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Visiting Hadong for Perfect Sunday Tea | South Korea Travel Story

Visiting Hadong South Korea for Perfect Sunday Green Tea
Written by Duke Stewart

I’ve been reading Anthony Bourdain’s A Cooks Tour and was thinking about his visit to an old childhood haunt in rural France, and the travel master’s reminiscence about failing to find the perfect meal. The story made me think about my own miscalculations when trying to create the perfect Sunday, with one particular time in mind. It was still a beautiful and almost 100% good afternoon, though things didn’t seem that way at first. Here’s a look at one of South Korea’s nicest places that I didn’t appreciate until later.

Visiting Hadong for Perfect Sunday Tea

With bellies full from a quick meal of makgeolli and pajeon—even on a not-rainy day—we drive to Hadong’s Green Tea festival site but a week after festivities had just wrapped up during the previous weekend. After three months of spring and summer festivals, I’m burned out on the crowds and thought this would be a good idea. We’re coming into this expecting something reminiscent of Boseong’s beautiful tea plantation and a truly lazy Sunday, with some of Korea’s finest scenery.

Ssangyesa Temple

Picking up some green tea and sampling a cup or twenty alongside some beautiful mountains sounds like a plan for the simple, perfect Sunday afternoon to me. Hadong is where Korean Green Tea got its start, and I’ve wanted to visit for a while. We’d driven through when heading toward somewhere else just weeks before. The day starts with a walk around Ssangyesa Temple a little lunch before we search for folk villages that don’t appear as advertised.

Walking around Ssangyesa in Hadong County, South Korea (하동군)

I’m starting to notice that Hadong is much quieter than previously expected. There are smaller and less conspicuous tea fields all around, and that’s a nice contrast to the larger than life scenes in Boseong. However, everything is closed and even the Green Tea Cultural Center is a veritable ghost town. I feel like we’ve stumbled into the mind of George Romero as an army of zombies awaits us from a dark corner or alleyway.

Ghosttown

Green mountains surround the empty parking lot and form a beautiful scene but I’m getting anxious because our plans surrounded a boisterous and buzzing place. I realize that it was far too easy to park here and that should have been hint number one. Nevertheless, we walk on rocks and cross a stream. This part must have been a big highlight of the yearly festival that finished up the week before. Some kids are playing a game of underwater chicken or something nearby and I notice a couple is trying to create the perfect selfie background. After the fifteenth take, they get it.

We Keep Searching

Green tea and Mountains of Hadong, South Korea (하동군)

Even the tacky yet creatively designed Americano shops are shuttered and I’m starting to consider this day a failure. Right now, the promises of tea have ended with closed doors and light off. Did I miss the memo? Everyone must have bolted immediately after the festival closed and moved to the next place. I feel like a carnival chaser who’s always one step behind the show. We get in the car as my spirits dwindle, though my wife is enjoying it all. She keeps telling me to relax and that the point is to savor the day and our time here, regardless of the outcome. The GPS is ready and I want to embrace the drive because we are in one of Korea’s most beautiful areas after all.

A Wonderful Tea Shop

Teapots inside a Hadong Teahouse, South Korea (하동군)

All of a sudden, there it is. Too good to be true, I think. I see that familiar tea sign (茶) that had burned us on so many occasions today and notice something different. Cars appear to be parked outside and what’s that? The lights are on! I think this could be promising and slam on the brakes, parking on the side of the ride and drawing a horn or two from the cars that pass by. Cautiously walking to the door, I had no idea how wonderful this place would turn out. Upon walking in, my eyes don’t know how to process the clever woodwork spread throughout the room. A lady seats us at one of the four tables inside, as another couple is ready to order nearby. The scene is truly unbelievable, as we approach our all wooden table and seats.

Hadong’s Wild Tea

Inside a Hadong Teahouse, South Korea (하동군)

From the outside, one would never imagine that this place would possess such a colorful mishmash. There are teacups, woodwork, and various pieces of art strewn about. Organized chaos is the best way to design an establishment in my opinion, and this lady has done well. It’s almost like a cartoon inside, and I still can’t figure out how she pulled off so a cool yet seemingly disorganized setup. I still can’t process this interior as the tea arrives and is ready for us to start brewing. Hadong’s wild tea was served up to quite a few kings during Korea’s dynastic period, but my excitement is mostly focused on the impending caffeine boost. The tea steeps for a few minutes, and we lift the lid to make sure it’s ready.

