Travel Destinations

Korea, Gwangyang, and Beating the Summer Heat at the Valley

Written by Carl Hedinger

Why would you live anywhere else? – Best Coast

Gwangyang and Beating the Summer Heat at the Valley

Saturdays are for driving, and we head away from Yeosu through Gwangyang and its steel city next door. This is a day that shouldn’t be happening thanks to a typhoon heading this way. Of course that’s what we think, and decide to race against the rain and wind and all those other things meant to ruin a weekend. This summer has been a strange mixture of cool and torrential and hot, so we’ve got to take a chance before the dice roll reveals rain and bad weather. We’re going to the valley to experience one of Korea’s best-known summer destinations.

Gwangyang, Korea Sitting on Rocks in the Valley

Within minutes, we pass the massive POSCO complex and almost immediately switch over to the countryside, as the channel changes to much better scenery. Our 15-year-old Hyundai takes through the valley and Baegunsan’s beautiful green mountains surround us. Fun-promising signs appear at every intersection, and we turn towards the first one that sounds cool enough. My students and my wife’s coworkers are to thank for this day, with their constant references to the valley and its awesomeness during the summer.

Lizard on a rock in Gwangyang

The buildup is exciting, considering this summer hasn’t been much about the water. I used to love the beaches on the south and west coasts but for some reason, they’ve lost that magic allure. I blame places like Naksan on Korea’s east coast and Christina blames Southeast Asia. Either way, we’re not going to the beach today and it’s going to be a day for cold, freshwater. The weather is making me think that the forecasters are out playing golf with no crowds, thanks to their doom-ridden typhoon prediction. I wonder about my own misdeeds if in their position.

Day 2 in the Valley

The car approaches a set of spots that will guarantee some quality water time, and finally decides on a popular-looking one in the Geumcheon Valley. We’ll just have a look and see what this is all about. It’s just a test. Walking down the entrance, we’re greeted by a decent-sized stream and tons of people in the distance, most likely camping here for the weekend. I notice an ankle-deep waterway that cuts through the stream and is the main walking path for visitors to pass through. This will cut it for now.


We settle on the nearest rock and it has enough water depth to keep us cool during the hot, late morning. The water is perfect and cold enough to fight against the sun that’s battling the clouds above. The typhoon is stirring in the back of my head but still hasn’t made its appearance. Dragonflies buzz all around us but I don’t hear that, thanks to nearby and faraway rapids rushing at a feverish pace and drowning out everything. There’s a big crowd but I don’t know that, thanks to the water. Cold and noisy is how I like my water from now on, I think.

Hoping for more valley with @fythealth weekend! #ig_korea #travelstoke #love

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The mixture of sun and dark clouds are welcome in July when it’s usually clear skies and too hot to leave our one-room apartment. With a team of water and weather like this, our day can’t lose. After a brief dip in the water, our bellies cry for something more than the snacks we’ve prepared, and it’s time to hunt for a meal. I’m bummed that we have to leave but the ubiquitous smell of sizzling pork belly cooking nearby, kicking myself for not bringing more than nuts and fruit. We say a momentary goodbye to our spot and head back to the car with appetites in mind.


Driving along the river, there are tons of pensions and minbaks offering a place to stay but more importantly, food! I love these places and remember a recent trip to Namhae, grilling on our porch and overlooking the sea. We find a pension and negotiate a picnic spot that’s right on the water, ordering some food and enjoying the scenes around us. The nice owner tries his hand at some ultra polite English and I appreciate him trying. Some guys are playing Korea’s unofficial sport (jokgu) nearby and they head down to the water after a match. Our makgeolli comes and really gets things started in a good way.

Fresh Water Falling into our Pool

I’m getting hungry and devour the pre-meal pickled apricots and peppers that are sitting at our table, accompanied by various other wonderful things. Ban chan is not only one of my favorite reasons for living in Korea but it’s staving off the hunger for a bit. All that time resting on rocks and in the water has cooked up an awesome appetite. The chicken comes and I can tell this meal is worth the short wait. Marinated in sesame oil and brown sugar, I throw pieces on the grill and wait eagerly for the finished product.

Grilled Chicken in the Geumcheon Valley

The skin caramelizes and everything browns nicely from the hot coals, bringing our meal to near-perfection. My hunger grows and as we start eating, things get blurry for a little while. Minutes later I wake up and it’s all gone, with very few memories other than that first succession of bites. The owner comes by and after eagerly thanking him, we go down to the water and sit on some rocks, snapping photos and wondering how the day can get any better. We go back to the first spot and even though it’s crowded, a few hours go by without hearing anything other than the water.

Looking at a waterfall in the valley.

