The concrete street narrows and our expectations sharpen as we putter previous fields of mud and rice stalks to the doorway of Geumgwang Tourism Farm Campground. Headed for a tenting weekend, my spouse, younger son and I left Seoul behind some two hours in the past. We exchanged looming high-end residence complexes and 10-lane highways for this rural valley enfolded by spherical hills of shaggy inexperienced oak. Our vacation spot is southwest of the capital, proper on the border of Gyeonggi Province, which regardless of its 13 million residents is especially coated with farmland and forest.
On arrival at Geumgwang, we’re greeted heartily by the positioning’s younger proprietor, Lee Jae-hyeong, who leads us to our pitch on his quad bike. The plot is previous a decorative pond, in a large meadow dotted with Asian pear timber and jagged boulders. Our neighbours have all arrange camp already. I shortly realise that our five-person dome tent is humble by comparability. Most of the close by tents have foyers, residing rooms and bedrooms; I spy snug wanting camp beds promising undisturbed sleep. Fence-like partitions provide privateness, and string lights adorning some tents give a cheerful and characterful impact.
Tenting in fashion. Picture: Li Yang through Unsplash
In contrast to in my native Canada, Korean-style tenting feels extra like glamping or “glamorous-camping”, given the facilities and creature comforts that the locals convey to this out of doors exercise. Peeking into among the neighbouring plots, I see complete households sprawled out watching TV reveals or Disney movies utilizing compact projectors and screens. Seamlessly, they’ve reassembled their residing rooms underneath the shade of tall pines.
Korea’s booming post-pandemic pastime
Tenting in Korea was already widespread, however started to actually make its mark right here through the pandemic, when the almost 30 million Koreans who normally travelled overseas yearly had been pressured by circumstance to vacation nearer to residence. In a rustic that doesn’t lack for mountains, valleys, lakes, islands and seashores, tenting was the right strategy to take pleasure in these in a time of social distancing.
Based on Statistics Korea, the variety of locals who go tenting every year nearly doubled through the pandemic, rising from 3 million to over 7 million. And the trade itself grew about 89.7% from 2019 to 2021, reaching roughly US$5.5 billion in market measurement.
The pastime has turn into so widespread that campers need to ebook weeks or months prematurely regardless of the tons of of campgrounds throughout Korea to select from. Fortunately, we managed to discover a spot utilizing the Korean internet portal Naver – which introduced us to Geumgwang Tourism Farm Campground.
A respite for the entire household
As we arrange our camp, the solar sinks behind a excessive ridge, darkening the dense inexperienced slopes, making them appear extra mysterious and impenetrable. Down right here within the valley, although, the sunshine grows thinner and extra delicate, bringing a way of calm.
I head off with my son to discover the campground. There’s a carefree temper within the air, as if everybody’s spirits are buoyed by the invigorating energy of nature. The kids have taken full reign of this huge expanse, working about and shouting excitedly, whereas the grown-ups hold a watchful eye as they recline in cosy tenting chairs.
Youngsters having fun with the trampoline at a Korean campground. Picture: Matthew Crawford
I uncover a supersized trampoline corridor, the place curious youngsters soar over and pummel me with questions: “The place are you from?” “Are you able to converse Korean?” “How lengthy are you staying?”
Other than this widespread bouncy corridor, camp services such because the billiard room, table-tennis room, arcade machine gallery, café and swimming pool be sure that campers are well-entertained throughout their time right here.
Proprietor Lee explains that the campground started as a household enterprise in 2015. “The pandemic actually accelerated the curiosity in tenting,” he says. “Initially, half our enterprise was internet hosting firm workshops, however when my dad and mom fell sick, we switched completely to tenting – this was round 2020. It was truly nice timing for us.”
Feasting and reflection across the fireplace
Again at our tent, we stick sausages and veggie canine on skewers to prepare dinner over our campfire. This typical Canadian campsite fare is considerably overshadowed by the wealthy aroma of barbecued meat wafting over from the moveable grills that encompass us. Clearly, for Korean campers, feasting is the spotlight of the expertise. Households get away their strips of pork stomach and prime cuts of Hanwoo (native Korean beef); out of nowhere seem spicy stews, bowls of rice and all method of aspect dishes. One couple close by has even introduced and assembled a conveyable deep fryer as a way to take pleasure in pork cutlets within the recent air.
