At the north of the southwestern province of South Jeolla, or Jeollanam-do, Damyang is a county famous, above all for its bamboo forests but also for its rich literary history. The area is the birthplace of the gasa form of lyrical poetry whose themes include reclusion, love and exile. The poets who started this style were political exiles during the Joseon period of Korean history who abandoned politics to concentrate on literature. Although the area is not part of the well trodden tourist path, it is well worth a visit for its beautiful landscapes and excellent cuisine.
You will be doing a lot of walking while in Damyang. The main activity whiee visiting is to stroll through the beautiful gardens and bamboo forests for which the area is renowned. One such place is the Siga Cultureal Zone close to Gwangjuho Lake on Mount Mudeungsan. It was here where many gasa poets would come and find calm to practice their written art form and build gardens and pavilions in which to work. Another fine example of Joseon garden design is Soswaewon Garden which was built by Yang San-bo to mark unjust death of his Confucian teacher Jo Gwang-jo as a place to study. The garden is a stunning space featuring bamboo forests, waterfalls, streams, bridges and pavilions.
Jungnokwon Bamboo garden is another small garden worth strolling around with a loved one.
If you would like to know more about the gasa movement then you can visit the Gasa Literature Musuem where many works are on display. Visitors can also enjoy the museu's pavilion and tea room.
Being more of a nature destination, Damyang does not posses a lot of mouments or specific attractions not to be missed. There are however several pavilions that are worth visiting. The first of these is Singyeongjeong, a hill-top pavilion which was popular amongst the gasa poets. Another is called Hwanbyeokdang (meaning 'a place surrounded by green trees and water') and is frequented by locals who enjoy using the space in various ways. If you would prefer to take a leisurely stroll rather than relax at a pavilion, then head to the famous metasequoia-lined road just outside Damyang which became famous after it featured in a Korean film. It makes for a romantic walk.
Damyang is most easily reached from the nearest big city, Gwangju, which is itself served by a KTX train from Seoul. You can catch one of several buses that run between the two places. Alternatively you can take a bus from either Seoul or Incheon although the journey lasts at least four hours.
Travelling in Damyang, as well as through the rest of South Korea, is very safe with crime rates extremely low. As long as you abide by the same rules regarding secutiry as you do in the rest of the world, your trip should be hassle-free. The most important thing to remember is Korean etiquette which is an important part of everyday life. When greeting a local you should either bow or nod slightly. When going to a private home, you should always take a gift (which they will initially refuse, but you should insist they take it) and remove your shoes at the entrance (no bare feet, the same goes for many restaurants). Do not tip in South Korea as there is no culture of gratuity and it may offend.
There are two main dishes that one must sample while in Damyang. The first is known as tteok galbi and is essentially patties of charcoal-grilled beef or pork with delicious seasoning. The other well-known speciality in these parts is daetongbap, rice steamed in a bamboo stem. You will easily find both in restaurants in the area for relatively little money.
Damyang is not a very touristy place nor is it very commercial. It is more a place to go and relax, spend some time outside in the fresh air and walk around. The best thing you could bring back are some photos of the beautiful landscapes: the bamboo forests, the pavilions etc. That said, it is a town like any other in that it has a resident population who require shops and services for their daily lives. Wandering round you may find something original and authentic that you fancy taking home.