Going back home, we think the weekend might’ve peaked and prep for the upcoming storm. The next day is even nicer and it’s official. The typhoon isn’t coming and we know just what to do. Driving back earlier than the day before, we search for a better spot in a different part of the valley. Stopping a couple of times, we find a rougher patch of water but less crowded than yesterday. With a shaded rock right next to the water, we park for the afternoon and forget about everything away from this spot.

Looking down at the water.

I start to the think about the title track of Best Coast’s The Only Place, and why it’s been in my head a lot this summer. Of course that album is talking about California the whole time but right now, it fits. This really is the best of Korea. We’ve covered every corner of the country and the fondest memories will come from here. I know it will end soon and try to think about something else, as the water rushes past me just like before. This might be our final adventure because summer has won for now. Thankfully we’ve found a spot to fight against the heat in the valley. For now this cool water and shaded rock is the only place for me.

Waterfall in the Geumcheon Valley

How do you beat the heat in the summertime? Where’s your favorite patch of water?

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South Korea Beating the Heat at the Valley in Gwangyang



About the author

Carl Hedinger

I’m a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family’s travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


  • Surrounded by Eochi Valley and Baekhak-dong, the lake produces a scenic view when overlooked from Gwangyang Bulam Mountain Forest. Intersecting with the Seomjingang River and the South Sea, the park is an ideal camping site for family visitors.

  • I’ve always seen camping by the river pictures and those seem so inviting… We don’t have the courage to do that just yet:-)… Someday when the boys are more adventurous, maybe…

    Reading the chicken marinated in sesame oil and brown sugar make me hungry!!!

    • Hi Wendy! I understand that it may be difficult when you’ve got little ones. I did see a few kids there but honestly, those rocks are pretty rough and one bad step might land you in a world of hurt. Better to wait until they’re ready. Maybe you can at least stop by for some of that chicken. It’s awesome!

      Thanks for commenting. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your week!

  • When I saw these pictures pop up on social media I knew I needed to get here. We have been going to the beach in Sokcho, and while I absolutely love it, I have been craving streams and flowing water and rock jumping! I am thinking about renting a car in September for my birthday and heading into that neck of the woods, as it is one of the few areas in Korea we have not explored.

    I’ve got to say, I have taken a break from blogging and reading blogs and I am so happy to be coming back to a post like this. Your writing has changed a bit from previous posts, and I really like it. Really nice descriptions of not only the scenery, but the food, and your feelings on it all. I’m sure you can’t believe your time in Korea is dwindling so quickly!

    • Hey Katie,

      I appreciate your thoughts on this post but also on my writing “change” that happened recently. I guess it comes from practice and from reading other people’s stuff (like yours) that’s convinced me to go in a different direction. Thanks for the boost and encouragement. I’ll always owe any writing growth to other bloggers and know that there’s always a chance to improve or better myself. Take care and have a wonderful weekend!

    • You’re absolutely right, Nailah:)

      I am sad that it will be over soon but am truly thankful for all the places that we’ve seen and experienced here. Hope you enjoyed the post and thanks for commenting!

  • I’m from Southeast Asia, and so I remember the first time I visited a Korean beach I was a little disappointed. But after not going to ANY beach for so long (years now, I think!) I’d be more than glad to see even a Korean beach. I miss the water!

    Sadly though with a newborn in tow going to a beach will be impossible anytime soon. And so nowadays we beat the summer by turning on the air conditioner, gulping down cups of freezing cold water at a time and of course, having ice cream for dessert. It’s THAT hot.

    • I totally get you on that, Jackie! Staying in during this hot summer has been so inviting to me. The only way I’ve gotten out lately, is if there’s water involved. Definitely don’t blame you for staying inside. Keep yourself and the little one cool, ok? Thanks for commenting!

    • It was a wonderful day and the chicken was probably the best part! Love me some sauced chicken on a grill! Can’t be beat! Thanks for commenting, Jeri. Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

  • Looks great. I personally love the beach but I’ve been been quite picky about it (I blame Southeast Asia too). I do love any form of nature nonetheless. Is this too far from Seoul? Starting to collect ideas for my trip there with my husband next year to catch the cherry blossom festival.

    • It’s a bit of a trip from Seoul, yeah. You can catch a bus directly to Gwangyang from Seoul but it’s quite a journey. Maybe 4-5 hours from Dong Seoul bus terminal. I’m not sure about direct routes from the other Seoul terminals. If you rent a car, the journey would be pretty nice and you’d have more flexibility about visiting these valleys. There are 4 major ones around Baegunsan. Seongbul, Donggok, Eochi, and Geumcheon. Intercity buses in Gwangyang will run to some of them, though I’m unfamiliar with the schedule. Let me know if you have any other questions about Jeolla in particular and I’d be happy to answer them for you:)

      Thanks so much for your comment! Do you plan on visiting the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival?