow, this has been so fascinating! I have to admit I didn’t know where Gwangju Damyang was and now I’ve learned so much.

  3. What an amazing experience, I love it when you get to properly hang out with the locals. That bamboo forest is now firmly on my list! :)

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