Campfire cooking. Picture: Shutterstock
In the meantime the flames of moveable fireplace pits that sit outdoors most of the tents aren’t for cooking over, it appears. Although hand-split wooden burns in them each evening, they seem to have a extra ornamental goal. On my strategy to the dishwashing station, I cross by a person sitting alone, staring into his fireplace with a distant look on his face. “What’s he doing?” I ask my spouse.
She explains that this can be a new tenting craze referred to as bulmeong (looking at a hearth and zoning out). The phenomenon, which has been celebrated within the native media, is solely a means of escaping from the stresses of every day life. Whereas it’s not as profound as meditation, it strikes me as a primal pursuit — possibly the final word strategy to unplug from our units and sink again right into a timeless frame of mind.
An open fireplace could be mesmerising. Picture: Joshua Newton through Unsplash
After a surprisingly restful sleep on our air mattress, we begin the subsequent morning by grilling pancakes on our moveable range. However our son has made mates with a boy of the identical age on the tent subsequent door and decides he likes their Korean-style breakfast higher. To thank them for feeding him rice cake soup, we convey over some pancakes. Our neighbours give us some roasted chestnuts in return.
A nation reconnecting with nature
Chatting with the boy’s mom, Cho Nam-mi, I be taught that the household began tenting through the pandemic, lower than two years in the past. Cho, who works as a journey agent, displays that consuming and consuming within the open air appeals to her due to the cheerful and celebratory temper that she associates with it. She says, “I like the sensation of sitting open air, gazing at timber and mountains. After we eat one thing, it looks like we’re consuming in a pojangmacha (awning-covered Korean street-food stall/bar).”
As snug and indulgent as Korean tenting is, its reputation is probably linked to a rekindling of Koreans’ attachment to nature, as could be seen in nationwide booms in mountain climbing and path working, in addition to the pattern for metropolis dwellers to retire to the countryside. It appears to feed a necessity many Koreans are lacking of their every day lives.
Cho places it merely: “Lately, there aren’t many probabilities to gaze outward into nature. After we go tenting, we will actually admire the clear, open sky.”
Folks tenting out alongside the Geum River in winter. Picture: Shutterstock
Sights and bites round Geumgwang
After packing up our tent, we drive to close by Geumgwang Lake, stopping for lunch on the colourfully named Hwangtokotture (Crimson Clay Cow Nostril Ring). There we stare upon fishermen planted across the lakeshore whereas having sizzling spoonfuls of cheonggukjang (a wealthy, pungent stew constructed from fermented soybeans).
A bit additional down the street, we cease for espresso at Chatjipyanggi (Tea Home Aroma), a comfortable, rustic spot that serves shaved ice with purple bean paste. We conclude our journey by sharing a big, refreshing bowl of this soothing dessert. It’s the right mixture of easy, homely and indulgent to complete off a weekend of getting again to nature with out leaving all our creature comforts behind.
Ideas for tenting close to Seoul
Geumgwang is a bring-your-own-gear web site, however there are many different tenting grounds that supply spacious tents to lease which can be already arrange, corresponding to Lohas Campground (see beneath). Tenting gear of all types will also be rented from suppliers corresponding to Starcampalthough travellers ought to word that gear rental outlets are likely to cater to a Korean-speaking crowd.
Listed below are some choices for these searching for to expertise tenting in Korea:
Inside view of a surreal hilltop sculpture referred to as Greetingman, Lohas Campground is well-run and meticulously managed. Its family-friendly attracts embrace a pool and a summer season sledding ramp. It’s about two hours north of Seoul, a stone’s throw from the border with North Korea.
The extensive, spacious Jaraseom Campground is subsequent to Jara Island, the place Korea’s premier jazz pageant is held every autumn. It takes about an hour and 40 minutes to succeed in from Seoul, driving eastward in the direction of rugged, mountainous Gangwon Province.
Travellers ought to word that many web sites for campsite reservation and tenting facilities are likely to cater to the native market, and are therefore arrange with Korean audio system in thoughts. Do seek the advice of Google Translate, a pleasant Korean speaker or lodge concierge to make campsite bookings should you want it.
For extra info on Singapore Airways flights to Seoul, click on right here.