Hadong’s Finest

Farmers in Hadong, South Korea(하동군)

I’ve grown to love loose-leaf green tea and that’s not just the caffeine addict talking. Actually thinking about the drink in front of me helps curb any impulses and a desire to chug. Relax and let it sit before the first sip, which is always the best part. Everything else is an imitation of the first cup of Hadong’s finest that immediately shoots our energy levels back up to normal.

Imagining My Own Shop

After the post-boost shock settles, I imagine a life of growing my own tea. Maybe we’d own a shop like this to serve customers. No big deal if anyone comes, as long as I’ve got this wonderful leafy substance to get me through my later years. I’d have books lining the walls and buy a record player to fit in with all the other hipster stuff to show that I’m still cool enough to hang. 

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Lofty dreams indeed but not permanent ones, as we finish the last cup and realize it’s time to go. There’s more of Hadong to see and now that the King’s brew has lifted us up, we make time and visit Hadong’s Hwagae Market and stop along the beautiful Seomjin River.

Thinking Back to The Perfect Sunday Tea

The day ends and turns into the next week. My mind can’t move away from the tea and that house, shop, or whatever it was that saved us from the death on that day. I’m unable to stop thinking back to that hour or two we spent before this. That’s when we were trying to create the perfect weekend somewhere else. That moment, that tea, that place was all enough and I should’ve realized it. What’s better than an afternoon sipping on the King’s tea in Hadong with beautiful scenes all around? Tell me and I’ll go there immediately, but I guarantee that it won’t match up. Hadong served up the perfect Sunday tea and I’ll stand by it, as long as the King’s brew is still around.

What’s your perfect Sunday? Is it similar to this or different? Leave a comment and let’s get this conversation started! 


How to Get to Hadong (Courtesy of Korea Tourism)

Travelers from Seoul go from the Nambu Bus Terminal through an intercity bus bound for Hadong, getting off at Hwagae Terminal.

The Green Tea Cultural Center (차문화센터)

1. From Hwagae Bus Terminal, walk 180m to Hwagae Intersection (화개삼거리).
2. Take a bus that follows the Gurye-Sinheung (구례-신흥) route to the Ssanggyesa Temple (쌍계사입구) bus stop.
3. Walk to the Yonggang Intersection (용강삼거리), turn left, and cross a bridge.
4. Turn right after the bridge, and after walking straight for 300m, you should see the Green Tea Cultural Center (차문화센터).

Hwagae Market (화개장터)

1. From Hwagae Bus Terminal, cross the Hwagaegyo Bridge (화개교).
2. Walk straight for 100m and you can’t miss Hwagae Market. If it’s past morning, you should see tons of cars trying to park and crowds walking towards the market.

Ssanggyesa Temple (쌍계사)

1. From Hwagae Bus Terminal, walk left towards Seomjingang River (섬진강) for 170m.
2. At the Hwawgae Samgeori 3-way Intersection (화개삼거리), take a Gurye-Sinheung (구례-신흥) route bus to Ssanggyesa Temple.
3. Ssanggyesa Temple is located 150m away and should be easy to find, as it gets crowded during days with nice weather

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About the author

Duke Stewart

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.

15 Comments

  • […] While Boseong gets most of the praise when it comes to the country’s green tea, Hadong also has it’s own fields and flavor. Being more off the beaten path than the more famous fields in Boseong means that you can enjoy an exceedingly relaxing and genuine experience while sipping from hand thrown pottery in the middle of the countryside. Walk along the fields and take photos without worrying about them being ruined by hordes of people. Afterwards, be sure to check out the Green Tea Cultural Center which is also located outside of town. Check out this post to learn more! […]

  • I wish this wasn’t so far away from where we live! (Boseong is still on my list, too…) It is nice that your Sunday plans were rescued and boosted by such a cool little tea shop. I have found that the opportunity to sample locally grown tea is kind of elusive…(perhaps many of the tea houses have been overrun by the insane popularity of coffee? !) It makes it extra special when you do happen upon one…

    • You’re right about the prevalence of coffee shops here. I feel like the per capita ratio of them is miles ahead than in the U.S. However I remember there being like 3-4 Starbucks in my town of only 40,000. It’s close though. I’m also shocked at the lack of good tea houses and even at the small number of students that actually drink the stuff. They too are taken by the coffee craze.

      I hope you get to visit Boseong at least and if not, maybe a temple in your area would have some good tea? I’ve had some good experiences at those and will probably be writing about one really soon:)

      Thanks for commenting, Lara. I truly appreciate your kind thoughts and hope to stay in touch. Take care and hope you can write lots more about Chiang Mai:) I need some more reading!

  • I love the sound of this place, and will have to try and visit this fall. I’ve been to Boeseong, but it has been a while. I do go to the tea festival in Seoul a couple of weeks ago, which was fun.

    • Hey Nancie! Thanks for commenting. Boseong is much grander and easier to get to if you don’t have a car. If you’ve got wheels, I highly recommend a drive to Hadong. It’s a beautiful spot and full of less conspicuous plantations scattered all around. Love this area!

      I love the teashops in Insadong in Seoul and will have to make it back before we leave. Ever been to those?

  • Oh man, I love Hadong and chill tea cafes! We, too have come to love this small mountain town and similarly rediscovered it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. We had been to Hadong for its plum festival last spring and it was…well, it was a typical Korean festival. Returning on a weekend without festivities was great. I’m curious about this wonderful cafe and I “need” another excuse to return to Hadong. Excellent post and writing.

    • Interesting to hear that Hadong had a plum festival. Thought that was in Gwangyang but hey, who’s keeping score? Haha. Anyway, glad you had a good time there. I love the countryside here. So much wonderful stuff to see!

  • I *LOVE* tea, even in the hot summer months and would love to find this quaint tea house. I had no idea Hadong existed, or that green tea started from there…All I ever knew was Boseong. Tea and a traditional market sound like the perfect afternoon to me!

    I somewhat wish I lived on the West Coast instead of the East…it seems like all the fun things are on that side!

    • Hey Rafiqua,

      I am also a tea fanatic so going to the source always seems like a good idea to me. You have a car, right? If so, you can easily get to Hadong and have a wonderful afternoon!

      You’re right about lots of fun stuff being around the West Coast but I absolutely fell in love with your side of the country. Granted there’s no great tea fields that I can think of but tons of wonderful beaches there.

      Thanks for commenting. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  • Beautiful! I haven’t really gone to the scenic countryside of Korea. What a pity! So, I enjoy reading this post.

    I had a tea ceremony with some foreign ladies at and Insadong traditional tea house. The ‘sonsaengnim’ was particular even with the hand and finger movements. It was lovely! That scene came to mind while I was reading this and looking at those pictures.

    • Hey Wendy, so cool to hear about your tea ceremony experience! Insadong is awesome huh? I love the atmosphere there and the wonderful assortments of tea you can enjoy. Hopefully you can get out here to the countryside and away from that busy city up there. Thanks for stopping by! Take care Wendy.

  • What a great article!! Nice to see that your weekend wasn’t ruined after all and you wound up having such a memorable experience. I haven’t had the pleasure of trying the Korean Green Tea yet, but can’t wait to have a lovely tea experience in Boseong or Hadong sometime within the next year! So great that you travel with SUCH a positive partner in crime too 🙂

    • You’re so right, Lindsay! Christina keeps me going in so many ways, especially with my writing and positivity. I hope you get a chance to explore Jeolla and the Gyeongsang border towns like Hadong as soon as possible because it’s wonderful here.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful week!

  • I love quieter visits and smaller towns so this would have been a fun visit, although a nice noodle shop or local restaurant along the way would have made this the perfect day. The countryside looks stunning Duke.

    • Thanks so much Noel! There were a couple of restaurants at the first temple we visited which had some awesome food, but we certainly could’ve used it later on in the day. I appreciate you stopping by and saying hello. Have you ever had the chance to visit Korea? I know you’ve been all over SE Asia and Japan but didn’t know about here. Take care man.